How are planning applications decided? Delegated v Committee Decisions

Once your application has been submitted, it’s gone through the validation process, all consultations have been carried out and the statutory consultation period has expired a decision will be made- either approved or refused. Simple!

Not exactly, planning applications can be determined in a couple of ways, either under delegated powers or by planning committee which is made up of elected members.

Each Local Authority has an adopted Scheme of Delegation. This outlines which applications can be dealt with under delegated powers and which ones need to be determined by planning committee. The scheme of delegation for each Local Authority is different but it can usually be found with a bit of interrogation of the Local Authority website.

In some cases the scheme of delegation sets out ‘blanket’ circumstances whereby applications are required to be determined by planning committee for example ‘all major applications’ or ‘all waste applications’. On the flip site it can provide ‘blanket’ delegated powers in these instances no matter of the number of neighbour representations a certain type of applications (such as telecoms or advert application) are delegated to officers for determination. It’s important to stress each Local Authority is different and its worth knowing how your application is going to be decided so worth checking!

‘Delegated powers’ essentially delegate the determination of planning applications to planning officers. In this case, usually the planning officer will write a report outlining all of the planning considerations and make a recommendation to approve or refuse the application and detail any conditions and/or planning obligations. Usually then it will require a signature from a senior officer/team leader/head of planning to agree the recommendation and get the decision issued.

In most cases the scheme of delegation also includes circumstances whereby ‘controversial’ applications or those considered to be of public interest are required to be decided by planning committee. In this case it usually defines a number of neighbour representations, so for example if 3 or more neighbouring properties object to a proposal. Other circumstances for an application to go to planning committee might include when an officer recommendation is contrary to a statutory consultee response. However it is worth noting in some cases a statutory consultee objection (for example Sport England) requires consideration by Secretary of State.

When an application needs to go to planning committee, the case officer will produce a report with a recommendation – usually approve or refuse. It will also detail any recommended planning conditions and any required planning obligations.

At the committee meeting details of the application will be presented to members by an officer, usually there is a limited time for supporter(s) (usually the applicant or agent) to address the committee and objector(s) are given the same opportunity. Following any questions and general debate Committee members then take a vote to either support the officer recommendation or go against the recommendation.

It’s important to know that although the officer makes a recommendation providing the planning committee members consider they have planning grounds they can AND DO take decisions which are contrary to the recommendation before them! Committee members do also have third option to defer the application to a later meeting if they consider a site visit is necessary or if they require further information which is not available at the planning committee meeting.

To support the Government’s assertion that planning decision making should continue despite the current Coronavirus pandemic the Coronavirus Act includes legislative change to support virtual planning committee meetings and increased delegated powers. Given how recently this legislation has been released it will be interesting to see how each Council amends its scheme of delegation to take account of this. Ultimately it will come down to each authority to amend its own scheme of delegation taking into account its own interpretation of the legislation.

The word ‘usually’ features a lot in this post, however each Local Authority scheme of delegation is different. If in doubt contact the Local Authority or feel free to contact Planning House for a chat.

Similarly, if the decision (either delegated or committee) doesn’t go your way and you receive a refusal you do have the option to appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. Check out Planning House e-book for jargon-free overview of the appeal system at https://planninghouse.co.uk/the-basics/ or give us a call for a chat about your options.

Helen Heward, Associate, Planning House