How to make planning applications — a step by step guide

Whether you need planning permission will depend on a number of variables, including the size of the project and the level of permitted development (PD) rights that apply to your property. If you do need planning permission, you will quickly realise that planning applications can be rather tedious complex! You can use this guide to help you make a successful planning application.

This step by step planning applications guide is divided into the following key sections:

This article will be useful to anyone wanting to get planning permission throughout England. If you are in Cambridge, St Albans or anywhere in East Anglia and London areas then we are local architects who can provide specific hands on help with your planning application. You can contact us here.

The basis for making PLANNING DECISIONS

Key points

  1. Decisions are based on the Local Planning Authority’s development plan policies and material considerations
  2. Material considerations include a wide range of factors relevant to the development of land and private matters are not material considerations
  3. You local development plan policies are found in local plans and neighbourhood plans.

The law related to planning permission

The law requires that all applications for planning permission should be decided in accordance with the policies of the "development plan" unless material planning considerations indicate otherwise. The decision on any planning application is therefore "policy-led" rather than "influence-led". Although the public and nearby residents will be consulted about almost any planning application, the decision will not be made on the grounds of popularity or unpopularity. Published planning policy prevents the decision on a planning application being made on grounds which are arbitrary, perverse, or subject to impropriety.

The neighborhood plan

The neighborhood plan is a locally derived plan designed to deliver bespoke policing to a community through consultation with local stakeholders, including residents, people who use a locality, businesses and local politicians. 

Local plans are the key policy documents used by Local Planning Authorities. They consist of written documents, comprising the policies, explanatory text and maps known as proposal maps. The range of topics typically include:

  • General strategy
  • General development control criteria
  • Green Belt
  • Design
  • Sustainability
  • Heritage
  • Countryside
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Tourism and leisure
  • Transport
  • Community
  • Issues specific to an area

Councils can flesh out local plan policies with further guidance called Supplementary Planning Documents or Guidance (SPD or SPGs). These deal with issues such as affordable housing, financial contributions, design guidance and area specific issues. However, local plan policies must be in line with government planning policy guidance set out in the Government's National Policy Framework (NPPF).



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Material considerations that may affect planning applications

The local planning authority bases its planning decisions on what are known as 'material considerations'.  To make things even more complex, what constitutes a 'material consideration' is not defined in law and not every 'material consideration' applies to every project. Here are 15 of the most commonly encountered 'material considerations' that could impact planning applications.

1. Residential amenity

New developments should respect the comfort and amenity of neighbours. The potential loss of privacy, loss of light or overshadowing by the new development will be considered.

2. Access and parking

‘Material consideration’ of noise from new access drives and parking areas can also be an issue, especially where the new development adjoins existing houses and gardens. Planners will consider highway safety, physical adequacy of access and the provision of parking and turning spaces. Parking requirements vary from council to council. Sometimes the need for off street parking can be reduced or eliminated where there is enough public or on road parking or there is good access to public transport.

3. Layout and density of the building

The height, size and shape of any new building needs to fit the site and respect the wider pattern of buildings and the character of the area. The amount of space around a building is important, as is where the building sits relevant to its boundaries. Respecting existing building lines can be a definitive characteristic of an area and so are important in some areas.

Harvey Norman Architects material considerations related to building lines

4. Design, appearance and materials

Design includes the dimensions, proportions, shape, style, materials and finishes of the building. Whether a design is acceptable or appropriate is subjective and a matter of taste. In terms of ‘material considerations’, a design needs to fit in with the surroundings either by following adjoining designs, reflecting elements of them or perhaps by providing a contrast to them.

5. Special designations

This may mean the impact the new development has on a listed building, on nearby listed buildings, on conservation areas or on areas of outstanding natural beauty. Buildings, the spaces between them and the views and vistas within a conservation area can all contribute to the character of the area. This is a significant ‘material consideration’ and planners give significant weight to protecting listed buildings and their settings. Note conservation areas are protected by law.

