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Last edited 16 Aug 2023
Planning permission is the legal process of determining whether proposed developments should be permitted. Responsibility for planning lies with local planning authorities (usually the planning department of the district or borough council). The legislation, policy and guidance that underpins planning in England can be found on the government's National Planning Practice Guidance website.
Other than permitted developments, (which are considered to have insignificant impact), all developments require planning permission. The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 sets out details for developments that might be permitted without requiring a planning application.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) decides national planning policy for England and this is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
 Detailed and outline planning applications
Planning applications can be detailed or outline:
- Outline planning applications can be used to find out whether a proposed development is likely to be approved by the planning authority before substantial costs are incurred developing a detailed design. Outline planning applications allow the submission of outline proposals, the details of which may be agreed as 'reserved matters' applications at a later stage. NB: Applying for outline planning consent may not fall within the scope of services for members of the consultant team unless it has been separately identified under 'other activities'
- Detailed planning applications submit all the details of the proposed development at the same time.
Deciding whether to make an outline or detailed application, and when to make an application is of great importance. Typically, clients wish to secure planning permission as soon as possible so as to minimise abortive design costs. However, being granted planning permission may become more likely as the design develops and more details can be provided to the planning authority.
 General procedures
Before making a planning application it is important to check with the local planning authority; when planning meetings are held and the what procedures are followed (procedures of planning meetings, number and types of drawings required, notices required, public consultation requirements, etc.). It is also wise to enter into early consultations with the the local planning authority to gauge their likely reaction to the proposed development.
NB: See BPF/LGA 10 commitments for effective pre-application engagement January 2014.
Records should be kept of all communications with the local planning authority. This process will generally be led by the lead designer who may invite the client to attend particularly important meetings.
On large or sensitive projects it may be desirable to carry out an external consultation process. Ideally this process should being early in the life of the project in order that it can influence the preparation of the brief.
Planning applications require payment of a fee (see the Planning Portal for more details) which should be checked with the local planning authority. They also require specific forms to be completed, a cover letter describing the nature of the application, a list of drawings, and ownership certificates (see the articles on Outline planning application and Detailed planning application for more information).
The lead designer should obtain a copy of the planning officers report to the planning committee prior to the committee meeting and may, if permitted, wish to make a oral representation to the planning committee
Permissions may be the subject of planning conditions, where, rather than refusing a planning application, a local planning authority might grant permission but might, for example, restrict the use of the site or require additional approvals for specific aspects of the development.
Permissions may also be subject to planning obligations (also known as Section 106 Agreements) which are used to mitigate or compensate for negative impacts of development that might otherwise make them unacceptable. The development may also be subject to a community infrastructure levy.
If planning permission is refused, the applicant may lodge a planning appeal which will then usually be decided by an inspector acting for the Secretary of State. See Planning appeal for more information.
NB: Many planning applications are now made online via the Planning Portal, which also allows supporting documents to be uploaded, fees paid, and offers a great deal of guidance information. See Planning Portal for more information.
 Detailed procedures
 Varying permissions
Section 96A of the Town and Country Planning Act allows 'non-material' amendments to be made to planning permissions without the need to submit fresh application. What qualifies as 'non-material' is considered to be context specific and so is left to the Local Planning Authority to decide. (Ref. MHCLG: Greater flexibility for planning permissions: Guidance.)
Section 73 of the Town and Country Planning Act allows changes to the conditions applying to existing permissions and if the conditions allow, this can be used to allow minor material changes. Minor material changes are described as changes 'whose scale and nature results in a development which is not substantially different from the one which has been approved.' (Ref. MHCLG: Greater flexibility for planning permissions: Guidance.)
 Additional permissions
Demolition requires prior notification to be submitted to the local authority for determination on whether approval is required of the method of demolition where buildings are over 50 cubic metres and for walls or gates.
Where demolition works may have an environmental impact, a screening opinion is required from the local authority on whether a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required. Conservation area consent is required for demolition of a building over 115 cubic metres, and listed building consent is required for any part of a listed building.
