Campaigning to curb supermarket power

I don´t understand the planning system. How does it work

The planning system in Britain gives local residents that may be affected by a development the chance to have their say. It can seem complicated to find your way around and work out what you have to do. But the fundamental principles are quite simple and it is designed to give communities a say on developments.

The basis of the planning system is that new development has to be approved by the Council. Most supermarket developments will be covered by this. A developer or retail chain will submit an application to the Council, often after having negotiated about aspects of the development with the Council beforehand. The Council then has to consider this application.

If an application has been submitted, you should find out from the Council how long there is to object before the deadline on submissions, and when the decision date is. In England, the delay before an application is considered tends to be longer than in Wales, where most are considered within a few weeks. A typical initial target date for a supermarket application is 13 weeks, although more often than not it takes much longer, sometimes up to a year.

An application will either be an “outline application” or a “full application.” An outline application focuses only on the principles of the development only. There will need to be further applications afterwards on the details of the development before it has permission and can be built. But is important to object to the outline application because this will be the stage at which the principle of whether a supermarket can be built will be made.

A full application is more normal for a supermarket proposal and deals with all matters together in a single application.

A decision will normally be made by those elected councillors that are part of the planning committee. They will base this decision on the recommendation of paid planning officers at the Council who will have looked into the application. The planning officers must have regard to national policy when making their decision. For a retail development this means the issues they will consider will include:

- the impact the development would have on the "vitality and viability" of town centres in the area, including the impact on existing shops;
- the traffic and car use implications of the store;
- the quality of the design;
- the impact on local residents;
- other considerations, such as regeneration, and job creation (and loss).

Planning officers must also follow policies set out in the district local plan or Local Development Framework which may even set out specific proposals for the site on which the supermarket wants to build.

The planning officers should take into consideration local residents’ objections to the development when looking into the application. After considering the application, the officers will write a report on the development, including a recommendation on whether they think the application should be approved or refused, and if it is approved, what conditions they think should be imposed. They should also recommend what contributions should be made to improve the impacts of the development (click here for information on securing appropriate planning contributions).

The elected Councillors on the planning committee will then make a decision based on the recommendation. The decision will be made by a vote. They can go against the recommendation, if the Councillors have considered the information collected by the officers but come to a different conclusion about whether the development should be approved. However, they have to have clear reasons for doing so. Often it is as important to  lobby the Councillors informally as it is to formally object to the application (click here to find out how you can lobby the councillors who will be making the decision).

In some cases, the application will be considered at a higher level of government than the Council. This happens if the Council refuses the application and the developer appeals the decision, or if it is a particularly controversial application, and is “called-in” for consideration by the government. This can happen after an application is considered by the Council, or before it has considered the application. Follow these links for more information on appeals and Public Inquiries.

If the supermarket is approved, the developer will be able to carry out the development. There will normally be a time limit within which the development must take place, conditions which it must adhere to, and often extra details that still need to be agreed by further planning applications. If the application is refused, the developer can either appeal, submit a new, revised application, or give up. In our experience it is rarely the last option.

For more information on the workings of the planning system, please see the UK Government's Planning Portal website, and the Department for Communities and Local Government website.

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