Does my giant inflatable Santa need planning permission?

Apex Outdoor Christmas Decorations

Tis the season to deck the halls but what about your front garden? Have you planned an over-the-top display with thousands of lights and giant, inflatable snowmen and Santas? We take time out with a mince pie and a hot chocolate to consider the planning implications…

Outdoor Christmas Decorations

A few years ago, a Hertfordshire pub landlord made national headlines thanks to the 30ft Santa inflatable, which sat on top of his establishment. Despite making the building shake in the wind, pulling off roof tiles and making some alarming creaking noises, the local authority assured journalists that because the Santa was a temporary structure, it was not breaking any planning regulations – unless it became a safety hazard. So the Potters Bar pub retained its temporary festive landmark, presumably relying on the provisions of The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015 (as amended), Schedule 2, Part 4, Class A, which allows temporary buildings and structures.

Over the past few years, Christmas lights and decorations have become more popular – and have grown from a few bulbs strung along a porch or roof line, into full Christmas displays, with flashing lights, inflatable Santas, reindeer and snowmen, illuminated candy canes and more. Some even have displays set to music.

It’s no surprise after the past couple of years we have experienced that people want to bring a little joy at Christmas time. George White did just that, when he decided to erect a Father Christmas inflatable that was almost as tall as his two-storey Letchworth home. And then added a huge snowman! Some may argue that George’s installations were not very tasteful, but there is no law against that – and again, these temporary structures arguably accord with the provisions of permitted development rights and therefore do not break any planning regulations.

Outdoor Christmas Lights

So what about lights – the trend for multicoloured flashing lights has not abated – and if they are not your cup of tea, do you have any recourse against them if your neighbours go all out with lights and music? Unfortunately, like Steve Finch in the classic Christmas movie Deck the Halls, really the only thing you can do is grin and bear it. Poor Dr Finch waged a campaign to stop his neighbour Buddy Hall running his excessive light show all through the night – but he just ended up looking like the bad guy.

So, are your neighbours breaking any planning regulations or laws with their lights display? Well not really. Interestingly, there have been incidences of tenants of council or housing association owned homes being told to take down their lights by their landlord, but otherwise, your neighbour will not be falling foul of any laws unless their lights cause a nuisance. In that case it could be possible that they are contravening the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and they could be instructed by the local authority to take their lights down.

Statutory Nuisance

Planning laws generally don’t cover minor light installations – however environmental regulations can cover poorly installed lights that cause extreme disturbance. So, if for instance, your Christmas display included a laser beam, which pointed into the living room of the house across the road, you could be accused of nuisance or negligence.

Statutory nuisance can carry a fine of up to £20,000, so do be considerate when setting up your light installation. Consider a timer so that lights are turned off at a suitable time each night – and are not left flashing all night if you head to bed and forget about them. And keep flashing lights and music to a minimum, especially if your neighbours are close to you. After all, there’s only so many times you can listen to Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas before you lose your patience!

Finally, if you are trying to sell your house – think carefully about your Christmas light display. According to a survey by online estate agent, more than half of us would be put off making an offer on a home that had excessive Christmas lights and decorations. And loud Christmas music coming from a neighbour would be a deal breaker for 68% of those questioned – so if your neighbour is trying to sell, try to be considerate about your own Christmas celebrations!

One other point to note is that all this information applies if you are putting lights up on your own home and in your own garden. If you want to add decorations and lights around your village, for instance, you will need a licence. Because of health and safety regulation rules, a licence is needed if putting up lights across a road, on streetlamp posts, and trees in public areas. The good news, however, is that the licence is free. Find out more at

And finally, if you’re not selling your home, and not causing a nuisance or health and safety hazard, string up your lights, blow up that Santa – and have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, from all of us at Apex Planning Consultants!

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