Guidance

Before submitting an application

Sets out process and expectations on pre-application discussions.

Planning practice guidance will, where necessary, be updated in due course to reflect changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (the new version of which was published in July 2018). Where any hyperlinks direct users to the previous National Planning Policy Framework (2012), please disregard these. If you’d like an email alert when changes are made to planning guidance please subscribe.

Where plans are being prepared under the transitional arrangements set out in Annex 1 to the revised National Planning Policy Framework, the policies in the previous version of the framework published in 2012 will continue to apply, as will any previous guidance which has been superseded since the new framework was published in July 2018.

The value of pre-application engagement

How can pre-application engagement improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning application system?

Pre-application engagement by prospective applicants offers significant potential to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning application system and improve the quality of planning applications and their likelihood of success. This can be achieved by:

  • providing an understanding of the relevant planning policies and other material considerations associated with a proposed development
  • working collaboratively and openly with interested parties at an early stage to identify, understand and seek to resolve issues associated with a proposed development
  • discussing the possible mitigation of the impact of a proposed development, including any planning conditions
  • identifying the information required to accompany a formal planning application, thus reducing the likelihood of delays at the validation stage. The information requested must be reasonable (more information can be found in Making an application.
  • putting in place a Planning Performance Agreement where this would help with managing the process and agreeing any dedicated resources for progressing the application

The approach to pre-application engagement needs to be tailored to the nature of the proposed development and the issues to be addressed.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

Parties involved at the pre-application stage

Who can be involved at the pre-application stage?

Pre-application engagement is a collaborative process between a prospective applicant and other parties which may include:

It is recognised that the parties involved at the pre-application stage will vary on a case by case basis, and the level of engagement needs to be proportionate to the nature and scale of a proposed development. Each party involved has an important role to play in ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of pre-application engagement.

The local planning authority at the pre-application stage

What pre-application services can local planning authorities offer?

There is no one-size fits all approach to providing efficient and effective pre-application services. Local planning authorities are encouraged to take a flexible, tailored and timely approach to the pre-application services they offer, which are appropriate to the nature and scale of a proposed development. The National Planning Policy Framework recognises that the local planning authority has a key role to play in encouraging other parties to take maximum advantage of the pre-application stage.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Can the local planning authority charge for pre-application services?

Local planning authorities, including Urban and Mayoral Development Corporations, may charge for providing discretionary services under section 93 of the Local Government Act 2003. Where charges are made they must not exceed the cost of providing the service. It is important that any charging does not discourage appropriate pre-application discussions. In this context, local planning authorities need to consider whether charging is appropriate in all cases, given the potential for pre-application engagement to save time and improve outcomes later in the process. Where possible, local planning authorities are strongly encouraged to provide at least a basic level of service without charge.

To ensure transparency, where local planning authorities opt to charge for certain pre-application services, they are strongly encouraged to provide clear information online about:

  • the scale of charges for pre-application services applicable to different types of application (eg minor or major and other)
  • the level of service that will be provided for the charge, including:
    • the scope of work and what is included (eg duration and number of meetings or site visits)
    • the amount of officer time to be provided (recognising that some proposed development requires input from officers across the local authority; or from other statutory and non statutory bodies)
    • the outputs that can be expected (eg a letter or report) and firm response times for arranging meetings and providing these outputs
    • It is also helpful for local planning authorities to provide links to any charges that statutory consultees may levy for pre-application advice, where this is known.

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Revision date: 22 02 2018 See previous version

What information does a prospective applicant need to provide at pre-application stage?

It is important to see the pre-application stage, as a 2-way process between the local planning authority and the prospective applicant, although the nature and location of particular schemes may justify other parties being involved (such as statutory consultees). The level of information necessary for effective pre-application engagement will vary depending on the scale and nature of the proposed development. In all cases, the level of information requested by the local planning authority needs to be proportionate to the development proposed. A prospective applicant would not necessarily be expected to provide all of the information that would accompany a formal planning application, but it needs to be sufficient information to allow the local planning authority to take an informed view.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

How do planning performance agreements relate to the pre-application stage?

A planning performance agreement can be a useful tool to focus pre-application discussions on the issues that will need to be addressed throughout the course of preparing and determining a planning application, and the timescales and resources that are likely to be required.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

What involvement could the local planning authority’s elected members have at the pre-application stage?

