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Should I be applying for planning permission in principle?

What is permission in principle, and is it really a shortcut to getting planning permission? We explain...

18 January 2024
3 minutes read
Aerial view of London at dusk, showcasing the Tower Bridge over the River Thames, with the glow of city lights starting to illuminate the streets and buildings, highlighting the intricate urban planning and architectural diversity.

The market is saturated. Profitable land is hard to come by. Budgets are tight. And there’s no guarantee of success. Once you’ve purchased the land, everything depends on the planning permission application.

Prior to approval, your project is hypothetical. The thousands of pounds you’ve poured into your passion project – the blood, sweat and tears – could all be for nought if the local planning authority rejects your application. If you succeed, the world is your oyster. If you fail, your investment could flop and it’s back to square one.

So how do you increase your chances of success?

Permission in principle (PIP) might be one answer.

This new planning route may not be right for every project, but it is definitely something to consider as you seek solutions to your development woes. In this article, we’ll outline the fundamentals of permission in principle: what it is, why you might need it and how to get it.

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What is permission in principle?

Permission in principle is a relatively new route for obtaining planning permission that came into effect on 1st June 2018. Essentially, permission in principle is designed to increase the efficiency of the planning process and deliver more homes.

Current planning applications require a substantial amount of information upfront, even for outline planning permission. permission in principle separates the absolute basics of ‘principle of development’ – land use, location and amount of development – from everything else ("technical details").

Via this route, you only need to establish the principle of development once. Then you can go on to apply for approval of the technical details, which will include the appearance of the building and its compliance with local and national policy requirements for space and amenity (outdoor spaces etc).

Ultimately, the permission in principle route is an alternative way of obtaining planning permission for housing-led development. This route involves two stages:

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The first stage: Establishing whether a site is suitable in principle

So how can a site be established as ‘suitable in principle’?

The permission in principle route is available for any site that might accommodate minor housing-led development, provided the development is not on land that is subject to Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or Habitats legislation.

Permission in principle is subject to location, land use and the amount of development. The upper limits of the proposed development are up to nine homes, with less than 1,000 sqm of commercial floorspace and a site of less than one hectare.

Mixed-use sites with retail, offices or community spaces can be granted permission in principle, but housing must always occupy the majority of the overall scheme. Additionally, non-housing development should be compatible with the proposed residential development.

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The second stage: Assessing detailed development proposals

After permission in principle is granted, the proposal will then be assessed in greater detail. This is known as technical details consent (TDC), and it is described in greater detail below.

What is technical details consent?

Following the grant of permission in principle, the site must then receive a grant of technical details consent before the development can proceed. This is effectively the same as granting planning permission.

A technical details consent application should include plans and supporting documents such as a design and access statement or any statutory requirements such as conservation or listed building assessments.

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Why apply for planning permission in principle rather than full planning permission?

So why pursue permission in principle? Why not just dive into a full planning permission application? Here are two important reasons for pursuing this type of planning permission.

Saving money

To begin with, the permission in principle route is essentially cheaper for developers who wish to take a chance on smaller sites, which are often riskier.

According to the Explanatory Memorandum of the Town and Country (Permission in Principle) Order 2017, the typical cost of preparing and submitting a full planning application is approximately £25,000 for a minor site, including fee costs.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government believes that permission in principle applications will require only 5% of the resources associated with preparing and submitting a full application, while the technical details consent application will require the other 95% of the resources.

The example given is a four dwelling site: a full application for a four dwelling site at the time of writing is £1,500. Fees for a permission in principle application would be £800 while the technical details consent consent application would be £1,500. If successful, the developer would incur a cost of £800. But if rejected, they would save on average £22,000.

Easing the housing crisis

Moreover, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Permission in Principle will make an important contribution to the delivery of new homes by increasing certainty regarding the suitability of land for less than ten dwellings.

It will essentially create a ‘zonal system’. In addition, land identified as suitable for development on brownfield registers can receive permission in principle.

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How do you apply for planning permission in principle?

When applying for Permission in Principle, an application must:

  • Be submitted in writing using the relevant form to the local planning authority (LPA) for the area in which the proposed site is located, unless electronic communication has been previously agreed to by both the LPA and the applicant
  • Include the particulars referred to in the form
  • Be accompanied by a plan identifying the land to which the application relates

The fee for a permission in principle is £402 per 0.1 of a hectare for the amendment categories, which include:

  • the erection of houses
  • the erection of buildings (non-residential)
  • the erection of agricultural buildings

The fee for non-material amendments to a permission in principle or technical details consent is £195.

Duration of the permission in principle application process

The local planning authority (LPA) should make its decision within five weeks of receipt of the application, assuming it is valid and complete.

If the planning authority fails to issue a decision within this time period, the applicant may appeal to the Secretary of State – unless the LPA and the applicant have agreed ahead of time on an extension.

Once Permission in Principle has been granted, it will be in effect for three years and then ‘cease to have effect’.

Final words on planning permission in principle

Overall, permission in principle is not dissimilar to outline planning permission, and technical details consent is fundamentally the same as full planning permission.

In practice, permission in principle is only suitable for a fairly limited range of developments. It's best used for sites where you are unsure whether the local planning authority (LPA) will welcome development but you have no strong case for why a specific group of houses should be acceptable.

So permission in principle is not a shortcut to obtaining planning permission and will not actually save money when if you go all the way to the technical details consent stage. But if you’re a developer looking to reduce the risk associated with planning permission, you should read the guidance on permission in principle.

How Urbanist Architecture can help you

Urbanist Architecture is a London-based RIBA chartered architecture and planning practice with offices in Greenwich and Belgravia. With a dedicated focus in proven design and planning strategies, and expertise in residential extensions, conversions and new build homes, we help landowners and developers achieve ROI-focused results.

If you would like our advice on which is the best route to planning permission for your development and our help getting it for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Ufuk Bahar, Founder and Managing Director of Urbanist Architecture
AUTHOR

Ufuk Bahar

Urbanist Architecture’s founder and managing director, Ufuk Bahar takes personal charge of some of our larger projects, focusing particularly on Green Belt developments, new-build flats and housing and high-end full refurbishments.

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