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How the planning system works

For those coming into contact with the planning system it might at first view seem complicated and confusing but the following outline of the basic principles will help towards understanding how it works.

The first principle of development planning is that any construction or change of use in land which is described as "development" under planning legislation should be "plan led". This means that potential development is to be assessed against policy rules which identify suitable locations and the types of development to be carried out within those areas be it commercial, industrial, residential or otherwise. Having those parameters in place creates a solid foundation for those investing in or carrying out building projects. The intended outcome is an integrated and sustainable working/living environment where homes, services and employment opportunities are in close proximity to each other. As a necessary part of this process, consultation with communities living adjacent to or within the areas identified is a precondition so that future development is not perceived by those local communities as being imposed from above.

Subject then to planning policy for a given area, the legislation requires that for certain specified developments or changes of use applicants follow a formal process to obtain permission from the relevant local planning authority (the "LPA"). This allows an assessment by planning officers of the acceptability of the proposal tested against policy as well as consultation with local residents, other designated authorities and relevant utility undertakers (eg transport, power, waste authorities). It is of course impractical to require that all proposed developments or changes of use go through this formal process. For smaller developments therefore (eg adding an extension to a house or minor structural changes or a change of use similar to that currently existing) there is availability of Permitted Development Rights. Essentially this allows the house-owner/developer to proceed with the construction or change of use under an automatic or deemed permission as long as they stay within the parameters specified. The default position then is that any activity that does not fall within the Permitted Development categories will require a formal application to be made to the LPA for permission to proceed. A point to note in this respect is that in efforts to speed up the planning process and increase the availability of homes over recent time, the boundaries of permitted development have been extended in a number of areas an example being easier change of use of office buildings to residential units.

Where a planning application to the LPA is needed, completion of a standard application form by the applicant to cover the proposed type of development or change of use commences the process. Before, however, submitting that form there is with most LPAs an opportunity to have pre-application discussions between the applicant and planning officers to allow areas of uncertainty and/or technical matters to be clarified thus improving the prospects of a successful application. Once then the form is submitted, a case officer will be designated to process the application through the various assessment and consultation steps. It may be that if the application falls within specified criteria that it will go to the LPA's Planning Committee for a decision. Otherwise, it will be dealt with by the planning officers under delegated powers. Having gone through all the required steps, there will come a point where a decision on the application for either approval or refusal will be made through issue of a written Decision Notice.

Where the application is approved, specific requirements and restrictions will be attached as a list of conditions to the permission which will contribute towards its orderly implementation. This list of conditions will depend on what is needed specifically for that development and would be agreed between the planning case officer and the applicant before permission is given. So that these do not unnecessarily obstruct smooth progress of the development work they are required to be very precisely drafted.

Since proposed developments or changes of use may lead to a need for upgrading of existing or provision of new services and infrastructure there is built into the planning application process methods of addressing such impacts to include delivery of Affordable Housing. As the mitigation aspects generally need to be kept separate from the requirements within the planning permission, these are generally provided for under a legal agreement (a S106 Agreement).or under the parallel Community Infrastructure Levy charging system whereby standard financial charges are calculated at the time of the planning application according to the type and size of the development.

As to how the system will operate in the future, there is a raft of planning reforms currently proposed by the Government which may substantially change the existing mechanisms. Due to this uncertainty it is more than ever advisable for planning applicants whether these are professional developers, local authorities, Housing Associations, householders or otherwise to consult specialist Planning lawyers for advice.

How can Pure Business Law help?

We are specialist Planning Solicitors based in Bedford and London and operating nationally. We have solicitors that specialise in planning law and can advise on different aspects of planning law. As planning law specialists, we will protect your rights and resolve any disputes which may arise regarding any planning disputes.

If you would like to discuss any legal issues, disputes concerning any planning issues, or anything raised in this article please contact us and speak with one of our solicitors. Pure Business Law is regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and is a licensed member of the Law Society of England & Wales.

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