DTLR | Planning Green Paper: Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change


Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Planning Green Paper Planning: Delivering a Fundamental Change

Chapter three: How the planning system works

3.1 The basic structure of the planning system is over 50 years old, although the first town planning legislation dates from 1909. It was not until the end of the Second World War that the need to plan for reconstruction of devastated areas made new planning legislation imperative, which resulted in the 1947 Act.The legislation was last modified in 1991.

3.2 Planning over the last half century has had its successes and its failures.The least successful aspects of planning come quickly to mind: the sprawling housing estates completed in the 1960s and 70s; concrete jungles that replaced our town centres and which we now know attract grafitti and vandalism; and inner ring roads that were seen as a way of increasing mobility but all too often broke up urban communities.

3.3 There have also been some clear wins. Planning has helped preserve our best landscapes in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and many of our best buildings and townscapes through listed building and conservation area controls. Green Belts have prevented urban sprawl. More recently, our policies on re-use of brownfield land have promoted urban renaissance and the regeneration of town centres.

The current system

3.4 The current planning system in England has two main parts: a framework of plans and development control. A third element is the role of the Secretary of State in determining planning policy, deciding planning appeals and some important applications.


3.5 Our current planning system is plan-led, which means that if planning applications are in accordance with the development plan, they are likely to be approved unless there are ‘material considerations’ that suggest otherwise.These may be, for example, subsequent national policy statements that may override the plan or changes in local circumstance. In practice, such material considerations very often do apply because local plans are frequently out of date.

3.6 Regional Planning Guidance provides a strategic planning framework in each of the eight English regions and in London, the Mayor prepares a Spatial Development Strategy. Development plans are produced by county authorities (structure plans), district councils (local plans) and, in unitary authorities, a unitary development plan which combines elements of both. National parks also produce their own plans.

Development control

3.7 The system by which planning applications are determined is known as development control. Development control authorities are normally the districts and unitary authorities responsible for putting local plans in place. Planning applications are submitted to these authorities and decided either by their elected councillors or by local authority officers accountable to them.

3.8 Last year some 550,000 planning applications were submitted, almost half of which were for householder developments. In total, some 90% were approved. Local authorities have a target that 80% of planning applications should be determined within 8 weeks. In practice, only about 65% of applications are determined within that timescale and this proportion has been steady for some years.

figure 1: planning decisions by type of development

The role of the Secretary of State

3.9 The Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has three key roles. His Department sets out the planning policies that essentially drive the whole planning system and these are principally contained in 25 Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPGs) together with a series of Minerals Planning Guidance notes (MPGs).

3.10 Secondly, planning applicants who have had their application refused by a local planning authority or which has not been determined within an 8 week timescale have a right to appeal to the Secretary of State.There were over 15,000 planning appeals last year of which a third were allowed.

3.11 Appeals are administered by the Planning Inspectorate which is an executive agency reporting to the Secretary of State. It comprises a body of expert planning inspectors who consider appeals by three methods – written representations (74%), hearings (20%) and public inquiries (6%).The Planning Inspectorate has time targets for handling appeals/p>

3.12 Nearly all appeals are decided by Inspectors, but a small number are recovered for decision by the Secretary of State. In addition, the Secretary of State can call in planning applications which he believes should be decided by himself, on the basis of a report by an Inspector. Local authorities are required to notify applications that fall into particular categories to the Secretary of State so that he can decide whether to call them in for national decision.This includes those where the local planning authority proposes to grant permission that departs from the current development plan and applications for large housing developments on green field sites. Last year, there were 127 called in applications and 163 recovered appeals.

Foreword | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Response | Appendix