Last edited 09 Feb 2015

Planning committee

The purpose of the planning system is to ensure that sustainable developments happen in the right place at the right time, for the benefit of the economy and the local community. This is achieved by a combination of policy, legislation, plan making, decision making and enforcement.

The planning system is operated by central government and three tiers of local government:

  • County councils.
  • District, borough or city councils.
  • Parish or town councils.

Planning committees are established by local planning authorities to determine applications for planning permission. However, the majority of applications are assessed against council planning policies and decided by the head of planning services, under delegated powers, with approximately 10% of applications decided by committees. Usually, the applications sent to the committee are large, complex or controversial, or those requested by an objector or member of the Council to be taken to Committee.

Planning committee meetings are public meetings where elected councillors assemble to decide whether planning applications should be approved or rejected and whether approved applications should have planning conditions or planning obligations attached to them. They may also make decisions regarding reserved matters, where aspects of a scheme already approved in outline have yet to be considered, such as the appearance of individual buildings.

Anyone can attend a planning committee meeting and hear the representations and discussions that take place. Visitors may be able to attend just for the planning application that concerns them if they know when it is likely to come up in the proceedings.

The exact procedures and format for planning committee meetings may vary from one authority to another. Generally, a detailed agenda is issued in advance of the meeting. Each application to be considered is listed in the agenda alongside a planning report prepared by local authority planning officers. The report can include:

  • Details of the application and its location.
  • Relevant considerations.
  • Representations made by interested parties such as neighbours and statutory consultees.
  • A conclusion with recommendations.

The committee consider each case in an order decided by the committee chair. Proposals are discussed by the councillors and representations may be made to the committee by the applicant as well as other interested parties, both those in favour, those against and those with comments to make. If an application is contentious or if the meeting is well attended, it may be necessary to arrange in advance to make a representation.

An application for planning permission may be granted, sometimes subject to certain planning conditions or planing obligations, or may be rejected and the reason for refusal stated. Decisions may also be deferred if councillors require more information and time to consider the proposal. Occasionally applications are withdrawn from meetings.

Planning committees generally meet every 2 to 8 weeks depending on the local authority, the time of year and the number of applications. Special meetings may be held for particularly important applications.

Changes introduced by the Localism Act 2011 mean councillors are now permitted to discuss matters relating to planning prior to voting as long as they can show they are listening to evidence, judging the application with an open mind and have not made their decision before the vote.

Local authority planning officers assist with the operation of the planning committee system by holding meetings with applicants before applications are submitted, preparing reports about applications and making recommendations. It is important that applicants meet with planning officers before submitting an application, to assess whether the proposed development is likely to be given permission, what conditions or obligations might be applied, the form of the application required, the timing of planning committee meetings and so on. The local planning authority can be found on the Planning Portal website.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government oversees the planning system as a whole as well as having a role in making decisions on some appeals, calling-in applications for some proposals and assessing the performance of local authorities.

Local planning authorities can be placed under special measures by the Secretary of State if they fail to determine 70% or more of the major applications they handle within 13 weeks (applications for 10 homes or more, or the equivalent commercial floorspace), or if more than 20% of major applications decisions are overturned on appeal. Local planning authorities under special measures will have applications determined by the planning inspectorate and will lose a proportion of the application fee. Special measures designation is reviewed annually to allow improving authorities to regain their determination powers.

The National Planning Policy Framework requires that plan making and decision taking:

  • Should be genuinely plan-led.
  • Should be a creative exercise, not just one of scrutiny.
  • Should be proactive in driving and supporting sustainable development.
  • Should seek and secure high quality.
  • Should take account of the diverse character of different areas.
  • Should support the transition to a climate-resilient, low-carbon economy.
  • Should contribute to conserving and enhancing the natural environment and reducing pollution.
  • Should encourage the use of brownfield land.
  • Should encourage mixed-use development.
  • Should conserve heritage.
  • Should maximise the use of public transport, walking and cycling.
  • Should support health, social and cultural wellbeing.

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