Outline vs Full Planning Application

The main application types are full or outline planning proposals. An outline application establishes the principle of a development without the need to provide all plans/documents. Once approved, a reserved matters application is required to provide all the details. In effect, an outline application plus a reserved matters application equals a full application. A full application comprises everything needed to start development (subject to conditions) once it’s approved.

When is an outline application more suitable than a full application?

Some common types of projects that are generally better suited for an outline planning application rather than a full application include:

  • Large, mixed-use developments on sizeable plots where details will evolve over time, such as urban regeneration schemes.
  • Multi-phase developments where details, uses, and layouts may change between phases depending on market conditions.
  • Sites requiring major upfront infrastructure work, such as remediation or utility upgrades, before detailed design can be finalised.
  • Applications involving multiple landowners where a unified outline consent helps coordinate the overall scheme, or where disposal of the land with planning permission is the desired outcome.
  • Applications that necessitate significant pre-application consultation with stakeholders on matters like design principles or traffic impact.
  • Greenfield developments on the edges of towns where the master plan will materialise in stages over many years.
  • Applications for complex or controversial developments to gauge the local authorities’ view.
  • Applications where phasing or future flexibility is important for viability, such as major campus-style projects.

Generally, very large projects spanning 10+ acres or taking 5+ years to complete are good candidates for an outline application and subsequent reserved matters submissions.

What are the advantages of a Full Application?

Key advantages of submitting a full application instead of an outline application include:

  • Certainty: A full application provides a definitive decision on all aspects of the proposed development upfront, offering greater certainty that can help secure finance.
  • Shorter build timeline: If approved, construction can commence immediately (subject to discharging relevant conditions), allowing occupation/use faster.
  • Less risk of changes over time: An outline permission with reserved matters to follow poses risks of changes in circumstances or policy affecting later details. A full application fixes everything at submission.
  • Avoidance of disputes: Reserved matters can sometimes lead to disputes if not fully consistent with the outline permission parameters.
  • Better for simpler projects: While outline consents are better suited to large, phased projects, smaller developments may not benefit as much from the outline process.

In summary, full applications provide definitive and certain consent quicker for suitable smaller or simpler proposals.

What is a Reserved Matters Application?

With an outline planning application, certain details (known as “reserved matters”) may be deferred for later approval following the granting of outline permission. Reserved matters most commonly include layout (the arrangement of buildings, routes, and open spaces), scale (the height, width, and length of each building), appearance (the aspects of a building or place which determine the visual impression it makes), and landscaping (the treatment of land excluding buildings or other structures).

Once the local authority approves an outline application based on the submitted principles, the applicant then has up to 3 years to submit “reserved matters applications” providing the finer details. The development permitted must take place not later than 2 years from the date of approval of the last of the reserved matters to be approved. If the reserved matters submissions are not submitted within the 3-year timeframe of an outline planning permission being granted, then the permission lapses and the consent is no longer valid. As with other permissions, if consent lapses there is no guarantee that permission will be granted again. So, don’t let your consent lapse!

Related Content

More information is available in our series of eBooks and Practical Guides. Here are a few articles you might find useful:

Planning House can help with all aspects of applying for planning permission, including providing assistance in applying for an extension of planning permission if your project is facing delays. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you need some advice.

If you’re not sure if you need help from a Town Planner take a look at blog on When to Hire a Town Planner our download a Guide on How to Choose a Town Planner.

Outline v Full Planning Application