While the subject of planning applications is in theory very transparent it is a mysterious and often misunderstood area of the property market. What planning applications can you object to? How do you object to planning applications? What are your realistic chances of success?
Details of local planning applications
While legally local councils are obliged to inform neighbours of planning applications which may have an impact on the immediate area this is not always the case. If you do receive a letter regarding a local planning then it should give all of the details required to register a formal objection. If for some reason you were not made aware of their recent planning application, in particular the consequences for your neighbourhood, you can still object even if the project has begun.
The best way to keep track of local planning applications is via your local authority website. The vast majority of planning applications are listed online with the relevant application numbers, description and the parties involved. There is also a government website which will direct you to the appropriate planning application database for your region.
Check planning applications before you buy
This is where it starts to get a little controversial. Sellers are legally obliged to disclose any information regarding planning applications for the property they are selling. Unfortunately, they are not legally obliged to make any potential buyer aware of planning applications in the immediate vicinity – even if they are aware of them. As a consequence, it is probably worth your while enquiring with the local authorities about any planning applications in the area and the potential impact on the property you are looking at.
While some people would suggest that you can’t cover all bases with regards to property transactions, surely it is a little disingenuous to legally oblige sellers to disclose planning applications made against their property while not those in the immediate area.
What are the traditional grounds for planning application objections?
While the basis for any objections will vary from project to project, there are a number of common objections which have been popular for many years including:-
- Reduction in natural light
- Loss of privacy
- Out of character with the area
- Too much development for a site
- Impact on road safety
It is fair to say that somebody who wanted to be “awkward” could no doubt find a reason to object to any property planning application. Thankfully there is a filter system during which all objections are considered before moving to the next stage. There is also some confusion with regard to issues such as loss of a view from your property or a potential reduction in the value of your property. This is not a planning application issue this is more of a local authority building strategy issue – you could still make a formal complaint to the local authority.
Should I use a solicitor to lodge an objection to a planning application?
There seems to be a general misconception that anything to do with official documentation and objections to planning applications needs to be carried out through a solicitor. If a planning objection is aimed at a relatively small development which is relatively straightforward, there is no need to seek legal advice. Simply find the details of the planning application, the reasons why you believe the application should be rejected and write a letter to your local authority.
In the event that you are objecting to a relatively large planning application, potentially with others in the neighbourhood, you may need to seek legal/professional assistance. The problem here is that legal and professional advice is not cheap. If the objection was to drag on for many months, something which is perfectly possible, you may start to build up a significant bill!
Are all planning applications approved via public meetings?
The simple answer is no. The majority of planning applications are considered behind closed doors by often faceless councillors who are members of various committees. This is where the mistrust and the confusion comes into play, the fact that a lot of the applications are considered and approved behind closed doors before many of the general public even had a chance to review them. However, if you have an objection to a particular planning application then you should write to all members of the relevant planning application committee.
If a committee member believes that you have a legitimate objection on fundamental grounds then they may request a public meeting. There are strict procedures when it comes to making a formal speech at these public meetings so it is very important to stake your claim very early on. Ask the local authority what you need to do to put your objection forward in the public meeting and how long you will have to speak. Initially these meetings are carried out on a very strict timetable with individuals often having no more than three minutes on the floor per claim.
Objecting to projects which have already begun
While not necessarily commonplace, there have been occasions where projects have begun without the necessary planning permission. It may be out of ignorance, sleight of hand or a mix-up with the paperwork but even if the project has begun you still have the right to object if the appropriate planning application was not submitted and approved. In the event that a development began without the appropriate planning application approval the authorities can issue an enforcement notice ordering them to halt development or demolish it entirely.
The owner of the development can make a formal plea to the national planning Inspectorate using the argument that planning consent would have been approved if it had been applied for. If the appeal is accepted then the development can proceed but if not then it will need to be demolished.
The Internet has pushed a raft of information into the public domain which was for many years difficult to find. We can therefore safely assume there has been a significant increase in planning application objections since the Internet took over the world. If you have a legitimate objection to a planning application you should register your objection with your local authority as soon as possible. While often seen as a David and Goliath situation, don’t forget that David has won in the past!