The planning application process

The planning application process

Find out about the planning application process, including information on planning committees, public meetings, appeal and complaints.

Validation

When an application is received, it is registered on the council’s system and given a reference number. A planning application must be considered ‘valid’ before it can progress through the planning system.

To view the validation checklist click here.

What is a valid application?
A valid application means an application which contains all of the information necessary in order for planning officers to be able to fully understand and assess the development being proposed. National Validation Requirements must be fulfilled for all applications for new development.
 
Local authorities may set their own local requirements and can request any information which it considers necessary in order for them to thoroughly assess the impacts of any proposals. If additional information has been requested, it is probably because of the location of the site proposed to be developed. Certain constraints may present risk to new developments, and to ensure that these risks can be fully assessed the local authority may require certain information (such as additional forms, surveys or assessments) to be submitted from the outset.
 
When an application is received, the site is checked for any constraints which may affect the site. Common constraints include flood zones, coal mining referral areas, archaeological areas, conservation areas and listed buildings. If the authority find that any constraints affect the site, they may ask for additional information in line with its validation checklist.
 
To find out more about environmental constraints click here.
National validation requirements
The National Validation Requirement sets out information that must be submitted, these include:
 
  1. Site location plan
This plan must show the site in which the development proposed edged in red, with any other land in the ownership of the applicant edged in blue. These plans must be to scale, usually at a scale of 1:1250 or 1:2500 and must show the direction of north.
 
  1. Completed application form
The relevant application form must be completed, with all questions answered. Ownership certificates must be completed and, where the applicant is not the landowner, appropriate notices should be served with a copy provided to the local authority.
 
To access application forms, checklists and notices click here.
 
  1. Correct fee
The correct fee must be submitted with any application for planning permission where one is required. Applications through the Planning Portal calculate the fees for you. There are fee exemptions.

To find out more about application fees and how to pay click here
 
  1. Design and access statement (Certain Applications)
A design and access statement is required for certain types of developments, including:
  • Listed building consent (Heritage Statement)
  • Major developments
  • Development in or affecting world heritage sites
The design and access statement considers the design of the proposed development and sets out issues for access, such as transport issues and accessibility. These are not required for smaller applications however it is often useful to provide a supporting statement explaining the background of the application and expanding upon the content of an application form and details not contained within the content submitted.
 
Please note: outline applications and applications subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA Development) have other requirements. Please contact the planning department if you wish to discuss these requirements or, alternatively see additional guidance on validation requirements from Planning Practice Guidance (PPG).
 
To view Planning Practice Guidance on validation click here
Local validation requirements
The Local Validation Requirement contains additional information that we may require for certain applications and in certain circumstances.

Photographs are useful in supporting an application for development but cannot be relied upon as a means of assessing an application. Planning permission is usually granted subject to conditions, which include a condition relating to the development being carried out in accordance with the approved plans. We may therefore request plans as part of the validation process to ensure that an appropriate legal certificate granting or refusing to grant planning permission can be issued.

Consultation

The majority of applications must be subject to a consultation process. When the local authority are validating applications, they will determine who needs to be consulted. This can include local residents and parish councils, as well as statutory and non-statutory consultees.

Publicity
The majority of applications also have to be publicised to ensure that local residents are aware of proposed development that may affect them. This is usually done by letter to adjacent properties, or by an officer posting a site notice at or near to the application site. For certain types of applications, a notice may go into the newspaper for that local area advising readers of the application. The council also publishes a weekly list of planning applications it receives on the website.
 
To view weekly lists of received/determined applications click here.
 
For most planning applications, the consultation period will run for a period of 21 days. This period relates to each type of consultation carried out and in some cases a site notice may be posted at or near to the application site after local residents receive formal letters. When this happens, the consultation period expires on the last day of publicity and comments can be received up until this point.
 
Certain types of applications do not require any consultation to be carried out with local residents or parish councils. These include:
 
  • Lawful Development Certificates for proposed or existing developments or uses
  • Applications for Discharge of Conditions
  • Works to protected trees or trees within a conservation area
  • Applications for Prior Notification (Prior Approvals) of Permitted Development
 
Local notification
When validating an application, officers will determine which local residents are likely to be directly affected by any development proposals. For small scale developments, those consulted may be the ones immediately adjacent to the application site. For larger developments, it may be appropriate to consult people in a wider area if the effects of the development, such as noise and traffic, could impact upon a larger proportion of the local population.

Local residents who may be affected by proposals are identified by validating officers and notified in writing. Local residents are usually given 21 days from the date shown on letters they receive to submit any comments or observations they have on an application.
 
