Planning law


At the heart of planning law is the concept of “development”. You need planning permission in order to carry out development on land. “Development” comes in two forms:  “material changes of use”, and “operational” development such as building work. On these foundations rests a complicated and elaborate structure of law.  This sets ways in which planning permission can be acquired, and defines circumstances in which it is not needed.  It establishes procedures at the levels of local and central government.

Policies and plans

Much planning policy comes from central government.  In particular there is the government’s National Planning Policy framework (“NPPF”).  This document, 75 pages long, lays down under 17 headings broad lines of policy which local authorities must follow when they draw up plans for their own areas.    

For local authorities, their “development plan” will not be simply a map, but a collection of documents, including maps and plans, which define how land will be developed in their area. An important ingredient will be neighbourhood development plans: Parish Councils and equivalent bodies can draw up these plans.  They do not have to do this; but doing so enables them to exert some influence over development in their areas. 

Planning law

Is planning permission required?

Central government issues legislation, collectively known as “development orders” automatically granting permission for particular sorts of development, thus making applications for permission to the local authority unnecessary.   These can relate to particular areas, or to particular sorts of development. As to the latter, the General Permitted Development Order (“GPDO”) grants planning permission for a wide range of activities, subject to conditions.  Permission is granted for extensions to houses, for example, with conditions limiting their size and nature.  In the same way there are, for example,  automatic grants of planning permission for:

• Minor development within the curtilage (i.e. immediate surroundings) of a house.  

• Some changes of use which would otherwise require planning permission.

• Some temporary buildings and uses.

• Conversion of agricultural buildings.

• In some situation, use of land for caravans and camping.

• Work relating to roads and other infrastructure.

There is also legislation — the Use Classes Order, or “UCO” — which as its title suggests lays down classes of use, and provides that if the use of land is changed to another use within the same class, this does not constitute development and no permission is necessary.   The UCO is not exhaustive:  it does not cover agricultural use, theatres, petrol filling stations, scrapyards, casinos and nightclubs, for example.  Such uses are in classes of their own and permission will be required for changes of use. 

Planning law:  procedures

Applications for planning permission are made to the local authority in writing, supported by the necessary plans and other material.  They can be granted (usually subject to conditions) or refused.  Planning law provides a right of appeal, and appeals are dealt with by inspectors appointed by the Planning Inspectorate.   These are almost always dealt with in writing, though there is provision for live hearings, partricularly if there are disputes and witnesses need to be cross-examined.   The ability of the courts to intervene in planning decisions is, deliberately, limited.  

Local authorities have only limited periods of time  in which to take action for breaches of planning law.  After that, development which required planning permission will be lawful. In such circumstances, the local authority may grant on application a “Certificate of lawfulness of Existing Use or Development” — a “CLEUD”.  They may also be asked, where are the planning permission situation is unclear, to issue a similar certificate in relation to proposed development — a “CLOPUD”.


Local authorities have a range of powers to deal with breaches of planning control. These include:

• Planning contravention notices, where the local authority are concerned that there may have been a breach of the law. These can require the landowner to provide information.

• Enforcement notices, where the local authority is clear that a breach of planning control has occurred, and wishes to specify the steps which the landowner must take to remedy the breach.

• Stop notices:  in effect, a back-up to enforcement notices, stop notices require a landowner to cease specified breaches of planning control.

• Injunctions, where other remedies have not proved effective, the local authority can obtain an injunction from the courts, wish the landowner will have to comply with or face proceedings for contempt of court and imprisonment.

Offshoots of planning law

Several areas of the law are closely related to the law described above.  Local authorities can establish conservation areas, when they feel that additional protection is required in order to preserve the amenity of the area.  Buildings can be listed, on the grounds of the special merit. Trees can be protected by means of tree preservation orders (see our page on Trees). 

Environmental law is a large subject in its own right, and has links to planning law. It is particularly relevant to larger projects, when applications for planning permission must be accompanied by environmental assessments dealing with the impact on the environment of the proposed development.

Help from Property Law Advice

For the sorts of issues which arise in practice, and on which we can offer advice, please see our Development and planning page.  If you’d like a quick response, to see whether we can help, please see our Initial enquiry page.


FAQs     Ts & Cs

Click to go to our Initial enquiry page. Other pages which may help you:  Trees, Restrictive covenants.

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