An overview of the “UK-complex-housing-planning-permission-system”

By Victor Alarsa

Who’s responsible for granting planning permissions?

The planning system is designed to be applied by local authorities. There are three layers of authorities:

  • Nationally (national plan)
  • County councils (regional plan)
  • Unitary authorities such as districts, boroughs or city councils, hereafter referred as to Local Planning Authority (LPA)

LPA is ultimately responsible for designing local plans and granting planning permission.

For the Local Plan to accomplish its purpose, it needs to be consistent with a wide range of other policies, guidance, strategies, and plans that have been produced not only by the County level authorities, but also the central government.

LPA’s plan-making takes into consideration the following official documents:

National level:

  • The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s planning policies for England and how these should be applied. It provides a framework which Local Authorities should use to prepare the local plans (plan-making) and to grant planning permission (decision-taking).
  • Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) provides further guidance to the NPPF that includes relevant planning practice guidance.

Regional (County) level:

  • Regional Plans no longer form part of the statutory development plan (apart from a minimal number of residual policies which remain important). One exemption is Greater London (London Plan) which has powers to determine specific planning applications to be considered by boroughs at their local plan-making.

Local Plans are the essential documents through in which local planning authorities can set out a vision and framework for the future development of the area, granting or not planning permission for prospective developers.

Contributions and planning obligations:

Developments may be subject to payback contributions to society in order to have they planning permission granted. There are two types:

  • Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – Most developments have an impact on local infrastructures such as public transport. Therefore, it is right that the development should contribute towards the mitigation of its effects on such infrastructure. Local planning authorities can change a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) which new developments pay, based on the size and type of development. The cash raised through CIL can be used to fund a wide range of infrastructure needed to support the development of the area.
  • Section 106 – Unlike the Community Infrastructure Levy which is tariff-based, Section 106 is charged based on the specific needs of the local community such as a minimum affordable housing to be delivered by the new development. In general, the ratio between affordable housing and private sector housing is up to 50%, varying from each local authority. In addition, sometimes LPA may ask for the financial viability of the development in order to set a max allowed profit margin, in case it’s above it, an extra charge may be applied.

Permitted Development Rights (PDR):

In order to speed up housing supply and make things easier for homeowners and small developers, in 2015 the Parliament published the PDR documents that allow certain classes of development to bypass full local planning. This means that there are certain types of development which will be automatically granted with planning permission by the government. This deregulated system of development covers mostly extensions on existing houses (single homeowners to improve and extend their properties) and changes between different uses, such as conversion from office-to-residential.


Developers often struggle to know the max GIA and NIA of a site upfront, and Pre-app came to try to mitigate that.

Pre-application process will generally give more certainty and clarity (and for a lower price) at an early stage by identifying planning issues and requirements before an application is submitted so that more assertive decisions can be made. Pre-app is a faster (apart from PDR) way a developer can use to be sure upfront of the max number of units, size, layout, and external metrics of the building of the prospective site.

Obtaining planning permission:

If a planning application is required, the local planning authority is responsible for deciding on the proposal.

As soon as the local authority has received the planning application, it will make the project public and accessible to the community to have a chance to express their views.

The consultation period will last for 21 days. Public considerations may be taken into account if they consider it relevant (the planning system works in the public interest).

The local authority has up to eight weeks to decide on minor applications, which includes most houses and up to thirteen weeks for major development.

Typically, once a planning permission is granted, construction must be started within three years. If work has not begun by then, the applicant will probably need to reapply.

Planning appeals:

In case a local authority refuses to give planning permission, grants it subject to conditions, or fails to respond an application within the time limit, the applicant has the right to appeal to the Secretary of State.

We hope this article was helpful in a way to make the UK-complex-housing-planning-permission-system a bit more manageable!

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