This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
This information applies to England only. For information about the planning system in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland see Library briefing paper, Comparison of the planning systems in the four UK countries: 2016 update.
How does the planning system work?
In England, the planning system is “plan-led”, this means that national and local planning policy is set out in formal development plans (a term which can include “local plans”, “core strategies” and “neighbourhood plans”).
Local plans will cover the whole local planning authority area, whereas neighbourhood plans will normally cover just a parish area.
The Government’s planning policy is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which is accompanied by online Planning Practice Guidance and which provides further information about the NPPF’s policies.
Local and neighbourhood plans should be in conformity with the NPPF. They describe at a local level what developments should and should not get planning permission, how land should be protected and should seek to ensure a balance between development and environmental protection in the public interest. If a local planning authority has a development plan, it will be available on its website, normally under a “planning policy” heading.
Decisions on individual planning applications are made on the basis of the policies in the NPPF and these development plans, unless there are other competing considerations that need to be taken into account. These are called “material considerations” (see section below).
For further information see the Government’s Plain English Guide to the Planning System.
What issues are taken into account in planning decisions?
The issues that can be taken into account are called “material considerations”.
Under section 70 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 local authorities are directed to take into account any “material considerations” when taking planning decisions. This is not defined further in this Act, but the courts have held that “in principle…any consideration which relates to the use and development of land is capable of being a planning consideration (Stringer v MHLG  1 All ER 65). Public issues, such as traffic volume, noise and pollution impacts are generally held to be the sorts of issues which are material considerations. Private interests however, such as rising or falling property values are generally held not to be material considerations.
As a guide to the areas and issues which generally are and are not material considerations see the Planning Portal’s non-exhaustive list of material considerations” . Anyone making representations on a local or neighbourhood plan, planning application or appeal should focus their comments on material considerations or they are unlikely to be taken into account.
What can constituents do to overturn planning permission granted for an unpopular development?
There is no third party right of appeal in planning law. Neighbours and others who are upset about permission granted for local developments do not have a right to appeal the decision or to have it overturned. This is because the Government believes that there is already sufficient opportunity for members of the community to make representations on proposed developments at the planning application stage and by commenting on local and neighbourhood plans.
If someone has concerns about the way in which a local authority took a decision on a planning application then a complaint may also be possible to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), who cannot look at the merits of the decision, but can rule on whether the correct processes, procedures and policies were used. In the first instance, the Council’s own complaints procedures should be used and exhausted before the LGO will consider looking at the case. Further information, including how to contact the LGO is set out in an LGO factsheet, Your neighbour’s planning application, September 2019.
The decisions of local planning authorities can also be challenged in the Planning Court by judicial review. There is a strict six week time limit for applying for judicial review from the time the planning decision was made. The challenge cannot be on the planning merits of the decision. Any application for judicial review is likely to be expensive. It should not be recommended without having first sought professional legal advice. The claimant must have a “sufficient interest” to bring a claim for judicial review – i.e. if the decision must directly affect the claimant. If the interest is more general, the court has discretion about whether to hear the claim.
For further information see Library briefing paper, Planning Appeals.
How are breaches of planning permission enforced?
If a constituent is concerned that a development in their area is in breach of planning control they should get in touch with the planning enforcement team at the relevant local planning authority. Contact information should be available on the local authority’s website. Constituents can find their local authority through the “find your council” facility on the Planning Portal.
There are a number of different enforcement actions available to a local planning authority (LPA) if there has been a breach of planning control. These are set out in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance on enforcement and post-permission matters” .
In the National Planning Policy Framework the Government directs that enforcement powers are discretionary and that local authorities should act proportionately in responding to suspected breaches of planning control. Some local authorities will look at the amount of harm caused by the suspected breach and examine whether it justifies taking action. Enforcement action is not always taken in response to all breaches of planning control.
If someone believes that there has been a significant breach of planning control in their area, where there has been serious harm to public amenity and thinks that the local planning authority has not acted when it should, then a complaint may be possible to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO), but only after first having exhausted the LPA’s own internal complaints procedures. More information about this process is available from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman website.
Where can constituents go for help with planning issues?
The relevant local planning authority website will have a search facility to find planning applications in the local area as well as links to its current planning policy and consultations. Local planning officers may be able to offer to planning advice for constituents seeking to submit a planning application, although there may be a fee for this service.
The Planning Inspectorate section of the gov.uk website has a search facility for finding planning appeals that have been lodged. It also contains guidance about the process of making a planning appeal.
The Planning Portal website contains a number of guides on the planning process and contains a number of mini-guides on issues such as size limits on home extensions and rules relating to outbuildings.
Planning Aid England, run by the Royal Town Planning Institute, offers planning support for individuals and communities. The support offered includes online guidance as well as an Advice Service which offers a limited amount of free, general planning advice. (As a guide, “limited” means up to 15 mins advice by email). Further support is aimed at disadvantaged groups and individuals who cannot afford to employ a planning consultant. For planning advice, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For other enquiries, constituents can call Planning Aid England on 020 7929 8338 or email email@example.com.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) offers telephone helpline services to consumers in the UK on the following areas: boundary disputes, compulsory purchase and party wall issues. RICS can help people to find a professional surveyor who specialises in this area and can, in some circumstances, offer a free 30 minute consultation. RICS can be contacted on tel: 02476 868 555.
- HM Government: Plain English Guide to the Planning System
- Planning Aid England: The Handy Guide to Planning
- HM Government: National Planning Policy Framework
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.