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  • Joe Bleasdale

Planning with PKS: The UK Planning System Explained

Over the next few months, Prince Krofa & Sons will be running a series of articles on the UK planning system. To begin with, we are providing you with a simple explanation of the people involved, the processes and how planning permission can be granted.

Prince Krofa & Sons’ services include various facets of Project Management, including Project Brief and Feasibility Reports, and Planning, Design and Development Management, as well as being a client and employer’s agent. For more information regarding how we can help you with planning, contact us here.

What is planning?

Planning ensures that development in local areas in benefitting people and the economy, as well as preserving the natural and historic environment of a community.

Planning system simplifications were passed by the government in the Localism Act 2011 and National Planning Policy 2012, in order to ensure the delivery of affordable housing and jobs, preserve sustainable development as a priority and enable planning decisions to take place involving members of the local community.

Who is involved?

The new reforms mean that much of the current UK planning system is dealt with by the lowest level of government possible, the local planning authorities which could be based on county councils, district, borough or city councils, or parish and town councils, depending on the location in the UK, as well as the scope and magnitude of the plan.

In some areas of the country, single-tier authorities have responsibility for both district level and county level planning matters. In London, the Mayor also has powers to determine certain planning applications of potential strategic importance.

Parish and town councils can now produce Neighbourhood Plans, which are mentioned in more detail later.

While the role of a councillor in planning decisions is affected by whether or not they sit on a Planning Committee, every elected official does have a say in representing the views of their local area.

Planning officers are appointed by local planning authorities, who assist with the operation and imposition of the planning system when overseeing applications.

In 90% of cases, a planning application will be uncontroversial, and can be prepared locally. However, it may need a higher level of authority to deal with it if it affects a large area of land or encroaches across multiple local borders.

The Secretary of State oversees the planning system as a whole as well as having a more direct role in a small number of decisions through the appeals system, but this is usually only the case with nationally-significant projects like railways and overhead power lines.

Finally, the Planning Inspectorate is an executive agency that deals with planning and enforcement appeals on behalf of the Secretary of State.

What is the National Planning Policy?

Passed in March 2012, the National Planning Policy Framework is a set of balanced guidelines covering economic, social and environmental aspects of development. It is a “material consideration” when authorities assess planning applications, but it does not specify how each Local Plan should be written.

It emphasises that applications for planning permission must be carried out in accordance with Local / Neighbourhood Plans, as well as a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, reminding that development should not take place at any cost.

More information on the Framework can be found here.

What is a Local Plan?

Every year, or every few years depending on the location, local planning authorities produce a document called a Local Plan, which addresses a district or borough’s development needs and opportunities in relation to housing, the local economy, community facilities and infrastructure. In London, this is the job of the Greater London Council, who produce the London Plan.

In accordance with the National Planning Policy, they should safeguard the environment, enable adaptation to climate change and help secure high-quality accessible design. Creating a Local Plan is a shared effort, and requires representations, be it from local community members, developers, landowners or other interested parties.

After having been published for a minimum of 6 weeks to obtain these representations, a Local Plan is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate, and independently assessed to see if it is “sound”, as in, it is positively-prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy. If so, it becomes the development plan for the local area.

What is a Neighbourhood Plan?

The Neighbourhood Plan is an initiative brought in as part of the 2011 Localism Act, and has gained popularity with parishes and smaller towns. Communities can prepare plans with real legal weight and can grant planning permission for the development they wish to see through a ‘neighbourhood development order’.

There is flexibility on the scope of a Neighbourhood Plan. They can involve, for example, just a few policies on design or retail uses, or they can be comprehensive plans incorporating a diverse range of policies and site allocations for housing or other development.

In order for a Neighbourhood Plan to be produced, the local planning authority must be consulted in order to draw up a boundary, before the local community forms a vision, gathers evidence and drafts plans. From this point, the plan is put together and assessed in much the same way a Local Plan would be, the crucial difference being the final vote is put to a referendum granted by the local planning authority rather than the Planning Inspectorate.

To ensure the benefits, as well as the costs, are shared by the local area, local planning authorities can put in place a ‘Community Infrastructure Levy’, a charge which new developments pay, based on the size and type of development (although there are exemptions granted for certain categories of development). The money raised through the Levy can be used to fund a wide range of infrastructure needed to support the development of the area. Where a Neighbourhood Plan is in place, between 15% and 25% of this is donated directly to the parish council or local council responsible for said Plan, in order to encourage the initiative’s spread.

How is planning permission obtained?

Planning permission is only required in certain circumstances, and where it is, the local planning authority is generally responsible for making a decision. For more information, refer to the government’s Planning Guidance on “making an application”.

Once the application has been received by the local authority, a consultation period of no less than 21 days will begin, in which the locals get to have their say on the potential development. Specific publicity requirements for these forums conducted by the local planning authority depend on the application.

The local planning authority then has up to 8 weeks to make a decision on minor applications, usually taken by planning officers, and up to 13 weeks for major ones, decided by planning committee.

Finally, the applicant has a right to appeal to the Secretary of State, via the Planning Inspectorate, if the local planning authority refuses to give planning permission, grants it subject to unacceptable conditions or fails to deal with an application within the statutory time limit.

To find and contact your local planning authority, you must do it via your local council.

For more information about UK planning, be sure to check our blog, updated every Friday, and sign up to our newsletter.

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