Our top tips for viewing and understanding planning applications.
Do you know of a planning application in your area and want to find out more about it? The first step is to review the application on your local planning authority's website or at their offices.
But before that, you have to work out who makes the planning decisions in your area, so you know where to go. If there's a two or three-tier local authority system, consisting of a county and district council, in most cases with a parish or town council as well, you'll find the majority of decisions are taken by your local district or borough council. However, where a unitary authority is in place, it will act as the local planning authority.
Parish Councils are entitled to receive copies of all planning applications
Local planning authorities are required by law to keep a public register of all planning applications, which you should be able to access easily. A hard copy of planning applications, along with any maps, plans and supporting documents, is usually kept at the local planning authority's main office. All applications, plans and supporting documents must also be available online. If you struggle to find the application you're looking for, contact your local planning department's duty officer.
If you decide to visit the authority, phone the planning department first to find out their opening hours and to check that the relevant, up-to-date file will be available. Some local planning authorities require you to request files a few days in advance. The planning register must be available for the public to see 'at all reasonable hours', but what this means in practice varies between authorities.
The law dictates that local planning authorities should let you take copies of planning applications and related documents. You may be charged for photocopying. Some authorities have been known to charge just to retrieve (not photocopy) environmental information. Under the Environmental Information Regulations (2004), they should no longer do this, unless the information has commercial value.
Applications for major development are advertised in local newspapers
Finding out about past planning applications for a particular site can give you lots of relevant information. For example, if you're supporting a development turned down in the past because there wasn't enough public transport, you could focus on suggesting ideas to solve this problem. You should also look at recent planning applications in the wider area to get a picture of any development trends, and how they could affect the economic, social and natural environment of the area as a whole. This record of past applications is sometimes referred to as the 'planning history' of a site, and local authorities often charge for providing it because it has commercial value. You can look up a site's planning history by using the planning register or your local planning authority's online application database.
Planning applications have to include a map of the development site
If you have one, your town or parish council may be able to help if you have trouble getting in to see the planning register at your local planning authority. They usually receive copies of all planning applications in their area, provided they have made a written request for them, and should be happy to share them with you. If your parish or town council doesn't already get copies of planning applications, you could remind them that they're legally entitled to do so. The parish and town clerks are likely to be your best point of contact for this. Their contact details should be available on the parish notice board or from your local planning authority.