Local authorities must approve planning applications within set time limits, unless the applicant agrees to a longer determination. Local councils are under a lot of pressure from Government to approve applications in these timescales. There are two important differences in timescale depending on the size and complexity of the application.
For most normal small and medium scale planning applications for things like individual or small groups of houses or medium scale commercial and retail premises, the period is eight weeks. For ‘major’ applications which do not require environmental impact assessment (EIA), the determination period is 13 weeks.
Larger schemes that are likely to have significant environmental impact and require EIA, the period for determination is 16 weeks.
STOP! If the case you’re working on involves environmental impact assessment (or EIA) you should read the guide to environmental impact assessment as there are different regulations which govern this process. In summary – EIA is a process by which major developments which have the potential to have significant effects on the environment need to be accompanied by an Environmental Statement to demonstrate the effects won’t be significant. – Where required, developers will agree with the council the scope of the report (which will include objective surveys) to show how the development will not have a significant effects in terms of a range of factors e.g. landscape, ecology, noise, highways, heritage impacts (et al) – The EIA process – which is governed by an EU Directive – is also being updated, with a streamlined approach towards screening and other changes (such as improved clarity of reports) now being promoted.
The most important thing is to ask your local council how long the determination period will be. It is important to remember that the determination period is the time allowed for the local authority to make the decision and not the time available for local people to comment on the application. The timeframe for consultation is normally 21 days, however consideration of late comments from statutory consultees should be considered by planning authorities if the information is pertinent to the making of the final decision.