6. Green belts

Most new buildings in green belts are deemed to be inappropriate and ‘material consideration’ restrictions are applied heavily. However, a limited group of development that are considered acceptable in a green belt are set out in the National Planning Policy Framework. These are:

Green belt illustration around Cambridge and London
  • Buildings for agriculture and forestry
  • Facilities for outdoor sport, outdoor recreation and cemeteries provided openness and green belt purposes aren’t affected
  • Extension or alteration of existing buildings, provided it does not result in disproportionate additions over and above the size of the original building
  • Replacement of existing buildings, provided the new building is still in the use, and the new use will be the same use, and not materially larger than the one it replaces
  • Limited infilling of properties in villages and limited affordable housing for the local community as long as they follow policies set out in the areas Local Plan
  • Limited infilling or the partial or complex redevelopment of sites (brownfield land) which are redundant or in continuing use (excluding temporary buildings), provided openness and green belt purposes are not affected.

7. Environment

The impact of the new development on trees, plants and animals, especially for protected species.

8. Physical factors

The presence of existing buildings or other obstacles on a site, its topography, underlying ground conditions and availability and location of services are common ‘material consideration’ constraints. These factors may dictate the position of a building on a site.

9. Flood Risk

Proposals for vulnerable new developments are unlikely to be permitted unless there are no sites outside the flood-risk zone.

10. Archaeology

Areas containing archaeology sites can be protected. This does not necessarily stop development but the developer normally has to be excavated prior to starting works. The developer must then take special care of the site.

11. Planning history

The record of past applications, refusals, permissions and appeals are considered as ‘material considerations’.

12. Precedent

Despite planning history playing a part, each decision has to be taken on its own merits and planners should apply their policies consistently and fairly.

13. Permitted development

The level of permitted development rights are considered.

14. Benefits of a development

A positive ‘material consideration’ is that sometimes the benefits a development offers can outweigh policy objections.

15. Level of support or opposition

Public opinion can be a ‘material consideration’ where it lends weight to a subjective judgement, for example on the merits of a particular design.



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Factors that are not considered 'material considerations' should not negatively affect planning applications. These include:

  • Loss of a private view
  • Private legal matters, such as rights of way, covenants and boundary disputes
  • Effects on property values
  • Possible future developments
  • Motives of applicants, including profit
  • Applicant’s conduct, personal affairs or how a business is run
  • Disruption during building works
  • Competition between businesses
  • Morality and religious beliefs
  • Aspects covered by other legislation, such as environmental health, party walls or building regulations

What to do before you make planning applications

Key Points

  1. Check what type of planning applications are needed or are best suited. Carrying out pre-application consultations can be beneficial
  2. Consider speaking to your neighbours, parish and district councils
  3. Look at your planning policy documents

Get advice about your planning applications from your Local Planning Authority (LPA)

The Local Planning Authority (LPA) you need to submit your planning applications to is the planning department of the district or borough council, where the site of the new development is located. The Directgov website helps you identify your relevant LPA. Follow the link, put in your building site details and it will identify your relevant LPA.

For a fee which varies from authority to authority your local planning department will offer optional pre-planning application advice. For an approximate average rule of thumb for a householder you can expect:

  • Drop in service with duty planner at council offices: Free
  • Written advice only: £100 to £150
  • Single meeting with planning officer and follow-up written advice: £200 to £300
  • Further written response or meetings: £75 to £100 per hour

Through pre-planning advice you can gain an understanding of the key issues that will have to be dealt with, including whether or not the proposals constitute development or a change of use and whether or not they are permitted development or require an application. Pre-application advice will enable you to anticipate any material considerations that neighbours or the planners might raise, and ultimately help you to avoid being recommended for refusal. The officer should also be able to advise what supporting evidence the LPA would require specific to the application.


Inform your neighbours about your planning applications and get them on side

While neighbours and the parish council will be consulted and invited to comment, only objections which are material should be taken into account. If no one objects the application it will not go to a planning committee of Councillors. Instead it will be approved by the planning officers under what is called delegated powers. To avoid complication, we recommend that you get your neighbours on side early. If possible planning applications should be submitted with a letter of support from neighbours.