Democratically elected members are strongly encouraged to participate at the pre-application stage, where it is appropriate and beneficial for them to do so. Section 25 of the Localism Act 2011 confirms that elected members do not have a ‘closed mind’ just because they have historically indicated a view on a matter relevant to the proposal. Further information on elected member involvement in the decision-making process.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Statutory and non statutory consultees at the pre-application stage

What role do statutory consultees have at the pre-application stage?

The National Planning Policy Framework is clear that statutory consultees have an important role to play at the pre-application stage. In order for their role to be effective and positive, statutory consultees will need to take an early, pro-active approach and provide advice in a timely manner.

Where different statutory consultees share an interest in a particular development, they are encouraged to engage with each other at an early stage and be pro-active in seeking to resolve any issues together.

Local planning authorities also have a role to play in encouraging statutory consultees to be as co-ordinated as possible.

Where charges are levied by statutory consultees for pre-application advice, they are encouraged to make information available online on the charges, the services to be delivered and the response times that apply.

Further information about the role of statutory consultees.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

Local people at the pre-application stage

Is pre-application community consultation compulsory?

Pre-application engagement with the community is encouraged where it will add value to the process and the outcome. It is mandatory to carry out pre-application consultation with the local community for planning applications for wind turbine development involving more than 2 turbines or where the hub height of any turbine exceeds 15 metres.

The prospective applicant at the pre-application stage

What should a prospective applicant expect from the local planning authority at the pre-application stage?

A prospective applicant should expect a clear, timely, and authoritative, view on the merits of a proposed development – as well as clear advice on consultation requirements and the information to be submitted with a formal planning application.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

Is pre-application advice binding?

Pre-application advice provided by the local planning authority cannot pre-empt the democratic decision making process or a particular outcome, in the event that a formal planning application is made. The advice could, however, be a material consideration to be taken into account and given weight in the planning application process.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Is a prospective applicant able to make changes to a proposed development during or after undertaking pre-application engagement?

If pre-application advice is to be meaningful then a proposed development may change prior to the submission of a formal planning application. This could resolve issues identified at the pre-application stage and/or it may raise new issues that need to be discussed.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

What can a prospective applicant do if they are unhappy with the pre-application service provided?

If the level of service received is considered by the prospective applicant to have fallen below expectations, they may wish to raise the matter directly with the local planning authority, if necessary through its formal complaints procedure. Where a fee has been paid for pre-application advice, the scope for a full or partial refund will depend on the terms and conditions of any agreement that has been entered into.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

The importance of considering design and environmental issues at the pre-application stage

How can design review relate to the pre-application stage?

The National Planning Policy Framework recognises the benefits of design review in appropriate cases. The local planning authority should consider offering design review when appropriate, as part of their pre-application service. While a design review can take place at any point during the pre-application or planning application process, it is particularly beneficial if undertaken once the site’s constraints and opportunities have been established and before a proposal has been developed in any great detail. Being able to inform and influence the design of a proposed development at this early stage is more efficient than trying to implement suggested revisions at a later stage – particularly if this relates to a major proposal and/or one that will require an Environmental Impact Assessment.

If undertaken at the pre-application stage, a prospective applicant is encouraged to articulate the findings and outcomes of the design review process when making a formal planning application. This explanation could be included in a Design and Access Statement in instances where one is required. Design and Access Statements can help local planning authorities and other interested parties understand the evolution and rationale behind the proposed design.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

What is a design review?

More information on design review can be found in the design guidance.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Planning performance agreements

What is a planning performance agreement?

A planning performance agreement is a project management tool which the local planning authorities and applicants can use to agree timescales, actions and resources for handling particular applications. It should cover the pre-application and application stages but may also extend through to the post-application stage. Planning performance agreements can be particularly useful in setting out an efficient and transparent process for determining large and/or complex planning applications. They encourage joint working between the applicant and local planning authority, and can also help to bring together other parties such as statutory consultees. A planning performance agreement is agreed voluntarily between the applicant and the local planning authority prior to the application being submitted, and can be a useful focus of pre-application discussions about the issues that will need to be addressed.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

When can a planning performance agreement be used?

