Permissions I need for a fit-out re-fit of my bar or restaurant

Things to consider

What are the legal permissions I need for a fit-out/re-fit of my bar or restaurant? Obtaining all the necessary permissions from all the different statutory bodies can be daunting, confusing and is actually not all that straight forward because of the variety of different choices you have to make. With the stakes high for getting it right, you can’t afford to make a mistake when it comes to seeking approval. This article will hopefully help you to unpick what you must do in order to be compliant with your fit-out/ re-fit of your bar or restaurant.

When you are going through a fit out or re-fit, you don’t want to have to deal with the consequences of not having the appropriate legal documents that allow you to move forward at all the right stages. Even if you are using a professional team, you should be aware of and ask your team to see the legal documents obtained that prove you have the required permission. As the legal owner, you are the one whose responsibility it is to ensure you have the necessary permits/permissions/licences and if you do not, you are the one that will be handed the sanctions and these are often incredibly hefty financial penalties. Without permissions, you may also need to correct any work carried out, causing more expense, or run the risk of having your build/building alterations pulled down.

Having said this, you also need to be aware that gaining all the necessary permissions can take considerable amounts of time. If you are not aware of all you need to obtain and in doing so ask for one permission at once, you will find that you will be waiting weeks upon weeks for all your approvals from the authorities. Wasting time for all these to come through is the last thing you want to be doing when you are keen to move forward and paying for construction workers. This is why having a team of professionals is advisable as they know the business inside out and are aware of all the building regulations and permissions needed. Just be sure to ensure you have seen the necessary permissions.

So what permissions do I need?

Whether you are building your own premises or making alterations to an existing one, you will need to apply for a construction permit which can be obtained from your local council.

In addition to gaining permission for physical changes to a building, you will also need to seek permission to use an existing building as a bar or restaurant. A change of use will require planning permission ie. if the building was not used as a bar or restaurant before, you will need planning permission in order to change its use. A restaurant usually has the standard A3 ‘use class’ which is defined as: use for the sale of food and drink for consumption on the premises. Any drinking establishment (public houses, wine bars or other drinking establishments except night clubs) needs an A4 ‘use class’.

When it comes to building regulations, there are different rules for Scotland and Northern Ireland, however in England, to check the building regulations or apply for approval, you first need to contact a building control body (BCB) of which there are two types: a local authority BCB (through your council) and a private BCB (a private approved inspector who will notify your local authority about the work-called an ‘initial notice’).

From here, you have to decide on the type of application you wish to make for your planned build, extension or alteration. The choices are: 1) full plans, 2) a building notice or 3) regularisation

Full plans are the most thorough option and you can expect a decision within 5 weeks or 2 months with your consent. If you make this application, you also need to apply for building regulations approval in order for you to be granted a completion certificate at the end of your project to prove that you have adhered to building regulations. A full plans application is most likely what you are looking at doing with a fit-out or re-fit.

Having said this, so you are aware of the other types of application, a Building Notice is the application you would make for smaller projects and this enables you to start work 2 days after your notice has been submitted to the BCB. You do not get formal approval like you do with full plans. Also a Regularisation application is for retrospective approval for work already undertaken without consent. This must be from a local authority BCB and it only refers to work carried out after 11th November 1985. It is a risky way to seek approval and before the BCB can agree the work complies you might need to make alterations. Equally as mentioned previously, you may have to pay a fine if building regulations are not followed.

For most fit-outs or re-fits you are most likely going to require full planning permission and so will need you to submit a ‘full plan’ application.

An application under this procedure needs to contain plans and other information showing all construction details, preferably well in advance of when work is to start on site. These plans will then be checked by the local authority who will consult with other authorities such as the fire and sewage departments.

Once you have been granted planning permission you will receive a notice stating that they have been approved. If the authority is not satisfied, you may be asked to make amendments or provide more details. A conditional approval may also be issued which will either specify modifications that must be made or require you to submit further plans. A full plans approval is valid for three years from the date the plans were deposited.

