How long does planning permission take? The application timeline explained

You’re raring to go with your building project – but there are rules and regulations to follow. Here’s how to make the system work for you

You’ve made the decision to extend or build, and you can’t wait to start.

You know how much the fees will be, and you’ve been busy speaking to architects, formulating ideas. You’ve even found a great builder, who’s ready on standby.

While you may be raring to go, you may need to curb your enthusiasm for a while, until your planning permission is signed off. So how long does planning permission take, exactly? According to the Government website, the current approval time for planning applications across the UK set at eight weeks, but this eight-week period doesn’t start until your application has gone through an initial administration process.

diary with dates marked in yellow highlighter penCredit: Unsplash/Estee Jansens

It can seem a long time to wait, but there are ways to make the process an easier one.

 We spoke to Mark Morris, planning consultant at Urbanist Architecture, to get insight into how the planning application process works.

Morris works primarily in England, and while he notes that Wales operates in a similar way, expert regional advice should always be sought for each nation due to variations in policies.


Applying for permission

What do I need to submit with my application?

There are several key documents that must be submitted with every planning application.

  1. Location plan – an Ordnance Survey map that shows the land you own and the land and buildings around you. On this map, you mark in red the site that is being planned for development.
  2. Architectural drawings – one set showing how the building currently looks and another detailing how it would look if your plans were approved.


Although these documents have always been required, according to Morris, many councils, particularly in London, are asking for additional documents to be submitted during the process.

“Any application submission and what it needs to contain, will of course depend on how complicated the application is,” he says. “However, it more frequently depends on what each council wants to see at planning application stage and at the conditions stage, which historically comes afterwards.

“We’re finding more and more in London that things which used to be earmarked as ‘planning conditions’ are getting moved into the application stage.”

planning map showing properties with one highlightedCredit: Shutterstock/Matchon
Drawings and location maps must be submitted with your application

Morris adds: “Obviously, planning applications get turned down, so it was originally set up this way to avoid unnecessary costs for the applicant. In asking for the information at conditions stage, it meant homeowners weren’t paying for reports that didn’t get used.”

Recent examples his firm has come across include requests for energy statements, which are an expert’s view on how much energy, carbon emissions, and so on is going to be produced by a project.

“Another thing that can come up, particularly with extensions, is the need for sustainable drainage plans,” he says. “Both were previously part of planning conditions rather than approvals.”

He notes that as well as the standard location plan and drawings, you may also be required to submit other documents and reports, depending on the nature of your application and the area you live in. Examples may include evidence of how you will keep protected trees safe during the build; a heritage statement*  which you might need if you’re in a conservation area; and, for areas close to water, you might be asked to include a flood risk report.

*A heritage statement will look at the history and development of the asset (building or environment), assess its significance and detail the impact any work may have, along with justification of how the impact will be mitigated.

illustration of people in hi vis jackets, wearing hard harts and performing surveysCredit: Shutterstock/Faber14
You may also be asked to submit a number of other surveys or reports

With documents varying from one to 50 pages, it’s crucial to do your research early on, says Morris.

“You may be told to include ‘an appropriate amount of information’, particularly in the case of heritage reports. But it’s not always easy to know what to include,” he says. “You can spend your time doing lots of brilliant historical research that turns out to be unnecessary. Or you could just say this was an historically important building and the council will then ask for specific details of every room.

“The detail required can vary massively depending on the context of your home, so look at other applications made in your area and see what they have included.”

Flood risk reports are another area where the amount of information required can vary, says Morris. “If it’s an above-ground-level extension, for example, all you may need is a report put together by the planning consultant or architect saying ‘we’re aware that this isn’t a flood risk zone and confirm that all the plug sockets will be above a certain level’. For more complex builds you will need more detail.”

So why does this all matter? Because as well as increasing the upfront cost of your application, it impacts the time it will take to be processed.

Morris explains that all applications are subject to an initial validation stage where the documents you send in are checked for accuracy. It’s not until these are checked that the application is considered ‘in progress’. So the more documents there are to check, the longer it can take before the official approval period begins.

