building plans

Planning permission vs a building warrant: what is the difference?

At Crawford Architecture, we offer a range of services, from custom-built homes, extensions and alterations, and property development.

For all building works, we help guide you through the entire process from start to finish. This may include finding a plot of land, submitting plans, gaining approval, and obtaining building warrants.

There is a bit of a misunderstanding around planning permission and building warrants, with many people believing that they are the same thing. And while you’ll have our help every step of the way, it’s a good idea that you understand the key differences. 

So, in this blog, we’ll outline the main distinctions between building warrants and planning permission, so that you know which one you might need for your project and the consequences of not gaining permissions. 

Disclaimer – the information in this blog is specific to Scotland, so if you are outwith this area you’ll need to check your local council area rules. 

What exactly is planning permission?

Firstly, let’s explore exactly what planning permission is. 

Planning Permission, simply put is asking permission for certain building works. It will either be granted or refused, based on certain conditions.

You should always check with your planning authority to determine whether you need to apply for planning permission for building work. However, it is highly likely that you will need to. 

It’s advisable to check whether your plot of land already has planning permission assigned to it before applying. If it does, you may have to construct your project to these specifications, unless you decide to submit an entirely new application.

Planning permission can be differentiated from a building warrant in part by the complexity of their applications. For example, there is certain information that must be included in planning permission applications by law, including plans and drawings.

When might planning permission be required?

It’s likely that you will need to apply for planning permission in the following circumstances:

  • You want to build something new
  • You want to make a major change to your building e.g. an extension
  • You want to change the use of your building 
  • Your building is in a conservation area (may need ‘conservation area consent’)
  • Your building is a listed building (may need ‘listed building consent’)

To find out if your building is in a conservation area or is a listed building, contact your Planning Authority or check Historic Scotland’s listed building search.

Related content: What restrictions do I need to consider when choosing windows for a listed property?

When might planning permission NOT be needed?

There are certain situations where planning permission will not be essential. 

This is usually on smaller building projects that don’t impact the surrounding area. This is called a ‘permitted development’.

Permitted development rights are granted so that small alterations and extensions can be carried out without needing to apply for planning permission. 

So, it’s always worth checking if your building works fall under this, as it could save you a lot of time and money.

Find out more about planning permission on

What exactly is a building warrant?

While planning permission pertains to how your house will look, a building warrant is about whether it meets building standards.

A building warrant is the legal permission required to commence building works.

A building warrant ensures that your project adheres to certain building standards:

  • Structure
  • Fire
  • Environment
  • Safety
  • Noise
  • Energy
  • Sustainability

Exactly what you need to supply will depend on your local council. 

When might a building warrant be required?

A building warrant is almost always required if you want to build, alter or demolish a building. 

It must be applied for in addition to planning permission, as it’s the legal permission to begin building work, convert, or demolish a building. It’s the building owners responsibility to ascertain whether a building warrant is required before any works begin. 

If you’re not sure whether you need one or not, always consult your local Building Standards department. 

After the long (but exciting) process of thinking up ideas, making drawings, submitting applications, and being granted planning permission, getting the building warrant is the final hurdle. 

After that, it’s all go, and you can watch your dream project come to life. 

The consequences of not getting the right permissions…

Not obtaining the correct permissions before you commence your build can have dire consequences. 

If you build something without planning permission, or if you ignore the conditions attached to that permission, then you could find yourself in a lot of trouble. Your local council can issue enforcement, which may mean that you have to demolish the building. 

In addition, the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 allows Local Authorities to take action if work is carried out without a building warrant. This also means that it is an offence to start building works without the relevant building warrant. 

Essentially, if you want the ‘stamp of approval’ from your local council for your building works then you have to apply for planning permission and a building warrant.

If you don’t then you will find yourself in legal trouble, and will likely cost yourself much more money than it would if you get the appropriate permissions. 

Related content: 10 Reasons to choose Crawford Architecture for your next building project

Do you need planning permission or a building warrant?

There are key differences between planning permission and a building warrant. And, it may be that you need one or both of them for your building project. 

We can help you understand what permissions you require, and how to navigate the process of applying for these. 

If you need help with your building works, then get in touch with us to see how we can help.