When is a planning permission required? How do I get one?

Last modified:

Tuesday 6 April 2021

What is planning permission?

A planning permission is a permit issued for a building, stating its purpose, use, external appearance, load-bearing structures, etc. Some plots of land are also covered by planning permission.

In order to determine whether your project requires a new permit for certain actions or works (e.g.construction, demolition, change of use, felling of a mature tree, substantial alterations to the ground relief, addition of a sign, replacement of a window) you will need to:

1. Find out the current planning status of the property. 

There is only one reliable source: the planning department of your municipality. Don’t settle for information provided by the owner, estate agent or former operator! Remember that the Openpermits website provides information on some recent planning permits.

How to gather information from the municipal authorities effectively  You must:

  • Find out the procedure for accessing previous planning permits. This varies between municipalities (eg. advance phone contact, booked appointment, written agreement with the owner of the property and a copy of his/her ID card, consultation fees).
  • Look for the most up-to-date planning permission, stating the most recent purpose/use of the premises, as well as the most recent permit that shows the facades:
    • Start by consulting the most recent permission and check whether it covers the section of the building affected by your plans. 
    • If it does not, go back and check the previous permit.
    • If it does, photocopy the plan(s) and text approving the planning application.  Sometimes, photos are also useful.
    • If you consider it necessary, you can note the date and subject of all permissions granted for the building.

2.  Identify among the planned works those that are subject to planning permission 

Check whether any of the actions or works you intend to carry out are exempt from planning permission due to their low impact and compliance with zoning plans and regulations.

Need planning information specific to your project? Search by address on the Brugis website and view the various maps (“Bruxelles Urbanisme et Patrimoine” - “Brussels Town Planning and Heritage” - and “perspective.brussels” are particularly useful).

3) Rectify if necessary

Use previous permits to check whether the former owners/lessees made any changes requiring planning permission without proper authorisation. Any such planning infringements (eg. change of purpose/use, change of the colour of the shopfront, changes to the shop window or addition of a flue), must be rectified.

In such cases, you must come to an agreement with the owner on how to remedy the situation. This is particularly important as some municipalities require a single application covering planned works and any regularisation.

Please note

  • Projects that do not comply with regional or municipal zoning regulations are not permitted.  There is no point applying for permission: it will be refused. The same goes for new offices in areas considered saturated.
  • Certain business activities, machines or products also require an environmental permit.
  • Submit your planning applications as soon as you have decided on the address of the premises. Do this well in advance to allow enough time for you to prepare your application, and for it to be assessed! You cannot start operating until you have obtained the necessary permits.
  • If you have not been granted permission, it is unwise to sign a commercial lease (link to commercial leases page), a sales agreement, etc.  One piece of advice: include a suspension clause in these documents, so they do not come into effect until permission has been granted.

Applying for planning permission

As a general rule, you must submit a single application for all planned actions and works, as well as any requiring regularisation. In some municipalities, you must file a separate application for actions and works with a limited duration (such as the addition of a sign).

Urban.brussels offers a guide that will help you prepare your application file and submit it to the appropriate authority (the municipal government or Urban.brussels), as well as understanding the specific process for your application type (whether or not it requires a public consultation, planning committee, or the approval of a planning officer or the fire service, etc.).

The 1819.brussels website provides precise information, sample plans and videos to help you prepare a planning application without an architect, for:

Special cases with their own procedure

  • If your project involves a listed building, you will require what is known as a “special” planning permit
    How can you find out if your building is listed? Search by address on the Brugis website (see the “Monuments and sites” map, under “Bruxelles Urbanisme et Patrimoine” )

  • Your plans are considered, in legislative terms, to be of a temporary nature, (eg. addition of a sign), and will be covered by limited duration planning permission.

  • Your plans do not require an architect if the actions and works you intend to carry out do not cause any stability issues.

  • If your project requires both planning permission and a 1.A or 1.B environmental permit, it is known as a mixed project.  Certain aspects or stages of the process will only apply to one of the two applications (eg. the impact assessment, measures concerning advertising).

  • What if my project does not meet all of the planning requirements set out in the municipal zoning plan or regulations? Your application must state any exemptions requested and justify them. Remember, no exceptions to the uses specified in zoning plans are permitted.

  • Your project has an impact on the environment and is covered:

  • Your plans involve works that will impact upon land that may be polluted: a ground survey must be carried out by an accredited consultancy firm before planning permission may be granted. 
    How can you determine the likelihood of the ground being polluted? Search by address on the Brugis website (see the “Soil condition inventory” map, under “Brussels Environment” )

  • Will your plans impact upon the energy consumption of a building (eg. (re)construction, changes to doors and windows)? You must include a proposed energy rating with your planning application.

  • Do your plans involve a carpark? You must respect the rules laid out in the RRU (planning regulations). 

  • If your project exceeds a given size, it will automatically be subject to planning fees, which can be very costly.


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