How to approach your neighbours about your development plans
Approaching your neighbours is a matter of judgement and is dependent on your relationship with them. If you are on good terms you could raise the matter at the very start of your development ideas, just to test the water. When the draft drawings start to develop you could pop round to discuss the plans over a cup of tea. If all goes well make sure you give them a copy of the final proposals when a formal application is made.

If you do not know the neighbours and are not comfortable knocking on their door unannounced then prepare a short note accompanied with a drawing and pop it through their letterbox. Then wait to see what happens.

Tips for having a meeting with your neighbours about your development plans
Remember that many people have difficulty reading a drawing so always explain what is proposed. Stress where you have deliberately taken their interest into account. Ask them about any concerns they have so you can consider accommodating them. Generally people do not like change or having things imposed on them, so giving your neighbours ownership and the chance to feel listened to goes a long way.

How to get a letter of support for your development plans
Once your neighbours are happy offer to draft a letter of support for them to sign or put it in their words. In the letter include details about any contact you have had with the neighbours and what you have done to alleviate any concerns. A letter of support will help stop the application becoming political and lets the planning officer concentrate purely on the technical aspects of the new development.

Getting support from parish Councillors
Where there is a parish, town or community council, they will be consulted about your planning applications. Whilst they do not have the power to dictate the final decision, in some areas they do have significant influence. Sounding out and getting support from parish Councillors can therefore be helpful. The first point of contact is the parish council’s clerk. You might be asked to go along to a meeting to introduce and explain your proposals.

Information you will need for the submission of planning applications

Key Points

  1. Commission designs drawings
  2. Commission supporting documentation such as a Design and Access Statement, Planning Statement and Specialist Reports
  3. Submit you application to the council with the correct fee

Commissioning architectural design drawings for planning applications

The type and number of drawings you need to submit with your planning application will vary according to the nature of the proposal and the type of application. Your architect will be able to help you create these for you. Your local council is likely to provide application guidance and a validation checklists for different types of developments on their website. For a domestic extension you usually need to include the following architectural design drawings with your submission:

  • An ordinance survey based location plan at a 1:1250 scale
  • A site plan at a 1:500 scale
  • All elevations at a 1:100 or 1:50 scale
  • Floor plans at each level at a 1:100 or 1:50 scale
  • A roof plan at a 1:100 or 1:50 scale
  • Context drawings and other representations

Drawings for planning applications can get more and more confusing as discussions are had and revisions are made. Help your planners by providing reference numbers with each revision marked with a new letter (for example, ‘revision A’). For more complex schemes, such as designing a new house, there can be many versions of the drawings and clear labelling really does help to avoid confusion.



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Commissioning supporting documents for planning applications

The type and number of supporting documents you need to submit with your planning application will vary according to the nature of the proposal and the type of application. Pre-application discussions with your LPA should identify what supporting documents they require to be submitted with your application. There are generally three types of supporting documents:

1. Design and Access Statement (DAS)
With the exception of householder building works in unprotected areas and for change of use, a Design and Access Statement (DAS) should accompany all planning applications. Your architect will be able to help you prepare your DAS. These statements are used as an explanation of the design principles you have adopted, how the design responds to the context and how the scheme makes provision for vehicular access and movement of people around the development.  Put simply thy justify a proposal’s design concept and the access to it. The level of detail included depends on the scale of the project and its sensitivity. Unless a DAS is included in planning applications local authorities will refuse to register an application. 



