Can I Start Trading Before I Get a Planning Permit?

Can I Start Trading Before I Get a Planning Permit?

Business questions blog

Can you start trading? The short answer? No!

If a planning permit is required to carry out the proposed use then you can’t start trading until approval is granted (which includes the endorsed plans). If you operate without the necessary approvals then the local council can take action by issuing a fine or stopping you trading.

While I know the rules, I’m also a realist. The planning permit process can be slow and a decision can easily take months. As a Business Owner I understand the pressure that can put on a business. I will discuss a few options for new and existing business owners to consider to try to relieve some of this pressure.


Well, the first thing is planning so that enough time is set aside either before you need to move into the new premises or before you start trading. Some Councils have started offering a ‘business concierge’ service, to assist new businesses with information on all the different requirements and permits that are required to start up a business. It is a great idea to contact the Council and relevant consultants early in your business idea process, to maximise your knowledge and time to do things. It might even be possible to negotiate a lease that is subject to a planning permit, or at least a lease free period for part of the planning process time. Be aware that the planning process can easily take 6-8 months, but even a few months before the lease starts can be a help. Usually within that timeframe I can gauge with some certainty if there will be any major issues with town planning approval to provide you with more certainty as the application progresses.

Starting Small

Of course the luxury of time isn’t always available so the other thing to look at is: are there any activities that could be started first? Perhaps there is a subset of activities that can be done initially that doesn’t need planning approval. For example, say you were looking to open a business with warehouse and office facilities, you could initially operate the warehouse in an industrial zone while you applied for the planning permit for an office. In this way you can start some of the business trading to start earning revenue, while going through the planning process.

What Can You Do Without a Planning Permit?

Having a conversation with a town planner might give you an alternative definition or reduced activities that could be done initially.

For a Change of Use application, the internal details such as new flooring, painting, partitioning etc don’t need a planning permit. This means that you can get started on getting fit-out so you are ready to open immediately. I appreciate the need to balance spending time and money while the outcome of the planning permit is still pending, but as the application progresses we can discuss this with you so you can make the best decision on this overall.

You will just need to check with a building surveyor if you require a building permit for anything first.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Another option may be to find a premises that already has approval. This may be much harder to do, but could save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

It doesn’t have to be exactly the same from a planning perspective, for example a general medical centre could be used for dentists, physiotherapists or any other medical service. Just make sure that you have a copy of the planning permit as you will need to adhere to all of the permit conditions.

Even if it isn’t exactly the same as what you want to do, sometimes having prior approval for a similar use can still be beneficial. For example, a warehouse that was converted to a dance studio could lend itself to a new approval as a gym. In most circumstances, the “hard work” of showing that a different type of use is suitable on site has been done, so a new planning approval is more likely. Make sure that you are aware of the planning permit conditions as the Council would be likely to want to impose similar restrictions, such as the numbers of clients or hours of operation as previous.

It has been my privilege to guide many business owners through their planning permits so that they can open or expand their business. Throughout the process I provide frank and realistic advice to balance the planning process with real world business needs. If you are thinking of starting or expanding your business, contact me today for a discussion about your planning permit needs.