In principle planning performance agreements can be used for any application, although whether an agreement is justified will depend on the size and complexity of the proposal. It may be possible to use a simple form of agreement for smaller schemes, based on the key milestones that need to be adhered to.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

What does a planning performance agreement comprise?

There is no one model. It is for the local planning authority and the applicant to discuss and agree a suitable process, format and content which is proportionate to the scale of the project and the complexity of the issues to be addressed.

As with all project management approaches, it is always sensible to keep the content of planning performance agreements as straightforward as possible and the guiding principle should be that the parties agree the way forward. As a minimum, a simple approach, such as one built around an agreed timetable, development objectives and responsibility for tasks could be sufficient. In very complex schemes of strategic importance there may be a need to develop a shared vision to encourage greater collaborative working. There will always need to be a clear and agreed timescale for reaching a decision on the application once it is submitted.

A planning performance agreement can extend to matters beyond the formal application process – such as programming the negotiation of any section 106 agreement and related non-planning consents. For very large or complex schemes the agreement may also provide a basis for any voluntary contributions which the applicant has offered to pay to assist with abnormal costs of processing the application. The parties will want to ensure that such payments do not exceed the cost of the additional work involved, are not seen to have any implications for the decision on the application, and do not deflect resources from processing other cases; any additional resource provided in this way needs to be used for additional capacity that is genuinely required to ensure a timely and effective service.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

How much should a planning performance agreement cost?

Local planning authorities may make a charge for the administrative work involved in agreeing and implementing the planning performance agreement itself, to the extent that this goes beyond an authority’s statutory responsibilities. Any charges need to reflect the wider principles for charging for pre-application advice, – where possible forming part of a clear menu of pre-application services – and will be in addition to any subsequent planning application fee for the proposed development.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

How can planning performance agreements and community involvement relate?

Planning performance agreements provide an ideal opportunity for identifying the preferred approach to community engagement, including the identification of the communities to involve, the process of engagement and the best approach to incorporating their views.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

Who needs to sign the planning performance agreement?

A planning performance agreement will need to be signed by appropriate representatives of the local planning authority and the applicant or their agent. Where appropriate, any third party who will play a key role in progressing the proposals will also need to be a party to the agreement (such as a statutory consultee).

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

Can a planning performance agreement be put in place after an application has been submitted?

A planning performance agreement needs to be put in place prior to the submission of a planning application in order for the application to be exempted from the statutory time limit for a decision (although a written extension of time agreement can be entered into after an application has been submitted).

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

What is the status of a planning performance agreement once it has been signed?

Planning performance agreements are intended to be agreed in the spirit of a ‘memorandum of understanding’. They are not intended to be a legally binding contract, unless the parties wish to approach it in this way. It is helpful to be clear about its status in the planning performance agreement itself. The parties are encouraged to make the existence and content of a planning performance agreement publicly available, so that the agreed process and timescale are transparent.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

Who is responsible for adhering to a planning performance agreement?

All parties will need to regularly review progress on the implementation of the planning performance agreement and take shared responsibility for addressing any problems or slippage.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

What implications does a planning performance agreement have for deciding a planning application?

A planning performance agreement does not differ from other forms of pre-application engagement. It does not commit the local planning authority to a particular outcome. It is instead a commitment to a process and timetable for determining an application.

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Revision date: 06 03 2014

How does a planning performance agreement relate to the statutory time limits for determining a planning application?

The existence of a planning performance agreement means that the statutory time limits for determining the application no longer apply (to the extent that the agreement specifies a longer period for the decision, in which case the agreement will count in the same way as an agreed extension of time). If an authority fails to determine the application by the agreed date, then the applicant may appeal. Likewise, if an applicant does not abide by the agreement, the local planning authority may not be able to follow the agreed process. However, in many cases there will be good reasons to try and address what has happened and renegotiate the planning performance agreement, as the reason for a problem may not be any one party’s fault and may have arisen from unexpected issues. It is important that the agreement is sufficiently flexible to cope with potential changes in circumstances.

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Revision date: 26 03 2015 See previous version

Published 6 March 2014
Last updated 22 February 2018 + show all updates
  1. Updated paragraph 004.
  2. First published.