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2. Planning Statements
In addition to the DAS a Planning Statement is a written description that needs to accompany planning applications. Your architect will be able to help you prepare your Planning Statement. There is no formula for a Planning Statement but comprehensive statements tend to follow fairly standard headings. A typical Planning Statement could be set out as follows:

  • Introduction
  • Location and site description
  • Proposed developments
  • Planning history of the site and planning permissions on other related sites
  • Planning policy is relevant to the application
  • Assessment-the case for development in the light of proceeding factors
  • Conclusion


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3. Specialist Reports
Depending on the application, examples of specialist reports can be:

  • Additional plans and drawings
  • Affordable housing statements
  • Air quality assessment
  • Biodiversity ecological survey and report
  • Environmental statement
  • Flood risk assessment
  • Foul sewage and surface water assessment
  • Heritage statement
  • Highway statement
  • Land contamination assessment
  • Lighting assessment
  • Noise impact assessment
  • Open space assessment
  • Planning obligations (legal undertaking) draft heads of terms
  • Statement of community involvement
  • Structural survey
  • Transport assessment
  • Travel plan
  • Tree and landscaping assessment
  • Sustainability statement


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Submitting planning applications to the council

Applications are best submitted via the planning portal website or by hard copy via post to the relevant Local Planning Authority. The fees for submitting planning applications are:

  • For home improvers an application for an extension is currently £172.00 including VAT
  • To create a new dwelling is £385.00 including VAT

You need to pay these fees at the time of the application direct to the Local Planning Authority. You can do this over the phone via debit card or by cheque.

what happens AFTER planning applications are submitted

Following the submission, the process is quite straightforward. It is set out in the chart below. The chart includes details of what to do if your planning application is unsuccessful.

Harvey Norman Architects planning flow diagram

Once planning applications have been submitted and validated all document drawings are put on the council’s website for public access. At the same time the council starts a consultation exercise. It informs communities with a specific interest in your development like neighbours and the parish council. It also consults with in-house and external professionals and stakeholders who give expert technical comments and recommendations. Planning applications are required to run for a term of eight weeks in order to give all parties the opportunity to comment.

About six weeks in to this period, on receipt of all feedback and ideally after their own site visit the planning officer will consolidate all the consultations received together with relevant development plan policies and any pertinent material considerations. Following internal team discussions they will make a formal written recommendation for approval or not. The report will also include specific conditions that are to be attached to the approval such as working hours or prior approval of materials which will need to be formally agreed “discharged” before works can commence.

The decision can either be delegated to officers or be taken by the Planning Committee which is made up of elected councillors. Because most applications are relatively simple, to save the committee’s time a decision is often delegated to officers. The application will go to committee if the application is controversial or you are not happy with the delegated route, in which you can request that the application goes to committee. The committee is not bound by the planning officer’s recommendation and the opportunity may exist to lobby councillors beforehand and speak at the Planning Committee meeting.


Is it possible to extend planning permission time limits?
By law planning permission generally expires after three years unless you have made what is called a ‘substantial start’. For example, a substantial start could be putting in the foundations. If you have not started work and you are nearing the end of the time limit you will generally need to reapply.

Can I alter my plans once permission has been granted?
You can make minor alterations to original plans by applying for a non-material amendment. However, major alterations could involve a further planning application. It will be up to the local planners to decide if change is big or small.

What if my planning application is refused?
In England, around 75% of householder applications are granted. If your application is refused you can deal with reasons for refusal and then amend and resubmit your plans. Or you can make an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. Around 35% of householder applications that go to appeal are successful.

Planning applicants can challenge a refusal of planning permission:

  • Through non-determination which is failure of the planning authority to issue a decision within the required statutory time limit of eight weeks
  • Against conditions attached to a permission
  • Against the issue of an Enforcement Notice
  • Against refusals of listed building and conservation area consent

Usually planning appeals needs to be submitted within 6 months of the refusal, or within 12 weeks in the case of a householder appeal. In England and Wales, appeals are processed by the Planning Inspectorate. Typically there are three ways to carry out planning appeals:

  • By Written Representations where the appeal is conducted entirely in writing. This process is usually used for smaller appeals where perhaps only a few issues are in dispute
  • By Hearing where an oral hearing with a Planning Inspector is held, generally without legal representation
  • By Public Inquiry. This is the most serious of ways to appeal


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