Who can comment on a planning application?
Anyone is entitled to comment on a planning application. When a planning application is received all immediate neighbours must be consulted or a site notice put up. Normally, only be those that are within the immediate vicinity of a proposal will be directly notified. For some applications, particularly those of a nature which are likely to prove more controversial, some authorities will send out letters to a wider area. If you have not received such a letter, you can still comment as well as encouraging others to do so, particularly if they have not been directly consulted or are otherwise unaware of the application.
Local planning authorities set out in detail how they consult the general public on planning applications within their Statement of Community Involvement (which can usually be found in the Local Plan section of your authority's website).
When do I have to make my comments by?
A consultation letter or a site notice will specify a deadline by which comments should be submitted – and this will also usually be set out in the planning application pages on the authority’s website. Normally comments have to be made within 21 days of the consultation commencing. Most authorities will still take into account comments received after this deadline, but if you are unable to meet it you should contact the officer in the Planning Department dealing with the application and see if they will accept late comments. If you think there are good reasons for the deadline for comments to be extended, you can contact the case officer and ask if that would be possible.
What should I say?
Authorities will receive many comments on planning applications each year and they just want to know what you think and why you think it. They are not expecting you to be an expert on planning matters. Whilst you should explain the issues adequately, you should not make your comments over-long. If you are raising several issues, it is probably best to use bullet points or numbered paragraphs. Although not essential, and especially for larger schemes, if comments can be supported by cross references to policies in the authority's Development Plan that may strengthen your case as developments are assessed against these policies. The case officer will be able to advise you what the relevant Development Plan documents are and they should be on the authority’s website.
Can I suggest possible conditions to be imposed if permission is granted?
Just because one person or even many object to an application, it will not necessarily be refused. Thus in making objections, if you think any conditions can be imposed which would reduce the impact of a scheme if permission is granted, it is sensible to put them forward alongside your objections. Also, of course, if you are supporting an application, you can still suggest possible conditions.
How will my comments be considered?
The case officer will look at any issues neighbours raise carefully and, if a report is prepared on the application, they would usually be addressed in it. Just because somebody objects to an application it will not necessarily be refused, or approved if letters of support are received. Consultations are there to help the officer identify the possible impacts of the development. Planning decisions are primarily made on the basis of the impact of the development assessed by policies within the development plan - not by how many objections/letters of support are received. The exercise is there to allow the planning officer to gather as much information as possible on potential impacts.
What issues can be raised?
Issues which can be taken into account in dealing with planning applications are called “material planning considerations". Examples of issues which are not normally material planning considerations are private rights such as restrictive covenants or rights of way and structural issues which are covered separately by the Building Regulations. Devaluation of property is not a material planning consideration, though a factor which causes such devaluation might be, e.g. if a noisy factory is proposed near your house and this will devalue your property, permission cannot be refused because your property would be devalued, but they could refuse permission because of the impact of the noise on your home. If you are not sure if an issue is a material planning consideration, you can either ask the Planning Department or you can simply raise it in your comments (if the issue is not material it will be disregarded). Authorities receive many letters commenting on planning applications and they do not expect the general public to be experts on planning law.
Do I need to look at the application before commenting?
You are strongly recommended to do this. Applications can be inspected at the authority's offices or usually on the itswebsite. If you do not do this, you could miss relevant issues or make irrelevant comments.
Will other people be able to see my comments?
Normally authorities make comments made on planning applications publicly available and some will put them on their websites. If an application is determined by a committee, comments from neighbours, etc are considered to be what are called “background papers” and they must by law be available for public inspection if requested. Thus any comments you make may be seen by the applicant or other people.
Can someone write the comments on my behalf?
Yes. A friend or relative could write comments on your behalf. If you wish to pay somebody to make comments on your behalf, the best person would normally be a planning consultant and www.findaplanner.co.uk/ will give you details of RTPI-qualified planning consultants working in your area. The authority will receive many comments on planning applications each year so they are not looking for anything particularly special from you. Paying a planning consultant to write comments on your behalf will not necessarily result in a different outcome than if you had written the comments yourself, but with a larger, more complex scheme a consultant may be able to add some specialist knowledge to assist your response.
Can I speak at a Planning Committee regarding the application?
Most planning applications are dealt with under what are called “delegated powers”. Essentially this means that the decision making power has been delegated to a senior officer. Some applications, usually the more major or controversial ones, are dealt with by the authority's Planning Committee which will receive a detailed report and recommendation from the case officer. Most authorities will allow interested parties to speak if an application is to be determined by a planning committee. The precise rules vary from authority to authority, but usually there is a limit on how many people can speak on an application and for how long. Check with your local planning authority to see what the rules are in your area.
If an application is to be dealt with by a Planning Committee and you have the chance to speak, you are recommended to do so. Whilst most people can write a letter commenting on a planning application without too much difficulty, addressing a Planning Committee involves public speaking and many people are nervous of doing this. You can usually arrange for a friend or relative or a planning consultant to do this on your behalf if this is the case.
When addressing a planning committee, as when writing your initial comments, be straightforward. Do not exaggerate and keep to the main issues – do not deal with minor ones. Prepare what you have to say beforehand and make sure you can say it within the allotted time limit.
Will I be told of the decision?
Most authorities notify those who have commented on an application regarding how it has been decided, but they are not obliged to do so - and not all authorities do this.
What about an appeal?
If the application is refused, if conditions are imposed which are not acceptable to the applicant or if the application is not determined within a specified period (usually 8 weeks but 13 or 16 weeks for more major proposals), the applicant can appeal to the Planning Inspectorate, a government agency, set up to handle planning appeals. If you have commented on an application and an appeal is lodged, you will be normally informed so you can be involved in the appeal process if you wish (the main category of development where you are not likely to be informed is extensions to houses and other householder applications such as for outbuildings or new vehicular accesses). If an application is approved, there is no right for neighbours or other third parties to appeal.