Planning Applications – Process Guidance

Firstly you should note, planning requirements change over time and different planning authorities may well interpret and/or manage requirements differently, along with having their own specific time requirements.  As such you should always discuss your plans with a local qualified Planning Consultant and/or the Local Planning Officer, before making any decisions or committing funds to a particular project.  Doing so can also help build trust between the parties and you may find the Planning and/or Building Control Department can be very helpful, potentially saving you time and money later on.

Generally speaking planning applications are decided using a process which can be relatively consistent across the England and Wales, however and as mentioned above, you should ensure you have verified the process you would be required to follow for the specific property.  That said, the information below is adapted from the Southampton City Council website in June 2015 and you may find it a useful starting point.

The process of dealing with a planning application, after submission is time consuming, in most cases requiring extensive consultation of statutory bodies and neighbours. It goes through several stages before a decision is made.Planning application process flowchart falling down house image

Government targets have been set for Local Planning Authorities to deal with applications. These are as follows: 13 weeks for major projects and 8 weeks for minor project and other matters.

A simplified version of the process is can be found using the link below and you can download the easy to follow process flowchart to aid your understanding.

  1. Registering the application
    On receipt of your application the Council should send an acknowledgement letter and advise you of the application number your application been given. If you have sent all of the information needed your application will then likely become valid.

If your application is invalid (you have not sent all of the information needed for instance), the Council should contact you to let you know what additional information is needed from you. If this information is not received within the time frame given, it will be returned in the post along with a 25% administration (this may be different across Planning Authorities) cost taken from the planning fee refund. This applies to all planning applications types.

Note: If you are using an agent, such as a Planning Consultant for instance, then the application form and all correspondence will be sent to the agent.

  1. Allocation to a case officer
    Once your application is valid, it will be allocated to a planning officer, who may contact you if they require further clarification of a point or more details to assess the application. Application forms and other supporting documents will also be published on the website at this stage.If you have spoken to the Planning Officer in advance of the application, when your application arrives the Officer may well be able to expedite matters more quickly and/or be in a better position to consider your application. Therefore, if possible, try to have initial discussions with the Planning Officer before you submit an application, it can save time and money later down the line.  This is particularly so if the project and/or building/land are unusual, e.g. Listed Building say.
  2. Consultation and advertisement
    The Planning Officer will write to your neighbours and any other individuals, groups and organisations who have an interest in the site, giving them 21 days to comment on your application.The Planning Authority only makes a decision on an application when the consultation period is over.

Any of the consultees can write to the Planning Officer to support or object to your application and such communications may well be published as part of the planning application process.

In some instances, the application may be advertised in the local or national press, dependent upon the Planning Officer’s judgement and/or a site notice may be displayed on or near the site so that the public are made aware of the application.  These notices are usually placed on visible fixed points, e.g. lampposts nearby.

  1. Site visit
    The case officer will normally visit the site. They will only contact you or your agent about this visit if they cannot gain access to the site or if they believe there is a reason to do so. This is not, usually, the time for meetings on-site between the parties, but it may be something that the Planning Officer decides is worthwhile.
  2. Negotiation and discussion
    Following a visit, if an Officer considers that your proposal is not acceptable but that it could be improved, they may contact you or your agent to discuss changes. If you agree with the proposed changes, you will need to revise your plans and drawings and send them to the Officer again. As mentioned above, having had initial discussions with the Planning Authority/Officer can possibly speed up the process.However, it is unlikely that the Officer will ask for changes to an application that goes against their planning policies or requires substantial changes. If this happens, the case officer may suggest that you withdraw the application before it is refused.For some applications, you may be required to make an infrastructure contribution to the council, this can vary across authorities and as such you should consult locally to ascertain what/how much this could be.  The details of what may be required should be set out in a Section 106 legal agreement. However, this should already have been discussed and agreed upon in principle at the pre-application stage.
  1. Officer recommendation
    The case officer will write a report on your proposal, highlighting every issue they have considered. This will include:
    • Consideration of the relevant planning policies
    • Observations from the site visit
    • Discussions with the applicant and any other relevant parties
    • Comments from consultees / interested third parties / neighboursThe report will conclude with the Officer recommendation to either approve or refuse your application.
  1. Councillor involvement
    Some proposals will be reported to theCouncil’s Planning Committee (or other such Committee that decides such matters in the authority) which is usually made of Local Ward Councillors. The agendas for this Committee is usually published in advance and the meetings are normally open to the public to attend. If you have sent in comments on an application you should automatically be sent an invitation to attend.Knowing a local Councillor and lobbying them in advance of the decision may help you understand their expectation and may also help you appreciate the policies they are trying to achieve.  As such why not make an effort to discuss your requirement with a Councillor, it may not be easy and should not make any difference in the scheme of things, but if there’s no harm in doingso then why not try?
  2. The decision
    A decision on your application will then be made by a Planning Team Leader (under delegated powers) for smaller and or non contentious applications or by other more Senior Officers/Councillors for larger or more controversial applications. The majority of applications are determined under delegated powers and as such having a relationship with the Planning Officer, i.e. having spoken with them and managed the application in accordance with their requirements, may well help expedite matters.planning buildingsOnce this decision has been made, a formal decision letter will be issued to the applicant or agent. In most cases where permission is granted, the decision letter will detail conditions that apply. A reason will be given for each condition. Any reasons for refusing an application will be given as well should that be needed. If you are aggrieved by the decision on your application you may appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, but third parties such as neighbours have no such right of appeal.
  1. Discharging the conditions
    If permission is granted you should read the decision notice carefully to see if any of the conditions need to be discharged before development can start on site. It is the responsibility of the applicant, or any subsequent developer, to ensure that the terms of all conditions are met in full at the appropriate time.As mentioned above, Planning Applications are complicated and can be very contentious, with larger or more controversial schemes possibly running for many years and having numerous third parties and/or objectors to satisfy/deal with.It is vital, at the earliest stage, that you plan ahead and identify potential hurdles you may need to cross.  Discuss with your neighbours to get their point of view or others in the area who you believe may be affected.  You may be able to address their concerns and help mitigate their potential objections, potentially saving time and money later on!

Always seek appropriately qualified advice from a Chartered Surveyor and/or Planning Consultant registered with the Royal Town Planning Institute or similar.  Please note the information provided above is for guidance purposes only and should not be relied upon in isolation to make any decisions or financial commitment.