12 Minutes|In Planning

Planning Permission and the System – Do we even need it?

Planning and Planners are often scary words in the Property industry. The equivalent of some sort of strict parental figure intent on restricting and punishing. The truth could not be further from this. Yes! planners can sometimes be difficult, but they follow a protocol set to protect and usually enhance our living environment.

In this first article in the series, we’ll explain a bit about the Planning System background. Then, we’ll its purpose and how it can help you and others. After that, we’ll briefly look at Planning Applications and consents. Finally, we’ll talk about appeals and even the dreaded enforcement.


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Imagine buying a plot of land and building whatever you wanted. It is your land, after all, you should do with it as you wish. So you start digging, pour some foundations, erect walls and add a roof.

Suddenly, your new neighbour builds a tower next to you looking straight into your bedroom and bringing hundreds of tenants. Opposite a nightclub and hospital open. Your dream of quiet enjoyment of your new home is gone.

This was the world before the Planning System was established. Perhaps not quite so lawless, but chaotic and inconvenient nonetheless.

Enter the Planning System

The year is 1948, and things were about to get organised. Suddenly the right to build whatever you wanted was replaced by asking for permission. The local council would look at what you planned and decided if it aligned with its current plans.

Why oh why?

The lack of a system meant everyone built based on their needs and goals. There were effectively no rules, no consideration for your neighbours, the occupiers or users of your building, and definitely not the wider town or city.

Centralising decisions meant that suddenly areas could remain purely residential enjoying quiet and good air quality, whilst other zones could be highstreets, industrial or even leisure. No longer would you suffer neighbours building new spaces looking straight into your home. Rural agricultural green spaces could be protected from quickly disappearing in urban sprawls.

With this, transport routes, roads and wider infrastructure could be planned essentially allowing major masterplans to give cities efficiency and its residents greater ease and hopefully quality of life.

What does Planning do?

At the high-level Government dictates National Planning Policy giving a framework to local councils and districts. But the real action is local.

A Local Planning Authority (e.g. your local council) will think of its area and its needs. Does Barnet Council need to house more families? Will they, therefore, need to have more private garden space and public parks? or would Camden Council need to house more young professionals in a denser urban area? Would they, therefore, need stricter privacy and less noise?

The LPA (Local Planning Authority AKA your local council planners) analyse their areas and creates Planning Policy. These guidance documents are essentially standards which help achieve the goals the planners understand their areas need. These will relate to external design, size, layouts, amenity spaces, noise, privacy, parking, highways, size and the type or use of buildings.

The Planning Application

It’s time to get a little more practical. “I don’t need the big story,” you say “How can I get my vision approved?”

To get permission for a scheme we need to prepare a Planning Application. We look at this in more detail in other posts in the series but in summary, the first step is to learn the Planning Policy. Or more ideally enlist the help of a local Architect and Planner who already understands some of the local quirks your council planners have.

In brief, there are two groups of planning applications – Outline and Full. An Outline application is one you can use

The OUTLINE Application

On some sites, you may believe permission might not be gained or you may not be ready to commit time and resources to a Full application. You can make an Outline application to see if your draft proposal may be accepted in principle.

If this is approved (great news!), you will make a complete application to clarify and provide more details on all the aspects of the application. This is called the Reserved Matter application since some parts were held back or reserved during your initial outline application. Together these will form a Full application.

The FULL Application

You know exactly what you want, you checked the planning policies and believe you have good reasoning and a chance of getting approved. You submit a Full planning application.

In this, you show exactly what you intend to build or change, providing full and detailed drawings, schedules as needed and perhaps a useful Planning Statement to show how you satisfy planning policy standards.

a side note*

There are other applications such as Retrospective and ones to alter conditions set. With good foresight and strategy, the former should not happen and the latter is one when major permission has already been approved. We will look at these in greater depth in other posts but for now, consider the Outline and Full are the major starting points and usually the only ones you should hope to make.

There are also some types of development when no application is needed or some reduced form of consent. these are known as Permitted Developments and we look at these on other posts.

"What if I don't get permission?"

You have ticked all the boxes, made the application, and waited for the result, but alas received a refusal rather than an approval.

For some, in their frustration, they proceed with the work, or maybe they had already started. But going down this route may mean an Enforcement via a Breach of Planning Control. This could mean the Council would have the power to go on your land, investigate, prosecute, fine and instruct demolition. All at the expense of the owner.

We will only briefly touch on it here as other posts will go into this in-depth – the way to deal with Refusal is either via Appeal or Reapply.


Local planners are not the final judge. If you (or your consultant – Architect/Planner) truly believe the proposal is valid and conforms to the planning policy you can appeal to an independent inspector. Appeals are made to the Secretary of State. Since it operates at a national level it keeps the Local councils in line.

The issue with Appeals is that they are very lengthy processes typically taking many months to resolve. This might be the appropriate response to a larger or more contentious scheme, but for smaller schemes or even projects already on site, it may be better to be less confrontational.

Try Again

Contrary to popular belief, Planners don’t get any joy from refusing applications. Quite the contrary, they usually wish to promote development as long as it does not harm others and can hopefully improve things locally. You may want to split your property into flats with somewhat only self-interest, but you would be helping the council alleviate the lack of accommodation AKA the housing crisis.

Before council planners outright refuse, they will usually tell you why and ask if you can alter the application. If there is just too much to change, they would suggest you withdraw the application rather than refuse so that it does not give you a negative mark on the property’s planning history. You can then reapply, but this time with the understanding of what is needed by the council to give permission. I like to think of this as a planning application that retrospectively became a pre-application.

In Conclusion

Planning policy and permission are a positive evolution in our recent civilisation. Without it, we would be at the whim of our neighbour’s unchecked desires, all with conflicting goals.

Planning policy takes a local (and sometimes national) view of what is needed and where, it looks after the interests of a building’s users and neighbours. Anyone wishing to develop does so by asking permission and showing their plans. And if things align approvals are given. If not appeals can be made or even new applications.

In this way, Planning provides a structured and mostly equitable approach to developing our urban and rural areas.