Planning Permission -The Process

Explore options and prioritise

Deciding what to do describes some of the issues you need to think about before deciding what to do.  If your home is historic, get a good understanding of the characteristics which make it historically significant, and ensure that the alterations you want to make are appropriate and won’t harm it, using the Centre for Sustainable Energy’s Love Your Old Home workbook (see Resources). Consider the impact of your planned alterations on the fabric of your property, and in particular on the movement of moisture and air within and through it. Begin with the energy hierarchy to specify the full range of changes you think are worth considering within your home and your budget. If you have a substantial budget, it will probably be worth your while seeking professional advice and working through the various options in detail. Whatever the size of your budget, the more time you spend researching your options and talking to suppliers the better.

Is permission required?

Establishing if planning permission or listed building consent is required may simply involve picking up the phone and speaking to a planning or conservation officer in Cheltenham Borough Council’s planning department. The Council offer a duty planning officer system for this purpose, tel. 01242 264328.

However, you will probably be asked to provide more details in writing before the Council can confirm whether or not any form of permission is required and what fees will apply. Planning permission may also be required if you want to change the use of a building.

If your home is not listed, you may well enjoy ‘permitted development rights’ as defined by the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 and subsequent amendments. If a change is a ‘permitted development’, you do not need to seek permission from the Council to undertake the work. However there may be restrictions within the General Permitted Development Order which you must follow. If your home has undergone development in the past which required planning permission, permitted development rights may have been revoked as a condition for the development. If this could apply to your home, check with the Council before undertaking the work. The Council can restrict permitted development rights in any part of the town using a power called an ‘Article 4 direction’. This power is used in different ways by different local authorities, which is partly why the rules are not always the same in different places. The General Permitted Development Order does not apply to listed buildings.

Seek pre-application advice

Once the Council’s planning officers have confirmed whether or not permission is required, you need to obtain the relevant application forms from the Planning Department or website. At this stage it is advisable to seek pre-application advice from the Council. For a fee, a planning or conservation officer will visit the property, discuss the options with you, clarify what information must be submitted and give you some indication of whether an application is likely to be approved or not. If you explain what you are seeking to achieve, your conservation officer will often help set out the options and steer you away from options that are unlikely to be successful and direct you to others that are more sensitive to your building’s significance. They can offer considerable experience in caring for historic buildings and managing their energy needs, including awareness of unexpected consequences of some measures, and they can help you to look at the building as a whole. If you live in a listed building, pre-application advice is an even more important opportunity to identify the range of issues you will need to address.

Consider professional help

Planning applications and listed building consents require the submission of detailed scale drawings and in most cases an accompanying design and access statement, planning statement and heritage statement. It is therefore advisable to appoint a professional (an architect, conservation architect, surveyor or chartered town planner) to prepare the application and supporting statements. This person will act as an agent on your behalf and will liaise with other professionals as necessary, such as structural engineers and building historians. For a very simple proposal it may be feasible for the application to be prepared by the applicant but in most cases drawings will need to be prepared by a skilled draughtsperson.

Make the case and submit your application

Planning application forms and drawings need to be supported by a written explanation of the scheme, the thinking behind the proposal and how the solution has been reached.  These design and access statements must provide details of the physical characteristics of the scheme. The statement should include contextual analysis and visual impact assessment including details of what the proposal will look like in the townscape, with photographs and photomontages. If the proposal is likely to have an impact on neighbours it is advisable to discuss it with them first and provide details of responses to their comments in the planning application. If professional advice has been sought then details of this should also be included.

Planning statements should aim to justify the proposal in terms of national and local planning policy and guidance (see Planning policy). The Council’s Local Plan and supplementary planning documents define the priorities and constraints of local planning policy and so must be considered in detail. These policies will be the primary basis on which your application will be judged. If there are any departures from a policy position, you must make clear the reasons for this. You can also make reference to national planning policy statements when making your case.

Most applications for planning permission in Cheltenham will require justification in terms of the impact on ‘heritage assets’, including the character and appearance of the conservation area and the significance of listed buildings and their setting. So even if your home is not itself listed you will need to take account of the impact on any listed buildings nearby. Historic England has produced guidance which is helpful in undertaking assessments of the setting of heritage assets (see Resources).

You can get a sense of the Council’s priorities, and an idea of what is likely to be acceptable, by reviewing previous planning applications, all of which are available on the Cheltenham Borough Council website.

 Consideration of proposals

Once an application has been submitted to the Council it will be checked and entered into the planning register, which anyone can see. The Council will then begin public consultation on the application. In most cases a planning officer will visit the application site within 2 or 3 weeks of the application being submitted and make an assessment of the proposal against local planning policies in the Local Plan/Local Development Framework. It’s a good idea for you or your agent or architect to attend so you can talk through your proposals with the case officer.  They probably won’t be able to complete their assessment that day, but you may be able to get an idea of any remaining concerns they have. It may help you to prepare a sample of how the work or installation will appear, for illustrative purposes, for the officer to examine when they visit the site.