While the validation process should only take three days to a week, if the planning department is understaffed, this can take up to two months – and that’s before your application is considered to be in progress. Some authorities may backdate it, but they don’t have to.

woman sat at laptop working with egg timer in forefront of imageCredit: Shutterstock/Fizkes
Extra documents may delay the validation stage of your application

On your local authority’s website you will find a list of documents required for your application. It is often called a validation checklist. Always follow this to prevent further delays with your application.

What is Morris’s top tip for drawings prepared by a homeowner rather than an architect? Always make sure that the scale is correct.

What’s a design and access statement?

Do I need one if my project is small?

Although a design and access statement sounds more like something you only need for larger projects, Morris says his firm includes one with all their applications.

“It’s basically putting into words what you’re doing,” he says. “The fact is that most planning officers aren’t architectural experts, and they work in an environment that’s heavily based on words.

“Putting into words what you’re doing, why it meets the local plan and why you think it should be passed gives them more opportunity to understand the plans. We’d always recommend one, regardless of project size.”


Weeks one to three – the consultation period

I’ve submitted my plans – what next?

Following the validation stage, your application will be passed to a case officer who will likely visit your home and post an official notice of the proposed works on a nearby lamppost. In some instances, if the project is very small or you’re based in a remote location, they may ask you to do this yourself.

The notice states that the consultation period is open for three weeks after the date of posting. It’s during this time that neighbours and anyone else who is interested can comment.

woman wearing yellow jumper and gold bangle working on laptopCredit: Unsplash/Christin Hume
Neighbours can comment on your plans during the consultation period

You won’t hear from the planning officer during that time, because that’s meant to be the time when the public are allowed to have their say,” says Morris. “Comments made will appear on the council’s website and then at the end of that three weeks, if you’re using an architect, they’ll send the case officer an email asking if any of the comments need a response. You can also do this if you are applying yourself.

“Most of the time what people are saying is irrelevant from a planning point of view,” he adds. “But pay attention to what’s said. The key to avoiding further delays is to make sure you’ve done the work in advance so that you can easily rebut any comments.”

He cites getting bat surveys (as bats are a protected species, homes may need to be checked for bat habitation so that a bat-box can be added to the build specification) and ecological reports as a good example of ways you can be prepared.

His company recently dealt with an application where residents objected on the basis that they had seen partridges on the land. However, because an ecological report had already been prepared, the company was able to prove scientifically that there were no grounds for these objections.

Morris strongly advises working through the proper channels when it comes to dealing with negative comments. “Don’t knock on your neighbour’s door to discuss the matter,” he says. “Always write to the council and outline your responses clearly.”

Week four onwards – the case assessment

The case officer acts as mediator

Once the three-week consultation period is over, the case officer will then look at your case as a whole. Morris notes this can often happen on week seven rather than on week three, since the officer may still be waiting for internal answers from the various council departments who will have been asked to review your plans.

This can involve the Highways department, a sustainability officer and – if the project is in a conservation area – a heritage officer. The case officer is essentially the mediator who collates all information and details needed to assess your project against the planning policies and key criteria. This entails:

  • The number, size, layout, siting and external appearance.
  • If there is existing infrastructure in place to supply the build – eg, roads, water.
  • Will the development need landscaping?
  • What will the build be used for?
  • Will it have an impact on the surrounding area, such as creating more traffic?

The final decision

Whose comments carry the most weight?

For smaller applications it’s often the planning officer who will make the final ruling based on the information gathered. Morris notes that in larger applications, especially those involving heritage or conservation, it’s often these departments that are more influential in the decision-making process.

If your application is controversial or large, it may also go to the planning committee, which is a group made up of elected councillors. If this happens, you will be notified of the date when the committee will sit, and you can attend the meeting.

low level picture of people sat in rows taking notesCredit: Unsplash/Sincerely Media
Some planning applications may go to the planning committee for debate

Speaking from experience, it’s best not to think of this as an opportunity to stand up and present your case. That’s not how it works. Your local planning officer will present the plans to the committee, meaning you must sit in silence and listen to committee members debate the pros and cons of your proposal.

My personal experiences of a project going to committee

I can personally say it was probably one of the most stressful parts of my project. Being so passionate about the plans made it hard to listen in silence to what sometimes felt like unfounded comments.

