Planning Applications - (UK)

This is a guide to the planning system in the UK; how planning applications are processed and how you can have a say in what can be built and what cannot.

The planning system exists to make sure that things get built in the right place, and to stop the wrong things getting built. It makes sure that new uses for land and buildings are right for the location. In theory, the system helps to plan for the development the country needs, while protecting the natural and man-made environment. It is meant to ensure developments are 'sustainable' - in other words, that planning decisions will not damage the environment for future generations.
Parliament and the Government set the framework for planning. Parliament makes the Planning Laws and the Government issues statements of policy which local planning authorities (usually councils) must take into account when their draw up their 'development plans' and take planning decisions.

Development control should make sure that changes to buildings and land and their uses are right for the site concerned, and that the wrong things do not get built. Consideration of planning applications and providing people with information about individual planning proposals are part the process.

Planning permission is required for any development. Planning law defines 'development' as: "the carrying out of building.... ,or the making of any material changes in the use of any building or other land."

Decisions about planning applications must take account of the area's development plan and must also consider the effect the proposal might have on the environment and the local community.

The council must publicise all applications and take relevant comments into account. All notices and advertisements should give a date by which you need to have made your comments. This date must be at least 21 days after the site notice is put up, or 14 days after the advertisement appears in the local newspaper.

The council must put details of all valid applications in the Statutory Register. This lists all current planning applications and past decisions. The register must be available to be viewed at all reasonable hours. It is normally kept at the council's main office.

Either the council's planning officers, or planning committee (made up of elected councillors) will decide an application. The process chosen depends on how the council has chosen to manage applications.

There is often some confusion about what councils can take into account when they consider comments on development proposals. It is important to realise that councils cannot reject a proposal simply because a lot of people are against it.

Only objections that are relevant to planning issues can be considered. For example; problems with traffic if the development went ahead; the effect a development might have on the environment; and the effect the proposal might have on the appearance of the surrounding areas.

Other issues sometimes come up, but they are not planning issues so the council cannot normally take them into account. Such issues include the effect a development might have on property values, the nature of the specific applicant, or any moral issues.

The key question for the planning system is whether the proposed use of the site would be acceptable in land use and environmental terms. This means that the issues of increased litter, noise and nuisance to local residents, and increased parking difficulties and traffic congestion are all valid concerns.

See also:
  • Organising Objections
  • Example letter of objection
  • Example campaign petition
  • Spoof McDriveThru application
  • Development plans

    All councils must produce a development plan for their area and planning permission should only be granted for applications that are in line with the development plan. The council would need very convincing reasons to grant a planning application, that goes against the plan, and would be perfectly within their rights to refuse permission.

    The plans consist of text and a map or diagram. It will outline residential, commercial and industrial zones within the area and will also include policies regarding such things as traffic reduction etc. You can see the development plan for an area at the local councils planning office (look up 'Planning Department under the councils name in the phone book) and at other public buildings such as local libraries.

    Producing development plans is not a one-off task; it is a continuous process that you can contribute to. It is particularly important for you to get involved if you want a say in how an area is developed in the future.
    A free booklet 'Development Plans - What you need to know' is available from the Department of the Environment, PO Box 151, London, E15 2HF

    Environment Assessments

    If a proposal is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, it may need a formal environment assessment before the council make a decision. In practise this occurs only with a tiny number of planning applications.
    More detailed information is available in 'Environmental Assessment: A Guide to the Procedures' published by HMSO.

    Other consents

    Many outdoor signs and advertisements do not require specific consent. But permission is required for advertisements which will have a greater visual effect on their surroundings. This includes most illuminated signs and large poster hoarding. Express consent must be applied for from the council before such advertisements are used. Consent can only be refused if the sign or advertisement would be a danger to public safety , or would be out of keeping with it surroundings.
    A free leaflet 'Outdoor Advertisements and Signs' is available from the DOE.

    The United Kingdom has at least; 500,000 listed building, 16,200 scheduled monuments, 8,100 conservation areas, and many Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and trees protected by preservation orders. There features require special consent is required before any building or demolition work is carried out that will effect them.
    Further details can be obtained from; English Heritage, Fortress House, 23 Saville Row, London W1X 1AB ; English Nature, Northminster House, Peterborough, PE1 1UA.
    You can get the free leaflet 'Protect Trees' from the DOE.

    This document was based on a booklet entitled 'Planning - Charter Standards' produced by the Department of the Environment, the Welsh Office and the National Planning Forum.