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Do I need planning permission?

Definitions - curtilage, principal elevation and road

The planning rules used to decide whether you need planning permission for householder developments often talk about  ‘principal elevation’, ‘curtilage’ and ‘road’.  You will need to understand what these terms mean if you want to find out if you need planning permission for changes to your home.

Principal elevation

Principal elevation means the ‘front’ of the house.  Most houses are built so that the ‘front’ of the house faces a road. As this is the part of the house that is seen by most members of the public, it will usually be designed to be the most important elevation or ‘principal elevation’.  We know that not every house will face directly onto a street and that there will be many different variations, particularly with houses on corner sites or set back far from the road. However, for the vast majority of houses it will be straightforward to identify which elevation is the ‘principal elevation’. Once you have decided which is the principal elevation, you will then know which are the rear and side elevations.

  • Where it is not immediately obvious which elevation is the principal one, it can help to think about the following:
    which elevation has the main door in it?
  • which side of the house do the main living rooms face out on to?
  • which elevation of the house faces out towards a road?
  • which elevation faces onto your private garden ground – this is usually the rear elevation (not the principal elevation) and is screened by fencing or walls.
  • which elevation has the most attractive design or architectural features?


Front curtilage is all the land (usually garden ground) in front of the line of the main wall of the principal elevation up to the front boundary of your property (usually the boundary next to the pavement). The rear curtilage is the remainder of the land behind the principal elevation of the house.


A road is defined as ‘any way over which there is a public right of passage including its verge’.  It includes public roads used by cars, footpaths, footways (alongside roads), private roads to which the public have access and cycle tracks.