What should I do if refused planning permission?

Updated: May 8

If you have been refused planning permission, don't panic. More importantly, don't give up.

Don’t be afraid of a planning refusal. If your proposal is ambitious or controversial, a refusal is an almost inevitable part of the process of getting permission for what you want. A refusal is not final and can a positive part of the process of inching forward towards an approval.

If you have received a refusal, you need to fully understand why the application was refused. Then you need to decide what to do next.

1. Read the officer's report

The first thing to do is to read the officer’s report. The decision notice sets out, in summary, the council’s reasons for refusing the application. The officer’s report provides a much more detailed assessment. Bizarrely, it is not sent to the applicant or their agent when the decision is made and they are not even informed that the report exists. Most councils upload a copy of the report to their website with the final decision notice, but some just place a copy in their file where it is never read by anyone apart from the line manager who authorised the decision (who may not have read it very thoroughly either).

The officer’s report explains what the key planning policies say and will set out why the application was refused. It will set out all of the things that were taken into account (the material considerations discussed in the previous chapter). The report and wordy, but much of it is pro forma, only relatively small sections are written by the case officer for each application. Scroll through the identify the two or three paragraphs in which the application proposal is assessed.

The officer’s report should fully substantiate the council’s position. If your application is refused because the case officer felt that your extension would harm a neighbour’s living conditions through a loss of light, the officer’s report should explain what neighbour is affected, what part of their property would suffer a loss of light and how that harm would come about. It should consider whether any harm caused is unacceptable (i.e. whether the harm is sufficient to justify refusal). It should weigh the harm up against any benefits of the proposal (the planning balance).

If the case officer has not assessed the application properly you will find your first clues here. Are the allegations of harm vague and generic? Do they clearly identify what aspects of your development are problematic and how, specifically, neighbours or the streetscene will be affected? You might also find errors in the assessment. The case officer alleges harm to a ground floor dining room window next door, but you know that window to serve a (non-habitable) a utility room or downstairs WC, for example. It is rare, but not unknown, for case officers to completely misunderstand the nature of a development, to assess the wrong house or to make basic errors about the site and its neighbours.

Officers’ reports are among the most valuable resources in the planning system and it is impossible to fully understand a planning refusal without them.

When clients contact us for advice, many have misunderstood the reasons for refusal. Some obsess about the varied and exaggerated objections made by neighbours, but a brief look at the officer’s report reveals that the case officer attached very little weight to what the neighbours had to say (planners often do). The officer’s report often explains that most aspects of the proposal were found acceptable. Sometimes it is just one, more or less easily resolved, issue that tripped it up.

Some applicants, when refused permission, don’t contact us (or any planning consultants) at all. Many accept the wisdom of the case officer or decide that resistance is futile. Some give in. Remember that a refusal is just the beginning. At the very least, before deciding what action to take, if any, it is important to have a good understanding of precisely why your application was refused.

2. Ask for a meeting

If you have read the officer’s report and you any not clear about why your application was refused, you are entitled to clarification from the case officer.

It is a good idea ask for a quick meeting in the town hall. A meeting is best, but if they are reluctant to commit to one, schedule a phone call. Make extensive notes – it is easy to forget precisely what is said. It is also best to follow up the meeting with an email to the planner summarising the conversation – that creates a permanent (if unofficial) record that you may later use to exert gentle pressure on the case officer, and also gives the officer an opportunity to clarify or correct their advice, if necessary.

If you have had any dealings with the planners, you will be aware that they can be reluctant to engage. However, though they may avoid contact before and during the application process, most are willing to explain a refusal and to provide some direction, in my experience. In some cases, relatively small amendments to a scheme will find favour. And case officers will not necessarily make this clear unless you press them.

The simplest way to get planning permission is obviously to give the planners what they want. Endless resubmissions and appeals are a waste of time and energy, if avoidable.

Case officers are bureaucrats and tend to hide behind their desks. If they have not met the applicant and no rapport has been developed, it is much easier for ‘computer says no’ outcomes. The advantage of a meeting with the planner is that it humanises you as the applicant, creates some kind of relationship with the case officer and presents an opportunity for them to use their discretion to grant permission for something they might otherwise have been inclined to refuse.

If the case officer clearly explains why the application was refused and advises informally how it might be revised and improved to find favour, you must decide whether to make those revisions and resubmit or stick to your guns and appeal the original decision (or both!).

3. Seek advice from a planning consultant

The skills of a good planning consultant are invaluable when an application is refused. They understand how planning departments work, how case officers tick and how decisions are made in practice. Many have worked in council planning departments as case officers themselves. Above all, they can tell you if, and how, a planning refusal can be reversed.

The large consultancy companies charge high fees and are best for larger schemes. Smaller consultancies, including self-employed planners, are probably best suited for householder proposals. Choose a charteredtown planner – they have been through a rigorous process of assessment to be elected members of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Their membership confirms that they are fully qualified, experienced, knowledgeable, up to date (and insured) planning experts. Chartered Town Planners must adhere to a code of conduct that specifies standards of professional ethics.

A good planning consultant will:

  • review local planning policies and assess their strength, clarity and relevance

  • look up the planning history of your property and other properties in the surrounding area

  • check planning appeals for the council area to see how other proposals have fared

  • provided clear and specific advice on your proposal, its chances of success and how it might be changed/improved if necessary

If the consultant’s advice is that you have little chance of successfully obtaining planning permission, there is no point in proceeding but you may have been saved a great deal of money and time. If there is some chance of success, the consultant should be able to explain exactly what your chances are and how they can be maximised. You can incorporate this advice into a planning application or appeal submission, pre-empting and hopefully dodging possible objections.

Planning consultancy services do not come cheap. The good news is that offers an affordable case review service. Our consultants will examine your planning decision and give you objective, independent advice on why your application for an extension was refused and what you should do next. Click here to learn more about the service.


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