Resources and FAQs


What is planning permission?

Planning permission gives consent to carry out ‘development’. The term ‘development’ covers a number of different things including building projects and changes in the way land or premises are used (such as a change from a ‘family’ house to a house in multiple occupation).

Some simple types of development are covered by a general planning permission, granted in government regulations and known as ‘permitted development rights’. Guidance on simple domestic projects can be found on the Planning Portal, using the interactive house. For more complicated projects advice should be sought from the planning department at your local council, or for independent, confidential expert advice, you are welcome to contact me.

Most types of development need planning permission from the local council.

Planning permission may not be the only type of consent needed for a project. For example, for a building project ‘Buildings Regs’ may also be required.

Working with an expert will help to sort out what does and does not require planning permission.

Why do I need to get planning permission?

The law requires it. If you do something without planning permission it is possible you might later have to undo it, and bear the cost and inconvenience of doing so. Not having the permission you need may also create difficulties getting insurance or if you wish to use what you have done as security for a loan or mortgage.

The planning system also seeks to ensure that when change does take place that it is in the public interest, minimising harmful impacts and hopefully delivering real benefits to an area, as well as for the party carrying out the change. It is a process by which different and sometimes competing interests can be understood, weighed up and a balanced judgement be reached about the best course of action. It is important therefore to ensure your case is well presented.

Who is responsible for the decision on a planning application?

The local ‘unitary’ or ‘district’ Council will usually be the one who will make a decision on a planning application. Town and parish councils may be asked for their opinion but do not have a veto.

At the Council, most decisions (probably about 90%) will be decided by a member of the council’s staff, usually a senior planning officer, and the remainder will go before elected members at a planning committee.

It can help therefore if you have someone on your side who knows and understands how the town planners at the council will think about and approach an application. Someone like them, who speaks their language. Someone who used to do the job they do.

How are decisions made on planning applications?

The decision must be made in accordance with something called the ‘development plan’, unless ‘material considerations’ indicate otherwise.

The development plan is a document prepared by the council and it contains the policies they will use to assess whether or not a proposal is acceptable.

Material considerations are any other relevant planning considerations. This can include a great many things. The system allows for material considerations to potentially allow decisions contrary to policies in a development plan because it is understood that policy documents cannot foresee every eventuality and some flexibility will produce a more appropriate decision.

It is for the council to decide what the outcome of the application should be. It is important therefore that anyone with an interest in the outcome has their case presented clearly and persuasively.

Are the rules in England and Wales the same?

No. Following devolution the Welsh Assembly have set out planning rules for Wales. There are still many similarities between the two systems, but also many differences. Do not assume that laws and policies in one country apply in the other. It is best to get expert advice on how the planning system operates for the country the site is in.

Are the planning rules between different councils the same?

Some rules are the same because they come from national legislation and national planning policy. Others may be similar but not quite the same. This is because each Council is responsible for producing its own set of local planning policies.

Local planning policies can be difficult to understand and to interpret correctly. Getting it wrong can be costly, leading to delays and even to an application being refused.

It is therefore important to know how your project may be affected, before you invest too heavily in a scheme.

Do I need an architect?

For a building project you may well benefit from using an architect or an architectural technician, to work with you to develop the design ideas, to draw plans and to oversee the implementation.

For most types of planning application some form of drawing or plan will be required. But you can choose who you want to appoint to oversee the preparation and submission of the application. If a project is straightforward an architect or architectural technician could do this. For more complex or contentious projects you may benefit from using a chartered planning consultant.

How long does it take to get planning permission?

This will depend on the scale and complexity of the project. Time is required to prepare the application, for the council to then assess it and sometimes when permission is granted it is subject to conditions that require more work to be done before you can start on site.

Even a relatively simple domestic project can take three or even four months. Other types of project can take up to a year or even longer.

It is therefore important to get expert advice as early as possible to help you plan your time and your budget.