A very simple (simplified) guide to planning applications


Often the words “planning permission” for a project seems to anticipate struggle and long waiting times. However, often this is true only if the consideration of obtaining planning permission has been fully ignored since the beginning of the design process.

If local policies have been considered and integrated into the design development, the proposed scheme should not encounter many problems to be accepted.

Indeed, understanding the present conditions will enable to development of a design that combines the requirements of the local council, while achieving the desired spatial development.

This combination obviously varies from case to case depending on location, building typology, extent of the proposed scheme, and impact on the local area.


What is a planning application and when do you need it?

Whit the most obvious case being a new building, to less unclear circumstances namely extensions, conversions, and including properties with Permitted Development, it may still be necessary to seek approval from the local authorities. Likewise, for listed properties and conservation areas, there are planning rules and conservation policies that need to be satisfied prior to work commencements. The approval aspects include compliance with building regulations – covering the building stability, safety, and quality – as well as the local policies guiding for example the adopted materials or the size of the development. All conditions are in place to ensure the quality and safety of the proposed design.

Once you have assessed you need to submit your project for the council approval, it is important to understand the most appropriate route to proceed with. Usually, seeking the advice of an architect that has the knowledge and expertise to prepare the required documentation and safeguard regulation compliance, is the most advantageous choice at this stage.


Different types of applications

Pre-application advice: When the development could seem a bit out of the ordinary, or it presents some particular conditions (i.e. it is in a conservation area), it is advisable to seek advice as early as the strategy and design stage. Before proceeding with an application, it is useful to discuss with professionals to fully explore your proposal to understand clearly any possible criticality that could affect your planning permission. If you are not already in contact with a planner or an architect, councils usually offer a pre-application service for a fee. For rather straightforward design or less complex situations, it is quite common to proceed directly with a planning application. However, depending on the typology of the development and the building conditions, there are different forms of seeking permission.

Full Application: For new buildings, changes of use, engineering works and most non-domestic projects, a full planning application is the most common option which required the submission of detailed drawings of the proposal including the site plan.

Householder Application: When the alterations are to an existing household and they include minor or limited changes to the property, such as opening a new window or a new conservatory, it is possible to opt for a householder application, submitting all the details at once. This procedure includes sufficient details to describe the proposed alterations including any changes to the immediate site (I.e. a tree to be removed). There could be situations where the changes to a house fall under a Permitted Development, which does not require any planning permission. However, there will be conditions to adhere to and specific criteria to meet, which may require prior approval.

Outline Application: On the other spectrum of the scale, when dealing with big developments or greater volume increases, before fully advancing the design, an outline application can be submitted to discuss whether the nature and scale of the proposal are acceptable. If the outline is accepted, further details will need to be submitted in a separate instance – and within three years from the approval – through what is called a reserved matter application, proving that the design has been developed accordingly to the limitations and conditions included in the acceptance letter. Moreover, it is to be noted that this type of application is usually not adequate when projects are involving listed buildings or conservation areas, in which case a full application is the most appropriate route.

Once understood which application is the most suitable for your scheme, the project can now be developed in the right direction and with a significantly reduced risk of rejection. A professional – and architect a/o a planning agent – is the best person to have on board to discuss the next phase of the project and to prepare all the necessary drawings and documents as requested for submitting the application.

Submissions come with a fee and in most councils can be both sent via mail or paperless through online submission. However, you should not worry about this side of the process as is usually handled by your architect – that is the best part of having a specialist on board!


Application submitted: what to expect next?

  • Validation: Once the application, whichever the type, has been submitted and validated by the council’s technical officers, a reference code will be shared with you or your agent. This reference number allows you to track the progress of your application now uploaded on the public planning register.  
  • Consultation period: From here, before any decision can be made, a consultation period begins during which information about the proposed design is shared for comments with the public, the immediate stakeholders, and any appropriate expert – the length and process of which may vary in each council, usually lasting 3 to 4 weeks (by law is 21 days). All the received comments, both from experts and anyone, are collected on the application file and available for review.
  • Consideration of an application: Next, the officers will consider your application against the local and national policies as well as the comments received during the consultation term, also carrying out a site visit when appropriate. At this point, if the scheme presents any conflictual points with the planning consideration, the officer will proceed to contact the applicant to discuss the required amendments to the presented proposal. Beware that any major change will probably result in a further consultation period.
  • Formal assessment and decision notice issued: Applications are processed after a period of usually eight weeks from the initial acceptance, although major applications may take longer. The case officer, or the Planning Committee for more complex applications, will issue a decision notice that formally assesses whether the plan has been granted permission – with or without conditions attached – or has been refused. 


For the applications that have been accepted, the works can commence according to the approved scheme, unless any pre-commencement conditions require further details to be submitted in order to be discharged. In addition, it should be checked whether building regulations approval is needed. 

Should the permission be denied, the applicant has the right to appeal through a process handled by a government independent body, the Planning Inspectorate. Likewise, an appeal can be sought to determine one or more attached conditions to a granted permission when these are felt unfair. It is strongly advisable to seek trade professionals’ advice to guide you through what can be a rather long and tedious process, they can help to contact the council to discuss the guidance and advice to find a possible point of compromise beforehand starting the appeal case.

Once obtained the approval, amendments can be made to the original scheme, if appropriate, and such changes will need to be detailed and integrated into the application through a removal or variation process – that often comes with a fee.



Many aspects can determine the success of a planning application.

Local policies are in place to protect the heritage and ensure equitable development.

These have been evolving with time and got shaped by many aspects that we are facing as a changing society, including the urgent matter of climate change which promotes a more sustainable construction industry. Application, appeals, controversial proposals, big disputes, and traumatic events such as the Grenfell Tower case have often challenged and questioned the regulations to evolve and improve the safety and quality of our built environment. It is always a good costume to allow critical eyes to review a design, nevertheless, progress never came from confirmation.