Section 38 (6) of the Planning and Compulsory Act 2004 makes it clear that applications must be determined in accordance with the ‘development plan’ unless ‘material considerations’ indicate otherwise. Every planning application is determined on its own merits, and whilst the ‘development plan’ (the Council’s Local Plan/ Local Development Framework) is the most important consideration, other material considerations will also be considered, i.e. anything relevant to planning in the proposal.

The planning or conservation officer will weigh up the proposals, taking into account the evidence provided, the differing heritage impacts and benefits, the condition of the building, how the proposal fits in with the appearance of the surroundings, the design and the materials to be used. They will take account of consultations with interested parties, the Council’s planning documents and national planning policy.

Decisions

A decision on a planning application or an application for listed building consent can be made either by councillors at planning committee or by planning officers under ‘delegated’ powers. The Council can determine the planning application in one of three ways:

  • by granting planning permission;
  • by refusing planning permission; or
  • by granting planning permission subject to conditions.

If planning permission is granted then it is likely that this will be subject to conditions. The most common condition will be a time limit within which the development must begin, usually three years from when planning permission is granted. Another common condition is to require the work to be undertaken in strict accordance with approved drawings of specific details.

Refusal notices and appeals

In the event of refusal, details of how to appeal will be included with the decision letter from the Council. They can also be obtained from the Planning Inspectorate, the government organisation that manages the appeals process in England and Wales. You will be required to complete and return an appeal form which, with essential supporting documents, must reach the Inspectorate within 6 months of the date shown on the Council’s decision notice. At this stage it may be advisable to seek professional help from a planning consultant or another support organisation.

The appeal involves a reconsideration of the application by an independent planning inspector and can take the form of written representations, an informal hearing or a public inquiry.

Written representations

Most planning appeals are decided by written representation. They are usually the simplest, cheapest and quickest method. With this method of appeal, both parties prepare a written statement of their case and the grounds of appeal should address the Council’s reasons for refusal. The inspector visits the site and considers the written evidence from the applicant, the Council and anyone else who has an interest in the appeal.

If you are a third party and you write to the Council about the planning application, the Council should inform you of the appeal within two weeks of the Planning Inspectorate’s decision to accept it. The comments you make about the application will be taken into account in the appeal unless you write to the Inspectorate directly.

The inspector writes a decision letter to both parties in which the appeal is either upheld and planning permission granted or dismissed and permission refused.

Informal hearings

Hearings are usually a round table discussion held in Council offices, village halls or community centres. They are open to members of the public and usually last about half a day. The inspector will open the hearing by explaining what the appeal is about. They will then go through some routine points, including asking who wants to speak. The inspector will give a summary of the applicant’s case and the Council’s case and outline which topics will be discussed. The inspector always leads the discussion. The applicant usually gives his or her views on a topic first, followed by the Council, then anyone else who wants to comment.

In most cases, when everyone who wants to speak has done so, the inspector will suggest that the hearing is continued on the site of the proposed development and after this the inspector writes the decision. Recorded evidence is allowed at the discretion of the inspector present on the day.

Inquiries

This type of appeal is less common for domestic planning applications and normally applies to major developments or developments of more than local importance. If you want to take a role in an inquiry and call your own witnesses, you should contact the Planning Inspectorate at the earliest possible stage. Inquiries are open to members of the public, and although you do not have a legal right to speak, the inspector will normally allow you to do so. Before the inquiry, if you want to see what the applicant and the Council have written, you should be able to see copies of their appeal documents at the Council’s offices.

A group of individual interested parties may appoint one agent or solicitor to represent them all and the agent may make a request for ‘Rule 6’ status. If the inspector agrees to this, your agent will be asked to provide a statement of your case and details of any documents they will produce at the inquiry.

Inquiries are usually held in Council offices, village halls or community centres. An inquiry is the most formal of the appeal procedures and may last for several days, or even weeks. It is not a court of law, but the proceedings will often seem to be quite similar and the applicant and the Council usually have legal representatives.

The High Court

An appeal decision can only be challenged on legal grounds in the High Court. To be successful, you would have to show that the inspector had gone beyond his or her powers or that the Planning Inspectorate did not follow the proper procedures and so damaged your interests.

If your challenge is successful, the High Court will overturn the original decision and return the case to the Planning Inspectorate, who will re-assess it. This does not necessarily mean that the original decision will be reversed. If you decide to challenge the decision, you must apply to the High Court within six weeks of the date of the decision.

Costs

The appeal process itself is free. However, the applicant and the Council have to pay their own expenses. If there is a hearing or an inquiry, one party may be asked to pay the other party’s costs, as well as their own. The inspector will only do this if the person applying can show that the other side behaved unreasonably and put them to unnecessary expense.