Planning officers may, in certain circumstances, determine that additional notification should be carried out if the effects of a particular development are wider-reaching than first considered by the validating officer.
 
If you haven’t received notification of a planning application in your local area, this doesn’t mean your views aren’t welcomed.
 
Any member of the public can comment on a planning application which they feel may affect them or their community.
 
To comment on a planning application via Public Access click here.

For email and postal comments click here.
 
Please note: In order for us to consider your comments we will require your name and full address. For written or email communication, you must include the application reference so that we can attach your comments to the correct application. We no longer acknowledge representations made against an application, though we will always upload these to the database and display them on the public access section of the website for public viewing.
 
Parish councils
Parish councils play a pivotal role in the assessment of planning applications and often provide valuable local knowledge of issues which may affect development proposals. Parish councils are consulted on most types of applications within their boundaries, and have 21 days to submit any comments or observations they wish to make.
Statutory consultees
The local authority are required to carry out consultation with statutory consultees for certain types of development as set out within the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG). Statutory consultees often include bodies such as the Environment Agency, Historic England, the Coal Authority, Sport England, the Northumberland National Park and bordering local authorities.
 
For a list of when bodies should be consulted as statutory consultees click here
Non-statutory consultees
Non-statutory consultees are those which the local authority are not required to consult under planning legislation, but do so in order to gain specialist advice on complex matters which affect development proposals. They often include experts in the fields of ecology, archaeology, historic buildings, highways safety and public protection (environmental health). Planning officers seek advice with appropriate non-statutory consultees where they receive surveys and reports relevant to particular fields, or may seek advice if the development site is within a particular area of constraint.
 
For a list of non-statutory consultees and their function click here
Ground for objection or support
The council can only take land use planning issues into account when it makes a decision on an application. These will vary depending on the proposal and the site circumstances, but may include:
  • The council's planning policies
  • Central government planning guidance
  • The size, appearance, layout and density of the proposed development
  • Daylight, sunlight and overshadowing
  • Overlooking or loss of privacy
  • Means of access, parking, servicing, traffic generation, highway safety
  • Impact on landscape and ecological habitats
  • Effect on listed buildings, conservation areas and archaeology
  • Noise and disturbance
  • Air quality and odours
  • Contamination
  • Flood risk
  • Renewable energy, sustainability of proposed development
  • Crime prevention and community safety
 
The following are matters which the council cannot take into account, these include:
  • Private property matters such as boundary and access disputes, rights to light, restrictive covenants, capacity of private drains, damage to property during construction
  • Effects on property value
  • Trade competition
  • Loss of view
  • Building regulations matters such as structural safety and fire prevention and matters covered by other laws such as alcohol or gaming licences
  • The applicant's personal conduct, history or motives
Changes can be made to a planning application during its assessment. If changes are made to the application during the process, a period of 14 days is usually given to residents and consultees to provide any further comments on the changes. Minor changes which do not change or alter the development or its impacts will not normally result in additional consultation.

Assessment

The case officer dealing with an application will undertake a site visit as part of the assessment of the proposals. This usually follows a desk-based assessment of the application, where previous planning applications at or near to the site are considered and the constraints checked.

Site visits
Site visits are often undertaken unannounced, unless circumstances require access to the site or other areas to allow for a full assessment of potential impacts. This is due to the high volume of applications the local authority receives. Officers may also seek to undertake further visits if particular issues arise during the course of the assessment process.
 
The site visits help officers gain an understanding of the character of the area and assist in their assessment of the potential impacts of a proposal on local residents and the environment. The context of the site can often only be gained from a visit, and to ensure records of these are kept for future reference it is common for photographs to be taken and held on the system. Officers may also make notes of the visit, which are held on the authority’s electronic database with the application documents.
Evaluating planning applications
Planning law requires that all applications are determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. What this means is that applications must meet the requirements of planning policies relevant to the development being proposed, unless there are circumstances which indicate that an alternative decision should be made. These circumstances are material considerations and may mean that an application cannot be supported even if it would meet the requirements of planning policies.
 
The development plan comprises the relevant local policy documents for that area. The council are still reliant upon the policies contained within plans of the former districts, however we are currently in the process of rationalising these through the work being undertaken on the Northumberland Local Plan.
 
To view former district local plans and core strategies click here

To find out more about the Northumberland local plan click here
 
Neighbourhood plans are also used to evaluate and assess planning applications. These plans are produced at a local level by local communities, and form part of the development plan when they are ‘made’.
 