You are required, under the building regulations, to give the local authority notice of when work has reached a particular stage. The local authority will give you further information when you apply about the notification procedures and the different stages. When you reach these stages in the construction, you should pause the work to allow sufficient time for an inspection from the Local Authority Building Control service to take place. The inspector will advise you if the work is compliant or not and in the latter case, may serve you with an enforcement notice requiring you to make alterations or remove the work that contravenes the regulations. Whilst it might be frustrating to pause the work, at least by having regular inspections, you know that the work carried out should be satisfactory at the end. If you do not inform the local authority at the relevant stages, they will enforce an inspection, giving you notice in writing of their inspection so it is better to work with them and let them know accordingly.

As with planning permission, you have a choice of who to appoint as your building inspector. You can either invite an inspector from the local authority or choose an approved inspector from the private sector. Obtaining approval depends on the choice you make with the inspector. No matter who you choose, the inspector will still make these statutory and routine inspections as the work is carried out to ensure compliance with the building regulations and other allied legislation.

If all the interim inspections have been approved by the inspectors, once the fit-out or re-fit has been completed, you will need to have one final visit from the approved building inspector who will assess the work carried out. The work must meet relevant technical requirements in the building regulations and they must not make other fabric, services and fittings dangerous or less compliant than they were before. For example, if you have replaced or added double glazing, the work must not make compliance worse in relation to: means of escape, air supply for combustion appliances and their flues, and ventilation for health.

If you have changed the use of the building, it may result in the building as a whole no longer complying with the requirements which will apply to its new type of use. Additional work may need to be carried out in this situation in order to pass building regulations.

If all is compliant however, you will then be granted a completion certificate.

If you are employing a professional team who will have their own builders, then they are likely to sort all this out for you and it usually becomes their responsibility but this must be decided upon at the very beginning of your project. As mentioned previously though, as the owner of the building, it is ultimately you who may be served with an enforcement notice if the work does not comply with the regulations.

In addition to being granted planning permission and satisfying building regulations, it is highly likely that you will need to notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who ensure you are adhering to the Construction (Design and Management) regulations 2015 (CDM 2015).

If the construction work is scheduled to last longer than 30 days and have more than 20 workers working simultaneously at any one point in the project or exceeds 500 person days, then the client must give notice in writing to the Health and Safety Executive as soon as it is practical before construction begins. This notice must be clearly displayed in the construction site office on a comprehensible form that can be read by any worker on the project.

In these regulations, all concerned parties involved in the fit-out or re-fit have certain responsibilities so it is very important that you read this document. Alongside a number of other duties, the ‘client’ (the person seeking any construction work) must have, as far as is reasonably practicable, suitable arrangements in place so that any construction work can be carried out without risk to the health and safety of any person affected by the project. They also should ensure that their principle contractor draws up a construction phase plan and the principle designer prepares a health and safety file for the project which needs to be revised where necessary to incorporate new information and available for any inspector. If the client does not appoint a principle designer or contractor then the responsibilities related to these roles lie with the client.

In the CDM regulations, it also states that both designer and contractor or a professional company hired to conduct the work must have the necessary skills, knowledge, experience and organisational capability to fulfil the role for which they have been appointed in a way that secures the health and safety of any person affected by the project. It is their responsibility to be sure that any worker complies with the regulations and notifies them of any reason that may impinge their health and safety or that of any other worker on the project.

The designer must try to eliminate any potential risks to health and safety through the design of the project and where not possible to eliminate, they must take appropriate steps to reduce or control the risks through subsequent designs. These risks must be shared with the principle designer and all other parties involved as well as be added to the Health and Safety file.

Please read our related Health and Safety requirements article which goes into much more detail and outlines everyone’s responsibilities on the project or head directly to the HSE website to read all the regulations for yourself.

All these permissions are related to the construction element of your fit-out or re-fit however don’t forget that there are number of other licenses that you will need to obtain for your bar or restaurant including: food hygiene certificate, pest control regulations for restaurants, food premises approval, restaurant license, PRS for Music license and alcohol license. The Food Standards Agency will be a great source of information and guidance on several of these licenses you will require.