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Can I build an outdoor swimming pool without planning permission?

What are the rules about installing outdoor (and indoor) pools in your garden? We explain...

17 January 2024
5 minutes read
Luxurious backyard of a Mediterranean villa with a clear blue swimming pool, surrounded by a lush garden, loungers, and a unique circular swing chair, reflecting high-end residential landscape design and outdoor leisure amenities.

If there is one thing everyone learned during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s that if you are lucky enough to have a home with outdoor space, you should make the most of it. And if you can exercise and get some vitamin D while avoiding crowds, even better.

So we think that for the fortunate people with a big back garden, some things will have gone from the wish list to the to-do list. Like, for instance, an outdoor swimming pool.

But that raises a question: do you need planning permission for an outdoor pool in England?  

The quick answer is: usually not. But, as ever with planning regulations, it’s not a simple yes/no question. Stay with us while we explain what you can and can’t do without planning permission when it comes to building pools on your property. 

Permitted development and outdoor pools

Elegant presentation of planning documents on a round pink table with a smartphone displaying a photo of a residential outdoor pool, highlighting the integration of digital and physical planning tools in modern landscape architecture.

The 50% rule for permitted development

The good news is that most homeowners with a large enough garden can build an outdoor pool under their permitted development rights. Swimming pools are covered by Class E for householders, and can be built without planning permission as long as you stay within the regulations.

We’ll start by explaining the regulations that apply for most of the country, and then those that cover houses inside: a World Heritage Site, a National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty or the Broads. And permitted development rights – which are set by national government – can be suspended by individual councils under Article 4 directions, so it’s always wise to check with your local authority before considering any building works.

If your property doesn’t lie in one of those exceptional areas, then a 50% rule applies. What comes next requires some maths and probably some measurements.

You’ll need a site map with your house and your garden. Next, subtract the area of the house as it was originally built (or, for older houses, as it was in 1948)– so do not include any extensions, nor a garage that is a separate building, if even it is as old as the house. (We’re aware for older houses that you may not have a clear idea of what its original footprint is – you might be able to get help from a local historical society.)

That leaves you with a total of the area surrounding the house. For permitted development purposes, only 50% of that surrounding area can have any kind of structure (buildings, enclosures and containers) on it.

So you need to add together the land occupied by sheds, separate garages, extensions etc plus your planned swimming pool, and make sure that comes to no more than 50% of the area.

And don’t forget that if you are thinking about building any structures to go with the pool – a pool house or a hot tub, for instance – those should be included in your sum. 

Simple infographic explaining how to calculate available land area for development by subtracting the ground floor area of a house from the total land area, using example figures: 140 m² total land minus 40 m² house footprint equals 100 m² of surrounding land.
Step-by-step graphic instruction for calculating the combined area of additional structures on property, including a swimming pool and shed, with example calculations showing the sum of areas for potential outdoor development planning.
Diagram illustrating the rule that the total area of additional structures, such as a swimming pool and shed, must not exceed 50% of the garden space, with an example showing a 25% usage of the available land, compliant with development rights.

Under permitted development, your pool can’t be in front of the principal elevation of your house. Usually, this is interpreted as the part of the house nearest a public road. If your house doesn’t directly face a public road – eg you have a long driveway – you might want to get advice about how this affects where you can place your pool. 

Permitted development rights for outdoor swimming pools in areas with restrictions

If your property is in a World Heritage Site, a National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) or the Broads, further regulations for outdoor swimming pools apply.

For any areas that are more than 20m from the house, only 10sq m can contain any type of structure, including a pool, under permitted development rules. 

In addition, the pool – or any other structure – has to be behind the line of the back of the house, not to the side of the house. 

Listed buildings

This one is simple: you will always need planning permission to build an outdoor pool in the land surrounding a listed building.

What happens if I can’t build an outdoor pool using permitted development?

It’s important to know that not being able to use permitted development doesn’t mean that you can’t build something. It just means that in order to do so, you will have to apply for planning permission.

This is a longer and more expensive process, but in many cases you will end up with planning permission to be able to build an outdoor swimming pool. And with the help of planning experts, you could well get a larger pool than you would have done using permitted development. 

Can I build an indoor pool in my garden?

Despite the hotter summers we have been having recently, there are large stretches of the year when not everyone wants to swim outdoors in the UK. So what if you want to build an indoor pool but your home (understandably) isn’t large enough to fit one in?

The answer is that the same permitted development rules that allow you to build an outdoor pool can be used for a building to house an indoor pool in your garden. (These are known in the trade as “pool halls”, which can be confusing as that term is also used to describe places where you go to play pocket billiards.) So again, you need to make sure you are not using more than 50% of the space explained in the diagram above.

There is a height limit for outbuildings: 4m with a dual-pitched roof, 3m otherwise, and 2.5m if you are within 2m of the fence or garden wall. In any of these cases, the eaves can’t be higher than 2.5m.

And remember to factor in space for the pool machinery (“plant” is the technical term).

It is important to note that the outbuilding needs to clearly be an outbuilding - if it’s attached to the house, then it becomes an extension and other, more restrictive rules apply. Yes, that means that you might get a bit cold in the five metres you need to walk to your morning dip, but that seems like a small sacrifice to make.

How Urbanist Architecture can help you

Urbanist Architecture is a London-based RIBA chartered architecture and planning practice with offices in Greenwich and Belgravia. With a dedicated focus in proven design and planning strategies, and expertise in residential extensions, conversions and new build homes, we help homeowners create surroundings they will love and landowners and developers achieve ROI-focused results.

If you would like to change your home in any way and think that you will need planning permission to do so, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Claudia Stephens, Planner at Urbanist Architecture
AUTHOR

Claudia Stephens

Claudia is our planner, specialising in green belt developments and other complex planning applications. She provides regulatory research and evidence-based advice, negotiates with local authority planning departments, and keeps us informed of the latest legislation and government guidance.

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