For full list of neighbourhood plans click here.
Assessing developments
Issues which are relevant to planning are assessed by officers during the evaluation process. Key things such as design, impact on local residents, sustainability and highways safety are considered during this process with reference to the requirements of any relevant planning policies for that area.

Officers will assess the proposals during a site visit, but will often rely upon the advice from consultees in specialist areas. Desk-based assessments may also be required before or after a site visit to gain a full understanding of the application.
 
The evaluation part of the process pulls all the information together and allows for a recommendation to be made on the application. The list below gives some examples of the sort of material used to help inform the recommendation:
  • the development plan
  • histories of both the site and similar cases
  • national planning policies
  • government guidance
  • case specific research
  • planning acts, regulations and case law
  • design guides and other supplementary planning documents
  • responses of neighbours and consultees
 
The planning system seeks to ensure that the right development occurs in the right places. The majority of applications made to the council are approved, however each application is considered on its own merits and all the relevant issues are taken into account.
 
National planning policy requires local authorities to work positively and proactively when dealing with planning applications. If faced with a recommendation of refusal on an application, a more positive outcome could be reached through discussion with an applicant. We will usually seek to overcome issues where possible and, where appropriate, will often invite applicants to submit a revision to an application following discussion and negotiation. This type of revision may be accepted as part of the application but only if there is sufficient time in the application process.
 
If there is insufficient time before the application expires, the application can be withdrawn and the applicant can seek further advice before a new application is submitted. The majority of applications are eligible for one ‘free go’ if they are submitted within a year from the date of a decision being made or, if the application is withdrawn, a year from the date it was received as a valid application by the authority. If an agreement cannot be made within the timescales for the application and it is not withdrawn, it will normally progress to a decision based on the original plans even if this means refusing an application which could be made acceptable. It is therefore advisable to discuss any issues with the case officer in a timely manner.
 
If an application is wholly unacceptable, it may be the case that it is refused without discussion or negotiation. Where possible, the case officer will usually try to discuss this with the applicant or agent before the decision is made to allow for it to be withdrawn to avoid the accumulation of a negative planning history at the site.
 
Once an assessment has been made, the publicity period has expired and all consultation responses have been received within the statutory timescales, applications are able to be determined. Officers will then proceed to make a recommendation on the proposals.

Recommendation

The council’s Scheme of Delegation sets out how different types of planning applications are determined.

The vast majority of applications are determined through the authorisation of planning officer’s recommendations by senior members of staff. These decisions are made under ‘delegated powers’. 

Scheme of delegation
When an application can be determined under delegated powers, planning officers will write a report outlining the main issues of the proposed development. The report serves to provide a written assessment of the proposals and any relevant planning policies. Material considerations are set out and a summary of comments received by objections is provided for clarity. For the majority of applications, the recommendation is for the proposals to either be permitted or refused. Some application types require a different recommendation to be made, based on the type of permission or consent being sought. These recommendations are clearly set out within the reports for each type of application.
 
When the report is finalised, it is then read and checked by senior members of staff. These staff are authorised under the Scheme of Delegation to determine applications on behalf of the council. When determining applications, these senior staff also have regard to all the plans, supporting documents and consultation responses held on the system against that application.
 
For more contentious applications, those which receive high levels of objection from the public or consultees or which raise significant planning issues, a vetting procedure is in place to consider how the recommendation should be looked at. This vetting procedure forms part of the planning process within Northumberland County Council.
 
The case officer will report to the head of service, who will ultimately determine whether the application raises significant issues which justify the members of the planning committee receiving the recommendation and, ultimately, determining that application.
 
For applications which receive an objection from the parish council, a separate vetting procedure applies. In these circumstances, the head of service will advise the chairs of the planning committees of their view on whether the application should be determined under delegated powers or by the planning committee. This applies only in the case of applications where an objection is received from the parish council and the recommending officer proposes that permission should be granted. Full details of the vetting procedure and the outcomes of applications which have been vetted are uploaded against that application on public access.
 
Only a small number of applications are heard and determined by the planning committee. Where the vetting procedures indicate that the application should be determined by one of the planning committees, the recommendation is put before the members of the committee. They receive copies of all the comments received against the application and have access to all the plans and supporting information.
 
In a small number of cases, members of the committee may decide to visit a site before meeting to determine the application. Officers can also recommend that members of the committee visit a site before meeting to determine an application if there are particularly contentious issues of a technical nature which can only be understood by visiting the site. In such cases, a recommendation is made to the planning committee to visit the site with a reason given for making this visit.
 
Once this has happened, a determination can be made on the application.

