Understanding Planning Permission in the UK

Foundations of the UK Planning System

In 1947, the ‘Town & Country Planning Act’ laid the foundations for the UK’s planning system. From that date any new works ‘over, under or on’ land must be ‘permitted’ by the relevant Local Authority before they can commence. Although the Act retrospectively approved pre-existing uses and buildings, any ‘material change of use’ of property also required permission. So, with few exceptions, before anyone can carry out any building, mining or engineering works, they must obtain a certificate consenting to that ‘development’.

‘Planning Title’

It is this ‘Planning Certificate’ that entitles you to build. And, although you may own legal title to the land, without such ‘planning title’ you may find your new building or other works has no value. Even worse, its absence could make your whole property un-saleable.

‘Permitted Development’

The exceptions – or ‘permitted development’, which gain automatic permission – only apply to specific types of development, minor works and things like routine maintenance. Most ‘permitted development’ refers to home extensions for which no application for planning permission has to be made providing it meets certain basic criteria governing size, location and appearance. These will be discussed in a later article.

The Two-Stage Test.

To know whether or not you need to make a planning application, you must decide first if your proposal is for ‘development’, i.e. does it materially change the use of the property, and second whether any such change is automatically ‘permitted development’. If, having run this ‘test’, you decide you need to make an application then this must be made to the relevant Planning Authority.

Planning Policies

If planning consent is required for your particular development scheme your plans and proposals will need to conform to national, regional and local plans and policies. Central Government issues ‘Planning Policy Statements’, which are now replacing its ‘Planning Policy Guidance Notes’, or PPG’s, via its Department for Communities and Local Government. You can browse these on their website. Dealing with the relationships between development, land use planning and other policies that must be embraced by Local Authorities when they prepare plans, they are important when considering how to make your planning application and could be extremely relevant if you have to appeal against a refusal to grant planning permission.

Plan Making and Local Development Frameworks

Within these frameworks, local planning authorities also make their own policies and plans. The aim of these is to place local considerations within county, regional and national contexts. Overall those ‘planners’ drafting these plans and policies for adoption by the members (councillors) of each local authority will consider socio-demographic and economic issues alongside transport, education, tourism, housing, industry and infrastructure forecasts and proposals.

Through its Planning Advisory Service, central government provides a range of tools and assistance for such plan making authorities and it is worth reviewing these to appreciate how these authorities might approach this task.

Development Control

Most local planning authorities have a Development Control Department and it is the Development Control Officers (DCO’s) that most people come into contact with and regard as ‘the planners’. In fact, while these often highly qualified people may have data and advisory input into the plan making process, they are not the people who draw up the plans and policies for adoption by the Local Council / Municipality. The job of these DCO’s is to check that each application submitted for planning consent conforms to the plans and policies affecting the area in which the proposed development is to be sited. They also administer other tasks like checking that statutory authorities and utilities, like water, sewage, highways, etc. as well as neighbours have no serious and over-riding objections to the building, mining, or other project being applied for.

Once they have double checked that a planning application is required, providing it complies with the ‘approved plan’ (which includes policies) for the area they may recommend it for acceptance by the ‘Planning Committee’. Some LPA’s actually delegate limited powers to senior DCO’s enabling them to actually grant, or refuse, permissions without further reference to the Committee. However, if there are many objections, especially from neighbours, they are likely to refer the matter to either a sub-committee or the full Planning Committee for a decision.

Planning Authorities

If you decide your plans are for a ‘development’, as defined under the Act, and that yours is NOT a ‘permitted development’ then you need to decide which planning authority you need to apply to. For most building operations it is likely that your Borough or District Council LPA (Local Planning Authority) will consider your application. However, if your development proposals are for a site inside a National Park, then it has to be made to the National Park Authority. If it is for quarrying or mining minerals, waste activities, or engineering works in a non-metropolitan area, your County Council will be involved.

You can get the relevant application forms from their web sites that generally also provide other information and documents for your guidance. When you’ve read though these it is a good idea to go and talk to them to make sure what type of application is most appropriate, how this is likely to be received, and what – if any – changes they would like to see before making an application. This could enhance your chances of obtaining that profitable planning approval.

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