Planning 101

“Great! We got planning. That was quick!”  [client]  “Erm, no, that’s just a letter validating the planning application. It means the [minimum] 8-week process has just started.”  [us]

Misunderstandings about planning permission are common, even amongst construction professionals. This doesn’t surprise us because planning is just one part of a complex construction process. But these misunderstandings can cost clients time and money.

For some projects, we’re employed to be the Lead Designer – when this happens, we coordinate the project team and all third parties to ensure that all necessary tasks for planning are carried out.

We know how critical this first stage is, and how important it is to bring in the correct skillsets. On complex or larger projects, this includes procuring a planning consultant (preferably right from the start, looking at the feasibility of the site). Planning consultants are well versed in planning law, can speak the ‘language’ used by planners and, most importantly, can anticipate planning pitfalls and help our clients avoid costly mistakes.

For a planning application and thorough site feasibility, other consultants may also be required to provide surveys and reports on:

  • Site contamination
  • Arboriculture (trees)
  • Surface water drainage
  • Archaeology
  • Ecological requirements of the site

Some of these investigations and reports are restricted to the time of year. So if you miss the window, your planning submission can be delayed by 6 months!

Regularly, clients choose to take on this Lead Designer role themselves. This is fine, so long as they have a team in place already, or they have the time to work through the requirements.

When is planning permission not ‘permission’?

“I already have planning permission; I can start on site.”  [client]  “No, not necessarily. What permission do you actually have?”  [us]

There are several types of permission, and we have had commercial clients whose funders have not understood this (resulting in a whole world of pain!). In the simplest terms, there is: i) permission for the principle of development, and ii) permission for what you actually intend to build.

Outline planning

This confirms if the principle of development is acceptable, i.e. can I put a building of this use, of about that size, on this particular site?

The benefit of outline planning is that clients can restrict their financial investment until there is more confidence in the project.

A location plan and sketch idea of what you are looking to do can be submitted, postponing the design and any consultant reports until the Council confirm they will permit any development of the type you are intending.

Depending on the detail provided at this stage, some ‘matters’ are ‘reserved’, and will need to be addressed in subsequent application(s).

Reserved matters

This is a more detailed application, gaining approval for all remaining details that were not in the outline application.

Depending on the detail submitted at outline stage, this next application could include:

  1. All the consultants’ reports required for that site (ecological, archaeological, arboricultural etc.)*
  2. All the architectural plans and elevations*
  3. Confirmation of the appearance of the building(s) and materials to be used

* Where 1 and 2 were submitted at outline stage, it would just be 3.

Full planning application

This is a planning application that includes all of the details of the proposed development at the time of submission. For example, all the plans and documentation that address the amount, appearance, scale, layout and landscaping, and any investigation reports required by the Council.

Once you have full planning permission, you can then look to address the finer details of that permission. These are known as planning conditions.

Planning conditions

This is the method by which the permission should be implemented. Planning conditions require submission of further details to the Council for ‘discharge’.

Planning conditions are applied to a permission to reduce adverse impacts, to enforce elements that may have otherwise resulted in a refusal. For example:

  • Materials to be used and provision of samples to the Council
  • Demonstration of protection of trees and root protection areas
  • Movement of reptiles from the site
  • Provision of new environments for animals and birds

Some conditions will be ‘pre commencement’, requiring action before any work can start on site. Some will be ‘pre-occupation’, meaning they need to be addressed before anyone can use the finished site. Planning conditions can involve all of the consultants previously mentioned, and more.

The planning authority will require the applicant to submit information demonstrating how they have ‘discharged’ (met) the requirements.

“I’ve discharged the planning conditions, now can I start?”  [client]  “Planning is just the end of the beginning! Technical design is now required, to achieve UK building regulations approval. And you will also need construction design if you want a fixed price.”  [us]


Planning takes time.

The Council can take anything from 8 weeks to over a year, depending on the complexity of the application and available resources within the local Council. During this period you may be asked to revisit and redesign elements, which requires time (both to do, and to be reviewed by the Council).

But before that, time is needed to determine the way forward for the project, to undertake site feasibility works and appoint consultants to do their investigations and reports on the site. And this is all before you begin work on the design scheme.

Planners can say no (within reason)

Clients sometimes feel they should be allowed to do whatever they want with their land/property, and that their application should be granted because another site or property managed to do what they want to do (or perhaps did more than they are seeking permission for).

Planning is not personal. It is in place to protect everyone and policy changes all the time. Therefore, what might have been approved a few years ago might not be now. Likewise, in some cases, what might have required planning before does not now require planning.

If you are looking for someone to guide you through developing a plot or property, please drop us a line or give us a call on 01273 9150101.

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