Our quick guide to planning appeals

Most planning applications are approved. However, some aren’t, or – if they are – have stringent conditions attached that the applicant thinks are unreasonable. It’s in those circumstances that you have the option of appealing.

At the outset, it’s important to understand that only the original applicant can appeal. Nor is there any right of appeal by third parties against the approval of planning permission; for example, if your neighbour disagrees with the planning authority’s decision to allow your house extension, he or she cannot appeal against that decision. In rare cases, they might be able to construct a case for a judicial review; but that’s very rare, at least in relation to minor developments.

The rules and procedures vary a little between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the basic principles are the same. If the planning authority has taken a decision to refuse planning permission, or if one (or more) of the planning conditions attached to an approval is unacceptable to you, the applicant, you can appeal. Appeals are also possible in other circumstances; for example, you might want to appeal against an Enforcement Notice, or against the refusal of Listed Building Consent.

We’re talking here about the position after the Local Planning Authority (in most cases, the local Council) has made its final decision. That may follow some kind of local review or hearing, at which the applicant and objectors will have been able to have their say. The appeals system is not a local function: you’ll be dealing with a central government agency.

Should you appeal? That’s a decision only you can make, and you should certainly take appropriate advice from whichever professional(s) are most relevant to your case. If you employed a planning consultant, an engineer, an architect or a surveyor to prepare and submit your planning application, they may be able to help you through the appeal. However, it may also be helpful to seek a second opinion about your chances of success from a professional planning consultant (someone who is a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute or a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Planning and Development Group)). If they know the local area and are familiar with local planning policy, they should be able to give you an indication of the strength of your case.

If you prepared and submitted the planning application yourself, you may feel that you want to deal with the appeal on your own, but if you need advice you can readily obtain it, either from a planning consultant or, perhaps, from another specialist. For example, if the refusal is on the grounds of road safety, it could be helpful to speak to a traffic or roads engineer.

After listening to these specialists, you might decide that there is no realistic chance of gaining permission for your original proposal. You might then decide either to modify the proposal (taking advice from your local planning department) or to abandon it altogether.

There’s something you should bear in mind if you are thinking of appealing against a planning condition that you think is unacceptable. When you submit the appeal, the person who considers it (in Scotland a Reporter, elsewhere an Inspector) is entitled to consider not just the condition that you’ve appealed against, but the whole planning permission. If he or she decides that the proposal as a whole should not be granted planning permission, with or without the condition you didn’t find acceptable, the outcome might be a refusal. If you have the feeling (perhaps from the Council planning officer’s report, or from the debate among councillors at the planning committee) that the decision to grant permission was finely balanced, you’d be wise to think twice before putting the whole permission at risk in that way. It may, in other words, be safer to accept a condition that you don’t like.

Right: let’s assume that you’ve decided that you really do want to appeal. What happens next?

First of all, don’t delay: you only have six months to lodge the appeal. You should begin by visiting the websites of the relevant appeal authority: in England and Wales, that’s the Planning Inspectorate (though there is a separate section dealing with Wales); in Scotland it’s The Directorate for Planning and Environmental Appeals (DPEA) and in Northern Ireland it’s the Planning Appeals Commission. Find out exactly how you should lodge the appeal and what the detailed procedure will be thereafter.

You’ll be able to download the documents you require and you’ll then need to fill them in, stating your grounds of appeal, and submit them. You should then receive an acknowledgement.

The Inspector or Reporter will consider your appeal and will need to decide how best to deal with it. All appeals are dealt with – at least initially – in one of two ways. Most are handled under the ‘written representations’ procedure but a few are the subject of a local hearing or inquiry.

Under the written representations procedure, the Inspector or Reporter will review all the documents and will make a visit to the site to assess the situation on the ground. The site visit will normally be ‘accompanied’, in other words, the Inspector or Reporter will invite interested parties to be present when he or she examines the site. The interested parties will include the applicant, any objector and a representative of the local planning authority.

However, it’s important to understand that the Inspector or Reporter will not want to hear arguments for or against the proposal; this is not an outdoor hearing. He or she is likely to ask those present to point out the features of the site – for example, the route of a right of way, or the exact position of a proposed access road – but is quite likely to walk away if anyone tries to go into persuasive mode. The aim is simply to ensure that the Inspector or Reporter has a thorough understanding of the site.

If the proposal is large or complex, or if there are many objections, a public hearing or inquiry many be held. If your proposal is subject to an inquiry, you’d be well advised to take suitable professional advice about presenting your case. Hearings are relatively informal, and you may feel comfortable about putting your proposals forward on you own, or with the help of the architect or planner or engineer who prepared the drawings. A public inquiry is more formal in tone and the parties to it may be represented by solicitors or even barristers. Needless to say, such proceedings can be time-consuming and expensive.

The length of time that an appeal takes varies according to the procedure that’s adopted; an appeal based on written representations might be determined in three months or so, whereas an appeal that involved a hearing or a public inquiry could take four to seven months and occasionally, if the case is especially complex, longer.

When a decision has been made, you’ll normally receive a letter from the Inspector or Reporter, which will summarise the arguments for and against the proposed development, identify the issues on which the case turns, and set out the decision. In the largest or most controversial cases, the final decision may be made by the relevant planning minister. There is no further appeal against this, except on legal grounds: for example, if the Inspector or Reporter appears to have misinterpreted planning law.

Except in very limited circumstances connected with Enforcement Notice appeals, there’s no fee payable in order to lodge an appeal. However, you might face some expense, for example if you need to obtain advice from a planning consultant, architect, solicitor or other professional.

In rare cases, there is a possibility that costs might be awarded against you following a public inquiry, but if that happened, it would be because another party to the appeal has asked the Inspector or Reporter to agree with them that your approach to the inquiry has been in some way irresponsible, or has caused them unnecessary expense. However, the vast majority of appeals do not involve such risks.

There is no guarantee of success in any appeal. However, you can improve your chances if you take adequate advice before you begin. It’s also important to ensure that all the documents you provided in relation to the original application, and any that you submit for the appeal, are as clear as they can be. Among other things, that includes getting the best quality maps you can, like the ones available from this website.

Go to BuyAPlan for your planning map needs