Determination

When a recommendation has been made against an application, the powers delegated to senior officers or members of the planning committees enable them to make a determination on the proposals.

Determination under delegated powers
For applications which can be determined under delegated powers, where a recommendation is agreed the senior officers will authorise that recommendation and a decision is issued by the local authority to the applicant. Where the applicant has an agent acting on their behalf, this decision is sent to the agent. A copy of this decision is also uploaded to public access for public viewing and the information on this section of the website will change accordingly.

Issuing a decision under delegated powers has become a streamlined process, and the use of technology enables planning decisions to be emailed directly from the administration team within the planning department to the applicant or their agent. Providing an up to date email address will greatly assist in the speed of communication.
 
Please note, we no longer notify local residents or those who commented on the application when a decision is made under delegated powers.  
Determination by Members of the Planning Committees
When an application is heard at a planning committee, the recommendation of the professional officers dealing with the case is considered by members of the committee. These recommendations are set out within reports that are published on an agenda for each meeting. Members of the committee will read these reports and have access to all the relevant documents and information in the same way that the public have access.
 
For details of committee meetings and agendas, please click here.
 
During the committee, officers dealing with the case present the application. They use visual and verbal descriptions of the development, and provide an overview of the key issues. Any updates that need to be provided are given during this presentation.
 
The public have the opportunity to speak following this presentation. Public speaking is made in accordance with the council’s public speaking protocol for planning committees.
 
To view the public speaking protocol click here
To View Protocol for Dealing with Late Representations on Planning Applications
 
After public speaking has finished, members of the committee will direct any questions they may have about the application to the officers of the council. These may be technical, and can be direct to the appropriate officer or consultee. It is not uncommon for a number of officers from different departments to be present at the committee so that its members can receive full and informed advice. Following this, the committee debates and discusses the merits and issues of each application with the guidance and authority of the Chair of that meeting.
 
A proposal will be made, which must be seconded by an additional member of the committee. This proposal will usually be to approve or refuse the application in line with or against the recommendation of the planning officers involved. In some cases, members of the committee can propose that a site visit be undertaken so that they can fully consider the application. Members can also seek to alter the recommendation of the officers, which sometimes includes the removal of or insertion of conditions or other requirements. When a proposal has been made, a vote will take place and the outcome of this vote will ultimately determine the decision that the planning committee makes on that application.
Decisions
Decision notices often come with an attached list of conditions. Where planning permission is granted with conditions, the permission stands subject to these conditions being met. Usual conditions require the development to commence within a set time period of 3 years, and in accordance with an approved set of plans.
 
Other conditions may form part of a planning permission and must be adhered to in order for that development to benefit from permission. Certain conditions require additional information to be submitted. These conditions will usually be imposed to secure precise details and further information that was not submitted with the planning application. This type of condition may prevent development from starting until the details have been agreed, or may require certain aspects of the work to have this information submitted and agreed before it can begin.
 
Where permission is granted subject to conditions that require further information to be submitted, an application to discharge those conditions must be made in order for the permission to remain valid. Failure to discharge the conditions and comply with the requirements of a permission may result in enforcement action being taken.
 
Details of how to apply for a discharge of conditions can be found here.
Appealing a decision
There are no third party rights to appeal a decision made on a planning application. This remains the right of the applicant and means that people who object to or support an application cannot lodge an appeal for this planning decision to be reviewed.
 
The planning inspectorate determine appeals made against decisions that the council makes on planning applications. Details of how to appeal against the decision of the council on your planning application is provided within the decision notice issued to you. This decision will set out the reasons why the application has been refused and in some cases it may be advisable to contact the case officer to discuss this. If there are significant issues relating to the proposal, it may be advisable to submit a pre-application enquiry to discuss ways in which these can be overcome through a more formal channel.
 
Judicial review does enable members of the public a right for review of the decision making process. It does not, however, look into or explore the merits of a planning application. A review can be a lengthy, complex and expensive process and it may therefore be advisable to seek independent advice.
Planning Aid
Planning Aid is a service which provides free, independent and professional advice on planning matters to communities and individuals who cannot afford to pay professional fees to employ a planning consultant. If you feel that you need assistance in making your views about an application or decision known, Planning Aid may be able to help. For more information, please visit www.rtpi.co.uk/planningaid or phone 0330 123 9244.
 
The Citizens Advice Bureau may also be able to provide some information on civil matters relating to planning applications. In some cases, it is advisable to contact your solicitor for legal advice if a development affects your property or raises civil issues such as access, ownership or covenants.