This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.

The use and development of all land and buildings in England are governed by the planning system. Most planning matters are the responsibility of local planning authorities (LPAs). Usually that function is taken on by the district council.

Where is planning policy set out?

The planning system in England is “plan-led”. This means what can be built and where is set out in plans:

  • Local plans are prepared by LPAs. They set out their vision and framework for the future development of and land use in their area. A local plan identifies what development is needed, where it should go, and what land is protected.
  • Neighbourhood plans are prepared by parish or town councils or local groups (called neighbourhood forums). A neighbourhood plan allows a local community to shape what new buildings in its area should look like and what infrastructure should be provided.

The government’s planning policies are set out in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and accompanying Planning Practice Guidance. Local and neighbourhood plans should be prepared in line with the NPPF.

Some areas with elected mayors/combined authorities, for example Greater London and the Liverpool City Region, also have a spatial development strategy that guides development for LPAs in their area.

How are planning applications decided?

Most types of “development” require planning permission from the LPA to go ahead, although some forms of “permitted development” (for example, certain home improvement projects) are exempt from that requirement.

An LPA will decide a planning application in line with relevant policies in its local plan (and the neighbourhood plan, if there is one) unless “material considerations” indicate otherwise. There is no set list of material considerations, although one important material consideration is the government’s NPPF.

Whether a particular consideration is material to a planning application will depend on the circumstances of the case. It is for the LPA to decide in the first instance and the courts in case of a dispute. The courts have generally ruled that purely private interests (such as neighbouring property values) are not material considerations.

What is the role of views of local residents?

Before making a planning decision, an LPA is required to hold a public consultation to allow local residents to express their views on the proposed development. By law, an LPA is required to take representations it receives into account when making its decision.

However, an LPA will not necessarily refuse planning permission, if residents object to a planning application. An LPA may still grant consent if material considerations indicate otherwise.

Who decides a planning application?

Most planning applications are decided by local authority planning officers. Only around 10% of applications are decided by councillors on a planning committee. These are usually applications for major developments and controversial projects.

Where they exist, parish and town councils can request to be notified of planning applications to comment on them; but they are not responsible for making decisions.

If an LPA refuses planning permission, applicants can appeal the decision. Most appeals are decided by an inspector working for the Planning Inspectorate, an executive agency of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

In rare cases, the Secretary of State can “call in” a planning application for their own determination. This is only possible up until the point at which the LPA has formally issued its decision.

Can planning permission be overturned?

No third party right of appeal

There is no third-party right of appeal in planning law. This means that neighbours or other third parties who objected to an application and are upset about an LPA’s decision do not have a right to appeal that decision with the Planning Inspectorate.

It is also not possible to ask the Secretary of State to “call-in” a planning application once the LPA has formally issued its decision. The Secretary of State cannot use their “call-in” powers to overturn decisions made by LPAs.

Judicial review

The planning decisions of LPAs (and planning inspectors) can be challenged in court by judicial review. The court can only rule on the way in which a decision was made, not on the planning merits of the case itself.

There is a strict six-week limit for applying for judicial review. To proceed, a claim for judicial review requires permission from the court. It will decide whether a claimant has a “sufficient interest” and whether the grounds for judicial review are met.

If a decision is cancelled, the LPA (or planning inspector) will retake their decision, correcting any procedural mistakes identified by the court. They may reach the same decision again, for different or expanded reasons, or make a different decision.

How are planning breaches enforced?

Failure to obtain planning permission where it is required or to adhere to conditions attached to planning permission constitutes a “planning breach”. LPAs have a range of enforcement powers they can use to respond to planning breaches.

For example, an LPA can use an enforcement notice to require a developer to remedy a planning breach; this might involve stopping works or removing a building from land. Failure to comply with an enforcement notice is a criminal offence that can result in a fine.

Suspected planning breaches can be reported to the planning enforcement team of the LPA. It is up to the LPA, however, whether and what enforcement action they take against reported breaches. The government advises LPAs to “act proportionately” in responding to breaches.

Role of the Local Government Ombudsman

If constituents have concerns about the way in which an LPA took a planning decision or about a lack of enforcement action by an LPA, they can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman. A local authority’s own complaints procedure must first have been exhausted for the Ombudsman to look at a case.

The Ombudsman can only look at whether the LPA followed correct processes. They cannot overturn a planning decision. If they find fault with an LPA’s procedures, the Ombudsman will issue recommendations to the LPA about how it can improve.

Further information


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.

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