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Planning Systems Across the UK

The United Kingdom comprises four countries—England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland—each with its own planning system governed by specific legislation and guidelines. While the core principles are similar, there are notable differences in procedures, policies, and application processes.


In England, the planning system is primarily governed by the Town and Country Planning Act and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Local planning authorities (LPAs) determine planning applications based on local development plans and national policies.


Scotland's planning system operates under the Planning (Scotland) Act, focusing on sustainable development and community involvement. The National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) and Local Development Plans guide development, with decisions made by local authorities and the possibility of appeals to Local Review Bodies (LRB) to the Scottish Government. (DPEA)


Wales follows the Planning (Wales) Act, emphasizing sustainable development as a central organising principle. The planning system is guided by the Planning Policy Wales (PPW) document, and local development plans are prepared by local authorities, with the Welsh Government playing a role in policy direction and appeals.

Northern Ireland

The Planning Act (Northern Ireland) outlines the planning system in Northern Ireland, with a strong focus on local decision-making. The Department for Infrastructure is responsible for regional policies and development, while local councils handle most planning applications.

Key Takeaways

  • Local and National Guidance: Each country has its own set of policies and frameworks guiding development.

  • Sustainable Development: A common theme across all four countries is the emphasis on sustainability and community well-being.

  • Application and Appeals: While the application process is generally local, appeals mechanisms vary, offering routes for decision review.

Understanding the nuances of each country's planning system is crucial for navigating the planning process effectively. If you're embarking on a development project, consider consulting with planning professionals like us.

Planning Permission Explained

What Is It?

Planning permission is a legal requirement in the United Kingdom, mandated by the Town and Country Planning Act of 1948 and subsequent legislation. This system is designed to regulate the development and use of land and buildings in the public interest. It ensures that any new buildings, modifications, or changes in the use of land or buildings are appropriate for their location, environmentally sustainable, and in harmony with community needs and local planning policies.

Why Is It Required?

  • Controlled Development: Planning permission helps manage and shape the environment in a sustainable way, balancing the needs of the community, the economy, and the environment.

  • Legal Compliance: It ensures that all developments comply with the established planning laws and guidelines, preventing unauthorized constructions and land use changes.

  • Community Well-being: By considering the impact of developments on local communities, planning permission aims to protect and enhance the quality of life for residents.

Key Points to Understand

  • Necessity: It's mandatory for most new constructions, significant alterations to existing structures, or when changing the use of buildings or land. Some minor developments may fall under "permitted development rights," which do not require formal permission.

  • Purpose: The primary goal is to ensure sustainable development that respects the environment, supports economic growth, and protects historical and cultural assets.

  • Application Process: Applying for planning permission involves submitting detailed project plans to your local planning authority (LPA). These plans are then assessed against local development policies, national regulations, and any comments from the public or statutory consultees.

The Application Journey

  1. Pre-application Advice: Many LPAs offer pre-application advice services to help you understand the feasibility of your project and any potential issues before you submit a formal application.

  2. Submitting Your Application: You'll need to provide detailed plans and documents about your project. This often includes site plans, floor plans, elevations, and potentially an environmental impact assessment.

  3. Consultation and Decision: Once submitted, the LPA will consult with local residents and other statutory bodies, assess the impact of your proposal, and make a decision. This process typically takes 8 weeks for straightforward applications and 13 weeks for more significant developments.

Do You Need Help?

Navigating the planning permission process can be complex, especially for larger or more sensitive projects. Whether you're undertaking a new build, making changes to an existing property, or looking to change the use of a building, professional guidance can be invaluable.

How We Can Assist

Our team of planning experts is equipped to support you at every stage of your planning application. From initial advice to the preparation of all necessary documentation and liaising with the local planning authority on your behalf, we're here to ensure your project moves forward smoothly.

Ready to Start Your Project?

If you're about to embark on a development project and need assistance with the planning permission process, we're here to help. Contact us today to discuss your needs and how we can support your success.

What developments require consent from the Planning Authorities? 

  1. New Buildings: Constructing new residential, commercial, or industrial buildings.

  2. Extensions and Additions: Significant extensions or additions to existing buildings, including conservatories, loft conversions, and outbuildings.

  3. Material Changes of Use: Changing the use of a building or land in a way that significantly impacts its current use. For example, converting a residential property into a commercial space or vice versa.

  4. Listed Building Consent: Required for any internal or external alterations to a listed building that affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest.

  5. Conservation Area Consent: Required for demolition, significant alterations, or new construction within designated conservation areas to preserve or enhance their character or appearance.

  6. Advertisement Consent: For displaying certain signs and advertisements on buildings or land.

  7. Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs): Specific permission is needed to prune or fell trees subject to a TPO or located within a conservation area.

  8. Demolition: Demolishing buildings or structures, especially in conservation areas or involving listed buildings, often requires consent.

  9. Work on Protected Species Habitats: Any development that could affect protected species or their habitats may require consent, following an ecological survey.

  10. Alterations to Boundaries: Erecting or altering fences, walls, and gates may require permission, especially if the property is listed or located in a conservation area.

  11. Change in Access: Creating new access points to a highway or significantly altering existing access.

  12. Parking and Access Changes: Changing the use or layout of land for vehicle parking or altering access routes within a property.

  13. Agricultural Developments: Certain agricultural buildings and operations, especially if they are near residential areas or involve the construction of new structures, may require consent.

  14. Temporary Structures: Erecting temporary buildings or structures for more than a specified period, typically 28 days, may require permission.

  15. Satellite Dishes and Antennae: Installing satellite dishes and antennae, especially on listed buildings or within conservation areas, may require consent due to visual impact considerations.

  16. Solar Panels: Installing solar panels on buildings, particularly on roofs facing the street or listed buildings, may require consent.

  17. Windows and Doors: Replacing or altering windows and doors, especially in listed buildings or conservation areas where the appearance of the building is of importance.

  18. It's important to note that this list is not exhaustive, and the requirements can vary depending on the local planning authority, the specific area's planning policies, and the scale and impact of the proposed development. Always consult with your local planning authority or a planning professional before starting any work to determine if consent is required and to ensure compliance with all relevant planning regulations.

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