How to maximise the chances of gaining planning permission

gaining planning permission

Gaining planning permission is often a daunting prospect, and ultimately it can be a fight between you and something that seems a lot bigger. The light at the end of the tunnel however is that the stress and struggle that you may go through in getting planning is usual far outweighed by the rewards at the end.

Ultimately,  planning is a game, and like all games it can be both played well and played poorly. It has its own set of rules which are open to subjective interpretation and these rules, if manipulated correctly and understood can be bent significantly if the correct moves are made.

At the end of the day, planners are just people, like the rest of us. They are open to influence and persuasion, but they are also all different. Therefore, playing the planning game is never easy. Whilst the planning policies and guidelines look to steer the planning officers on how to make their decision, ultimately there are a huge number of influencing factors that change the result, and therefore a flexible, pragmatic, and sometimes innovative and out-of-the-box type approach to gaining planning permission proves to be very useful.

What happens when you submit a planning application?

Once you submit your application to the council they then have eight weeks in which to make a decision on the application. The pressure on planning officers to meet these timescales is extremely high, and this does not always help the situation. Pressure often leads to planning officers searching for reasons to bat-back the application to the applicant. This will get it off their back and buy them time whilst you deal with their query or queries. The alternative is simply to reject the application.

So….Rule Number 1: Get the application right

Don’t allow your application to be delayed or sent back, or worse, refused, because you have failed to put a scale on the drawing, or because you have failed to put a north sign on the plan drawings, or because you got the addresses wrong. Don’t be lazy, be concise and accurate.

Know the rules for ensuring your application is compliant.

This point is more prevalent than ever, because nowadays planners will simply not say anything and refuse the application on the grounds of it being incomplete. So, get the planning application itself right.

Note: Bear in mind that if your application is unsuccessful, you can reapply again for free within 12 months.

Playing the game well

Now you know that the first rule of being successful with gaining planning permission is basic housekeeper in the production of your application, you now need to think about making the application itself a success.

So how do you play the game well?

Well, like with every battle, you need to understand what it is your up against.

Rule Number 2: Know your enemy 

Do your homework! Make sure you understand the local planning policies and legislation affecting your areas. To do this go to your local authorities planning website and read the local development plan, read national planning policies, visit the Planning Portal which has a wealth of invaluable information, read the Unitary Development Plan, if you live in London read The London Plan, and read the National Planning Policy Framework. Understand what the planning department is trying to achieve in your area.

For example, at the time of writing this article, and in the near future, the push is towards the development of more housing, therefore converting an existing house into a shop may well be hard work and will need justification. Find that justification. If you live in an affluent area, your proposal for a new betting shop on the well-kept high street full of trendy coffee shops and expensive clothing retailers may face stiff opposition from not only the planners, but also the residents of the town in the committee meeting.

So, know your enemy. Know the policies, know the area, look at previous applications and trends and see what has been approved and what has been rejected. You can do a search of planning application in your area on the councils website, just google “[your council] search planning applications”. This is an invaluable way of finding out information about what is and what isn’t being approved.

How is the decision made, and what and who influences it?

It is the planning officer assigned to your case that will make the initial recommendation for your application and usually the decision. You can challenge the decision and take it to committee if you so choose, but this is a long process (often more than 12 months). However, the decision of the planning officer is not a fixed certainty, and it is subject to how well you have played the game.

The biggest influencers on the decision are, planning policy, design and aesthetic impact, community impact, environmental impact, traffic impact, and the opinions of the neighbours; who, by the way, will all be consulted on for their opinions.

So, Rule Number 3: Get the Design Right & Don’t Upset the Neighbours. 

Take the time to look at the neighbouring area. What have other people done that is similar. Make sure the design is in keeping, and if you live in a Conservation Area or if you plan on carrying out works to a Listed Building this is particularly prevalent. So, sensitive, intelligent design will increase your chances of planning greatly.

If you are carrying out a major project, get the community on your side.

Make friends with those people that can object to your proposal. 

Identify how your project will benefit the community. Will it create jobs? Will it create public spaces for leisure and enjoyment? All of these things are looked upon favourably in the community and in turn, by the planning officers.

Get Pre Application Advice. 

It is well worth getting Pre Application Advice before submitting the full application. This will give you a steer on the likelihood of your application being approved and will advise you where there are any failings in the design and how it complies or does not comply with planning policy. Not only this but it gives you an opportunity to build up a good rapport with the planning officer at an early stage and any evidence of where you have attempted to actively comply in gaining planning permission will be looked on favourably when you submit the full application.


Fundamentally, for most applications:

1 – get the application spot on,

2 – understand the policies that the planning department are trying to adhere to and what influences their decisions, and if you can, get to know the planners on a personal level over the phone and build up a rapport, and

3 – make your design appeal to the local area and community in as many ways as possible.

If you can do this, the chances of you getting permission are much greater.

Avoid: upsetting the planners, putting forward applications for things that are clearly not suitable for the local area, upsetting the neighbours, and never be slapdash in your approach to an application.

One last thing…..Good Luck!


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