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The town planning system in England controls and regulates development.  It does this by requiring that any new development proceeds only if and after planning permission has been granted.

– noun
formal permission from a local authority for the erection or alteration of buildings or similar development

You may need planning permission if you want to build something, make changes to an existing building or change the use of a building or land.  

Applying for planning permission

To apply for planning permission, you need to make a submission to your local council.  This can be done electronically online or in hard copy.  Depending on the project, forms, plans and supporting documents will be needed. 

If your project needs planning permission and you undertake the work without permission, you can be served with an ‘enforcement notice’ ordering you to stop and potentially undo all the changes you have made at your cost.

It is a criminal offence to ignore an enforcement notice, but you can appeal against it.  Appeals can also be made against a decision of your local council if a planning application is refused.

When planning permission is not needed

Some building works do not need planning permission, thanks to ‘permitted development rights‘.

Building works that may benefit from permitted development rights include:

  • many types of householder works e.g. extensions, outbuildings, walls, fences, gates etc
  • some industrial premises and warehouses
  • some forms of agricultural development
  • some outdoor signs and adverts
  • demolition – but before you begin you must get prior approval from your local council



Links shown in red on this page will take you to our more detailed guides. 

The planning system in England is made up (broadly) of two key functions at the local level:

  • Development Management and Control: where a local authority receives, processes, and determines planning applications (i.e. grants or refuses planning permission) and carries out related tasks such as enforcement (i.e. taking action to control unauthorised development); 



When a person or organisation wants to undertake a ‘development’ – e.g. constructing a building or changing the use of a building or land, planning permission is required, and other consents may also be needed (e.g. Listed Building Consent for works affecting the fabric of a listed building). 

The first thing to do if you have a project in mind is to establish whether planning permission is required by confirming whether the works or proposed change of use amount to ‘development’ for the purposes of planning. 

The next step is to then determine whether a planning application is needed. 


1. Does the project fall within the definition of ‘development’

2. If yes, is a planning application needed or is it ‘permitted development‘?



For the purposes of planning, development is defined as the “carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under the land or the making of any material change in the use of any buildings or other land”

The full definition is set out in Section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended).  See our article on the definition of development for more details. 



Some forms of development are automatically granted approval by virtue of being ‘Permitted Development.  For all other types of development, if it proceeds without permission, it will be unlawful and may be at risk of enforcement action.

Depending on the type of development you wish to carry out, you may need prior approval from the local authority even under PD rights, and you will also need to abide by all other non-planning legislation and requirements as applicable – e.g. building regulations. 

In places such as Conservation Areas, or National Parks, permitted development rights are restricted.

See our guides for more detail on permitted development.



If development is not exempted by permitted development rights or an LDO, a planning application will need to be made to the Local Planning Authority. 

Our planning application pages explain the process and what to consider when preparing a planning application and a guide to getting planning permission from your local authority.

It is the responsibility of those undertaking development to determine whether planning permission is required.  The general advice is to always discuss proposals with the Local Planning Authority or a qualified, professional planning consultant before starting work.

An application for a Certificate of Lawfulness may be relevant if legal confirmation as to whether or not a development will be (or is) lawful is required.

Planning permission is either granted or refused following the submission of a planning application to a Local Planning Authority taking account of planning policy and any other material considerations.

See the links below and in our menus at the top of this page for more information about planning applications, the decision making process, how to object to an application or how to appeal a decision.  We have an extensive library of articles that explains the whole process.  

If you have any queries, do contact us. has an extensive catalogue of articles and guides which help explain the town planning system in England. 

See below for links to some of our most popular pages or use the search function and menus at the top of the page.