Business Signage on Private Property : Do you need planning permission

Planning permission for business signs

Most businesses need some form of signage. The reason most businesses need some form of signage is that signage is visible. That means your local authority is likely to have an opinion on it. In some cases, you may even need planning permission. Here’s a quick guide to what you need to know.

Conservation areas have their own rules

If your business is in a conservation area (or a listed building) then you need to research what you can and cannot do in that specific area (or building). As a rule of thumb, you are only likely to be permitted to have signage if it’s totally in keeping with the character of the area (or building). While this can be restrictive, it also preserves the uniqueness of the area. This probably was a large part of the reason why you chose that site for your business in the first place.


Planning decisions are taken at local authority level

The government sets guidelines on the use of signage. It is, however, down to each local authority to implement them. What that means in practice is that business signs which are obviously considered permissible are likely to be passed without issue. If, however, a sign is a borderline case, then it’s down to each local authority to decide if it’s acceptable to them. The safest option, therefore, is to use signage that is clearly permitted under the government’s guidance.


Some signs have “deemed consent”

In total, there are 16 classes of signs that are assumed to have consent and therefore do not need planning permission. Classes one and 10, however, relate to public bodies and approved protection schemes (eg Neighbourhood Watch) respectively. 

Here is a quick rundown of the other 14 classes and some more specific guidance about the classes mainly used by businesses. Please note, however, that these are only the key points. It’s important to check the full descriptions in the relevant government guidelines before you purchase your business signage.


Class 2: Miscellaneous advertisements on any premises

This class is further divided into three categories. In classes 2A and 2B, the signage must be a maximum of 0.3 square metres in area. In class 2C, it may be a maximum of 1.2 square metres in area. Signs in class 2A cannot be illuminated. Signs in classes 2B and 2C can only be illuminated if the purpose of the illumination is to highlight the availability of medical services. 

Class 2 is intended for functional signage. That would typically include signage that provides identification, directions, warnings or information about what business operates in the building.


Class 3: Temporary Advertisements

This class is further divided into six categories. These have widely different specifications for signage. There is, however, one common factor and that is that Class 3 signs are all intended to be used to advertise some kind of event. The deemed consent is therefore time-limited and use of “temporary advertisements” outside of these times is therefore outside the scope of deemed consent.


Class 4: Illuminated advertisements

The key point to note here is that illuminated advertisements must have static illuminations. Deemed consent excludes any intermittent light source, moving feature, animation or exposed cold cathode tubing.


Class 5: Advertisements on business premises

With class 5, deemed consent only covers adverts that specifically relate to the business premises on which they are being hosted. In other words, you can advertise your own goods and services but you do not have deemed consent to advertise goods and services for other people. For shops, deemed consent only extends to external walls with a shop window.


Class 6: Advertisements on forecourts of business premises

In order to qualify for class 6, signage must be on private land. The public highway in front of a business premises does not count as a forecourt. Additionally, the phrase “on forecourts” means exactly that. The adverts must be at ground level (eg sandwich boards). They cannot be illuminated.

Class 7: Flag advertisements
Class 8: Advertisements on hoardings around temporary construction sites
Class 9: Advertisements displayed on purpose-designed highway structures
Class 11: Directional advertisements


Class 12: Advertisements displayed inside buildings

In most buildings, signage must be within one metre of the window through which it may be seen. In principle, class 12 adverts may be illuminated. Your local authority may, however, place restrictions on the specific types of illumination it will allow. For example, it may restrict the use of neon signs.

Class 13: Advertisements on sites used for the preceding ten years for displaying advertisements
Class 14: Advertisements displayed after the expiry of express consent
Class 15: Captive balloons advertisements
Class 16: Advertisements on telephone kiosks


Conditions for all signs

Regardless of what class of sign you use, it must comply with five standard conditions. These are as follows:

  • It must be kept clean and in a good state of repair.
  • It must be safe.
  • It must have the permission of the relevant landowner.
  • It must not create a hazard for traffic or block the view of transport signs.
  • It must be capable of being removed safely and without causing damage.

With regard to the third point, local authorities are typically more concerned about you obtaining permission from relevant public bodies than from private landlords. That said, it’s highly advisable to make sure that your signage is in compliance with your lease.

It’s fairly common for landlords to request to approve any signage installed in their building. This gives them the opportunity to ensure that it’s not going to cause damage or inconvenience to other tenants. Remember, the fact that your local authority is fine with your signage does not mean that your neighbours will be happy about it.

Even if your lease does not explicitly mention signage, it’s still advisable to check with your landlord before you go ahead and order anything. Your landlord may take the view that your sign contravenes some other aspect of your lease.

If they do, they may instruct you to take it down. In that situation, you face either wasting the money you spent on your sign or getting into a legal battle with your landlord. Neither of these is a particularly attractive option and both can be easily avoided with some basic communication.


Malcolm Judson
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