We’re thinking of building our own home in southwest France. What level of development is permissible for properties which aren’t in a constructible zone?
In France, each local commune has the option to create a local plan, or be subject to national planning regulations (RNU – règlement national d’urbanisme). There are a number of different models in use for local regulations, with each version existing to control planning matters within the commune.
The more usual ones are the PLU (plan local d’urbanisme), and the CC (carte communale). The first of these is the most detailed version and will place all land in the commune into one of many planning ‘zones’, ranging from agricultural to industrial, and from parkland to residential. Each zone will have its own set of rules defining what can or can’t be achieved, taking account of an overall plan set by the commune for development of
the area. The carte communale is much less detailed, though has the same overall aims.
There is a current move towards smaller communes joining together to form larger planning areas, sharing a common regulatory framework called a PLUi (plan local d’urbanisme inter-communal). Where none of these apply, national regulations are used.
In the case of a carte communale or RNU, the commune is divided up into only two zones – ‘constructible’ and ‘non-constructible’, based on proximity to the urbanised area of the commune.
All areas outside of the urban zone are automatically ‘non-constructible’ and/or ‘agricultural’. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean nothing new can be built, nor that certain other development is not feasible.
Existing residential buildings – though never guaranteed, as a general guide existing dwellings can usually be extended by up to 30% of the current living area, to a maximum of 30m2. Some planners will only accept the limit based on the building’s footprint, but others accept it as living space. Each case needs to be verified in advance as it can make a substantial difference to what is achievable.
In order to find out what is permissible, an outline application (CU – certificate d’urbanisme) can be submitted in advance of any detailed application. The process takes two months or so, but it is time well spent.
Other than extensions to existing dwellings, it may also be possible to construct annexes (sheds, garages etc) but again with the limit of 30m2 or so. It is worth mentioning here that anything which ‘touches the ground’ counts as a construction in France – so open pergolas, greenhouses and so on also need consent in most cases.
There is also potential to convert or alter existing outbuildings – barns, hangars etc, but the regulations can vary a lot – some communes have restrictions on use, and others on the ‘architectural interest’ of the building (where there is deemed to be no interest, then the conversion may not be permitted), so care is needed to verify the feasibility of a particular project before venturing out into modifications or assumptions of what is possible.
The regulations are different where the property is used for agricultural purposes, but this only applies where the owner is a registered farmer or the property is used in connections with another agricultural business. The rules for registering as a farmer are complex and difficult, so most are unlikely to be approved without suitable qualifications and/or a viable business plan.
On a final note, if you are interested in buying a rural property which is not in a constructible zone, but would only do so if you’re able to achieve planning consent for the project you’d like, then it is essential to make your purchase offer and contract subject to obtaining consent.
Want to know more about planning in France?
French Plans is a fully bilingual nationwide architectural and planning service. Director Arthur Cutler has over 20 years’ experience of solving French building conundrums
For more information about French Plans, visit www.frenchplans.com
To enquire about renovations, new builds or conversion projects, call +33 (0)2 96 36 56 16, +33 (0)685 993 248 or email [email protected]
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