About the Planning System

What is planning?

Planning is about how we plan for, and make decisions about, the future of our cities, towns and countryside. The planning system is needed to manage development in your local area, it exists to ensure that development is in the public interest with positive outcomes for people, the environment and the economy.

Local government administers much of the planning system, preparing Local Plans, determining planning applications and carrying out enforcement against unauthorised development. Your local planning authority, usually the District or Borough Council, is responsible for deciding whether a development - anything from an extension on a house to a new shopping centre - should go ahead.

How does the planning system work?

The planning system in England and Wales follows a plan-led system, which involves preparing plans that set out what can be built and where. The plan-led system was updated by an Act of Parliament (the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act) in December 2004. Further changes were made by the Localism Act in 2011 and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012.

The system requires each local planning authority to prepare a Local Plan - The key documents through which local planning authorities can set out a vision and framework for the future development of the area. Each Local Plan will be different in its detail, but in general they contain three main elements:

  • A core strategy which contains all the general development policies for the area
  • Site allocations which identify strategic sites specifically for development
  • A policies map showing which locations are affected by each policy in the plan

The Local Plan must be supported by a robust evidence base, including documents such as a Sustainability Appraisal and a Statement of Community Involvement. Before they can be adopted, each local plan must be examined and approved by an independent examiner.

Once a Local Plan has been adopted, any planning application submitted to the local planning authority will be decided based on the policies within the Local Plan. The Local Plan usually covers a period of 20 year but there will be reviews planned every 5 years. Local plans are usually available via your local authority’s website or at local library.

The Government have produced a plain English guide to the planning system to help people understand it better.

Click here for more information on national planning policy.