Local planning authorities can be placed under special measures 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 will be reviewed annually to allow improving authorities to regain their determination powers.
Under certain circumstances, the Secretary of State may 'call in' planning applications to decide them themselves rather than leaving them to the local planning authority. For more information see Called-in planning applications.
The government sees the planning system as a barrier to growth and as a consequence has brought in a large number of significant changes aimed at speeding up the process and reducing red tape. This is seen by some as a welcome relaxation enabling businesses and home owners to adapt more easily to changing circumstances, whilst others see it as a bonfire of policy that creates a developer's charter.
 Penfold review (2010)
Following the recommendations of the Killian Pretty Review in 2008, the Penfold Review made a number of recommendations for streamlining non-planning consents, some of which are now being implemented by the government. For more information see Penfold Review. See Penfold Review for more information.
 Localism Act (2011)
The Localism Act sets out a series of measures intended to transfer power from central government to local authorities and local communities. It is intended ‘…to help people and their locally elected representatives to achieve their own ambitions.’ In relation to planning, this includes; abolishing regional planning strategies, creates neighbourhood planning and reforms the community infrastructure levy. See Localism Act for more information.
 National Planning Policy Framework (2012)
The National Planning Policy Framework proposes that there should be a presumption in favour of sustainable development, that determination should be plan-led and that planning authorities should grant permission wherever the local plan is absent, silent, or out of date. The framework also proposes that local communities will be able to produce their own neighbourhood plans.
 Taylor review (2012)
In addition to the radical reform brought about by the framework, Lord Taylor's review of planning guidance External review of government planning practice guidance: report submitted by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor has found that it is unfit for purpose. He suggests that 80% could be scrapped and has called for the process to begin early in 2013. See Taylor Review for more information.
In October 2013, Planning Minister Nick Boles announced aphased programme to reduce the number of technical planning regulations to 78 - a reduction of 57%.
 Growth and Infrastructure Act (2013)
The Growth and Infrastructure Act sets out a series of reforms intended to reduce the red tape that the government considers hampers business investment, new infrastructure and job creation. It is hoped that this will help the UK recover from recession and allow it to compete more effectively on the global stage.
 Permitted development (2013)
In May 2013, the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2013 came into force, making changes to permitted development rights. See Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order for more information. Further changes are proposed (see Taylor review above).
 Design and access statements (2013)
In June 2013, the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (England) (Amendment) Order 2013 came into force, limiting the requirements for applicants to produce design and access statements. See Design and access statements for more information.
NB: Despite all of these changes, in April 2014, Prime Miniser David Cameron re-stated that 'Simplifying the planning system, making it faster, is absolutely essential if we’re going to build that infrastructure that the country needs.' (Ref. David Cameron and George Osborne speech & Q&A at Skanska, 22 April 2014.)
 Devolution of planning
- A guide to the updated National Planning Policy Framework
- Alternative site assessment ASA.
- Avoiding planning permission pitfalls.
- Building regulations.
- Community Infrastructure Levy.
- Conservation areas.
- Delegated powers.
- Design and access statements.
- Detailed planning application.
- Economic viability.
- Environmental impact assessment.
- How long does it take to get planning permission.
- How long does planning permission last.
- Integrated planning.
- Listed buildings.
- National Planning Policy Framework.
- National Planning Practice Guidance.
- Neighbourhood planning.
- Outline planning application.
- Permission for mining or working of minerals.
- Permitted development.
- Permitted development: The end of the high street or a blessing in disguise?
- Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act.
- Planning appeal.
- Planning authority.
- Planning conditions.
- Planning enforcement.
- Planning fees.
- Planning legislation.
- Planning objection.
- Planning obligations.
- Planning performance agreement.
- Planning permission for garden buildings.
- Planning precedent.
- Pre-application advice.
- Sui generis and planning permission.
- The difference between planning permission building regulations approval.
- Town and Country Planning Act.
- Use class.
- What approvals are needed before construction begins.
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