THE PLANNING SYSTEM IN ENGLAND
HOW DOES THE PLANNING SYSTEM WORK?
Town planning in England seeks to balance the often-conflicting interests of those proposing development and those of the public. Since 1947, the planning system has acted in the public interest.
National government in London is responsible for creating the laws and regulations that set the rules for the planning system in England.
A PLAN-LED SYSTEM
The planning system has two main elements to it:
Forward Planning / Planning Policy / Guidance
Development Management / Development Control
The control of land use and development in England is ‘plan-led’.
This means that proposals for new development being considered by planning application must be determined in accordance with the development plan for an area unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
FORWARD PLANNING / POLICY AND GUIDANCE
Central government sets national policy and guidance to be followed at the national, regional, local and neighbourhood levels.
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the policies for England. It was introduced in March 2012, updated in 2019, 2021 and 2023.
More detailed guidance is set out in National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) on specific issues such as design, climate change, flood risk etc.
National policy for large infrastructure projects is set out in a series of National Policy Statements.
‘Development plans’, which include ‘local plans’, are prepared by local authorities and these set out the broad policy framework for development that would be considered acceptable in each local area. When prepared, Local Plans must take account of national planning policy and guidance and are examined by independent planning Inspectors.
Neighbourhood plans can provide more local area-specific policies so long as they accord with the local plan for the area and can only be adopted following examination and agreement of the local community by way of local referendum.
DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL
Those proposing development can make planning applications to their local authority who then determine whether proposals should be granted planning permission using the development plan as the starting point unless material planning considerations indicate otherwise. National policy and guidance are material considerations, but such considerations can be wide ranging in nature.
The weight to be given to conflicting policy, material considerations and other factors is determined on a case-by-case basis by the decision maker using the ‘planning balance’.
If an applicant disagrees with a decision of a local authority an appeal can be made to the Secretary of State who, through the Planning Inspectorate will allocate an independent Planning Inspector to decide the case.
There is no third-party right of planning appeal in England. In other words, if an objector disagrees with a decision, they cannot appeal it.
If an applicant or other party considers that a decision has been taken unlawfully by a local authority or Secretary of State in relation to the creation of a piece of law or guidance, a development plan or a planning application, then an application can be made in the right circumstances for a Judicial Review of the decision by the High Court.
Further appeals can be made to the Court of Appeal and ultimately the Supreme Court.
Appeals used to be able to be made to the European Courts but following the UK’s departure from the European Union (Brexit), the highest level of appeal is now the UK Supreme Court.
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