In fact, at one point, I was so frustrated by the process I tried to answer a question that was being asked by a committee member. After a shocked moment of collective silence that someone had dared speak, I was ignored, and the debate continued. Nonetheless, common sense finally prevailed and after a lengthy sitting, the plans were passed.

Morris notes that sometimes anomalies do happen with controversial projects and planning committees can be avoided.

“We had one case where we had around 60 objections to plans which involved building a small house where there used to be a garage,” he says.

“For a lot of councils, that would have meant sending the case to committee, but because we’d been extremely well prepared and included items such as a sunlight report to prove there was no loss of light to the neighbours, as well as specifying it would be a car-free home, the planning officer was able to look at the application and agree that none of the objections were valid.

“If you do your groundwork, you can avoid getting caught up in delays.”

Is the authority legally bound to reply in eight weeks?

It’s been over two months. Can you get a refund?

Although the eight-week timeframe is quoted across the UK, it comes with a caveat. The time doesn’t start until your application has been validated and if the authority writes to you to obtain your consent for an extension, it can take longer.

Larger projects in England and Northern Ireland are also subject to a 13-week ruling. In Wales, an environmental impact assessment can extend the process to 16 weeks . Scotland specifies eight weeks or up to four months for larger projects.

In most cases, authorities will give you an indication of timescales when you apply. But if they don’t and they haven’t asked you to consent to an extended period in writing, you do have the right to appeal after the specified number of weeks have passed. This is known as an appeal on the grounds of ‘non-determination’.

yellow files with the word appeal on one tabCredit: Shutterstock/Sinart Creative
In some cases you have the right of appeal

Advice from the Planning Portal suggests that this can often take several months to decide, meaning it’s quicker to try and reach an agreement with your local authority.

But be prepared to wait longer than eight weeks typically. Morris says the quickest his practice has ever had an application approved is seven weeks. If you hear back quickly, it’s more likely that the application is being rejected. And if you scare easily, stop reading now – Morris tells us his firm is currently dealing with an application that’s been with a local authority for two years.

The reason for the delays in this case? Constant requests for more information from the local authority has meant some of the initial reports, such as ecological surveys, now need to be resubmitted as they are out of date – although he reassures us this is a rare case.

What if permission is denied?

Can you amend the plans, or do you have to start again?

If your local planning officer feels your plans are likely to be refused, there’s a good chance they will have the courtesy to tell you this before a decision is made.

Although your planning officer may suggest withdrawing your application at this point, Resi Design Studio advises .

“At Resi, we always recommend you follow your application through to the end.

“While most planning officers have your best interests at heart, there’s no denying your local authority has its own priorities. Withdrawing an application is a fairly quick and easy process, as your planning officer won’t be required to produce a detailed report or decision notice.

“And because the outcome won’t be scrutinised, your application won’t impact your council’s performance targets. These are great results for your local council, but not so great for yourself and your project.

“By following your application through to the end, you’ll force your officer to think carefully about their reasons for refusal and give you defined parameters for you to work from for your redesign or appeal.”

close up of white paper with denied stamped in red and pen signing paperworkCredit: Shutterstock/Chase4concept
Being denied permission may give you clearer guidelines to reapply

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, confirms you do have options.

“You can either amend your plans in accordance with the local authority’s reasons for objections and resubmit; or you can make an appeal, free of charge,” he says. “In either case, you need to ascertain the reasons for your refusal in order to move forward in a way that will result in a positive final outcome.”

As Morris says: “Sometimes the reason to let your application go to refusal is because they will give you enough information for you to know if and what you want to resubmit. Although there’s less stigma attached to a withdrawal, it’s still available to see online so doesn’t make too much difference.”

You have 12 months to resubmit without incurring extra fees.

In the worst-case scenario – where your application is still rejected, or it contains conditions you can’t agree to – the appeal process is there for you to challenge this.

It gives you the right to ask for your case to be investigated by a planning inspector. It’s another lengthy process, but if you feel you have strong grounds for getting the appeal overturned, it may be an option.

