Guide to the Planning Process

When confronted by a local planning issue, it can be confusing to understand the nuances of the planning system. To help with this, our independent planning consultant Michael Hand has simplified the process with this piece:

Some proposals are deemed permitted development’, but where planning permission is required the local planning authority (LPA) is responsible for making a decision. This will normally be the district/borough/city council (or unitary council); however, some matters are determined by the county council, eg minerals and waste development.

In advance of a planning application being submitted, the applicant is generally encouraged to discuss the proposal with the LPA at an early stage to gauge the principle of acceptability or changes needed to make it acceptable (pre-app discussions).

As good practice, applicants are also recommended to consult in advance with local residents over the proposals – this could be on an informal basis with neighbours or, for larger schemes, via a community consultation event (pre-app consultation). However, residents need to be aware that by speaking with the applicant (or their agent), any subsequent minor changes to the proposals may result in the applicant arguing that they had taken local views into consideration and thereby the proposal had full consent of the local community.

Once the LPA has received a planning application, it will publicise the proposal (using notices on site and in the local paper as well as written notification to neighbours and parish councils) so that people have a chance to express their views. The specific publicity requirements will depend on the type of application.

The formal consultation period will normally last for no fewer than 21 days. Anyone may comment on a planning application during this period and details of how to do so will be available from the LPA. Written comments will be taken into account when the LPA makes a decision on the application, so long as they raise considerations that are relevant to the proposal and ‘material’ to planning. These can relate, inter alia, to the potential impact on residential amenity, local heritage, visual appearance, access and traffic generation, trees and landscape, biodiversity and other environmental issues.

As a general principle, the planning system works in the public interest and matters that solely affect private interests are not usually material considerations in planning decisions. However, each application is considered on its merits. Those involving listed buildings or located in a Conservation Area or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are subject to tighter forms of planning control.

An LPA usually has up to eight weeks to make a decision on minor applications, which include most householder cases, and up to 13 weeks for major development, such as large housing or employment sites. Generally, once planning permission is granted, development must be started within three years. If work has not started by then, the applicant will probably need to reapply.

The National Planning Policy Framework places emphasis on the need for LPAs to approach decision-taking in a positive way to support the delivery of sustainable development. LPAs should work with applicants to secure developments that improve the economic, social and environmental conditions of their area.

The planning system is plan-led and any planning application must be determined in line with the development plan (Local Plan, Neighbourhood Plans and, where relevant, the London Plan) unless other material considerations indicate otherwise. The development plan provides the local policy context for consideration of applications – this includes the identification and allocation of suitable land for different types of development.

Where the development plan is out of date or in preparation, there is a greater chance that proposals that are not in line with the existing or emerging plan might be successful. However, inappropriate applications can still be turned down where the Local Plan has yet to be completed, updated or adopted by the LPA.

Planning officers working in development management usually decide smaller developments under delegated decision-taking powers. Larger and more controversial proposals are decided by planning committee. LPAs can consider whether the impacts of a development proposal could be mitigated through the use of certain conditions or planning obligations attached to the planning approval (legally entered into through a Section 106 agreement).

If the LPA refuses permission, or grants it subject to unacceptable conditions or fails to deal with an application within the statutory time limit, the applicant has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State, via the Planning Inspectorate.
An appeal is considered by an appointed independent Planning Inspector. They may undertake the appeal by one of three ways, depending on the complexity of the case: written representations, hearing or inquiry. Only the applicant may appeal against a planning decision – there is no third-party right of appeal. However, interested parties (local individuals and groups) have an opportunity to make their representations to the Inspector.