What to avoid

Resi Design Studio suggests if you want to avoid the pain of refusal, you should avoid submitting plans that:

  • Overshadow a neighbour, which causes a loss of light
  • Overlook other homes, causing a loss of privacy
  • Appear out of character with the existing property
  • Impact highway safety
  • Use hazardous materials, such as asbestos or lead
  • Impact protected trees
  • Restrict road access
  • Have a negative effect on nature conservation. For example, badger habitats are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

Although not a fully comprehensive list, it gives you an idea of some of the red flags to avoid when considering your project.

What does the term ‘conditions’ mean?

Don’t dismiss them – they’re obligatory

Although your approval may be granted exactly as it was submitted, it will likely include a number of requirements you must meet, known as conditions.

Berry explains: “The conditions attached to a planning permission will of course vary depending on the project, but they might typically include noise control, environmental restrictions and time limits in which the project needs to be completed.”

Morris confirms that the one condition attached to all approvals is the number of years you have to start the project. In England and Scotland that’s currently three years. In Wales and Northern Ireland, it’s five.

2 men looking over plans at a deskCredit: Shutterstock/Bangkok Click Studio
Your plans may be approved but with conditions that must be adhered to

Other conditions may include having to provide details of the materials you will use and how you will protect trees. A common condition for extensions is related to how you use the building. Morris cites that 70% of extension approvals will state that the roof can’t be used as a terrace.

Conditions on a planning approval need to be taken seriously. If you don’t meet them, then you are unlikely to get an official completion certificate at the end of the build. This can be a big issue when it comes to selling your property in the future.

Get all your applications in at once

If you need to apply for several permissions, such as listed building approval or demolition in a conservation area, as well as your main planning permission, make sure you do these at the same time to avoid extra unnecessary delays.

Will the timing on approval change when the National Planning Policy Framework is updated?

An increase in fees may help staffing levels

Although Morris thinks most of the changes to the framework (which were due to take place around spring of this year) will involve larger developments, he feels the potential fees increase could change timings in a positive way.

 More fees mean more income for planning departments, and hopefully more staff to review applications, thereby reducing the time taken to process them.

Will the ‘street vote’ speed up applications?

Morris tells us how one amendment to the policy framework may impact homeowners who live on a street. Known as the ‘street vote’, it’s a proposal to allow all residents to agree on a change they want to make to their homes and apply en masse to get this approved.

“How it’s going to work in practice, no one is quite sure,” says Morris, “but the idea is that if, for example, everyone decides they want a two-storey extension, the council will have to agree to this collective street vote.”

He adds: “It’s designed for positive change, to enable more changes rather than less. It won’t give additional weight to objections regarding an individual proposal.”

hands raised in air asking questionsCredit: Unsplash/Jon Tyson
Street votes may give residents a voice to request more changes to their homes

Final advice

Be organised and do your homework

It’s clear from our investigations and experience that planning applications are an element of any build project that need sufficient time allocated to them.

According to Morris, many councils are testing new schemes that use more sophisticated software to check your online application and thus reduce the amount of invalid applications. But it seems until planning departments employ more staff, delays will be commonplace.

His final advice: “Do your homework and where you can, employ an expert to help you. There are so many different elements involved in planning, the best way to get things through quickly is to be organised.

“If you can minimise the back and forth, and make sure everything is accurate when you submit it, the more likely you are to be able to get it through in a reasonable time.”

Good luck!

Sarah Harley

Written by Sarah Harley she/her


Since first picking up a paintbrush and experiencing the joy of re-decorating her bedroom in a questionable red, white and grey scheme as a young teenager, Sarah Harley was hooked on the world of interior design. This obsession even led to a real life ‘Grand Designs’ project in 2005 when she donned a pink hard hat and appeared on TV screens, project managing the renovation and extension of a Grade II listed 17th century Folly in South Wales.

Throughout her career, Sarah has gained an array of experience in several different roles, ranging from copywriting, PR, events management and photography to interior design and home staging. With her two passions being the written word and the joys of a beautifully designed home, Sarah’s mission is to open the door on the world of interiors, inviting readers in to help them work their way through the vast choice of products, ideas and trends so that their own homes can reach their full potential.

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