When a local authority receives a planning application, it will be reviewed by an officer to determine if it is complete—and valid—before it can move to the decision-making stage.

If any required information is found to be missing, the application is marked as ‘invalid’ and returned to the applicant. This will be accompanied by an explanation of what needs to be submitted. Of course, an application returned as invalid shouldn’t be seen as a refusal by the local authority. Rather it is a warning that the application is incomplete and cannot be progressed until the necessary information has been provided.

To help you avoid frustrating (and costly) delays down the line, here are 4 ways to make sure that your planning application will be valid first time.

1. Complete and submit the right form, correctly

This sounds obvious, but it’s a little trickier than you might think.

The Government introduced a standard application form in 2008, which can be completed in hard copy or online. This makes ensuring you’ve completed the right form a lot easier. However, because there is only one form for an endless variety of developments, it’s even more important now to know what types of consent you have to apply for.

In order to confirm the required consent type, it is always a good idea to check with your local planning authority first. There are around 30 types, ranging from full planning consent and listed building consent to removal/variation of conditions and Lawful Development Certificates.

Undertaking this research up front is invaluable, not only in helping you apply for the correct consent types for your particular project but also to make sure you submit your application using the correct method—as some types of consents can only be applied for offline. (See the Planning Portal’s consent types breakdown for more information.)

2. Always check what supporting documentation is needed

Planning applications require a certain level of supporting documentation to be provided in order to be validated and considered for approval. This is broken down in national and local requirements.

As you’d expect, the requirements at a national level are standard throughout the country. This national list includes providing both a location plan and a site plan. However, the requirements at a local level vary between authorities. Which means even if you have undertaken similar projects elsewhere, you can’t assume to know what your current local planning authority will require of your application. You will have to check the local list provided on the authority’s website to determine what supporting information this particular application will need.

In addition, it is essential to understand that the local authority’s view on what constitutes a valid planning application can be subjective.

For example, validation might be affected when an authority requires further details to be submitted, based on the submission of an outline that seems on paper to be fine, but where the authority can see site-specific issues that could impact development (as found under Part 3, Article 5 of the Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) Order 2015). It might be that an outline application has been submitted for a residential development of 200 houses, and the indicative layout is provided, but there are issues like level differences and a river on site. In which case, the authority has the right to ‘article 5’ it and request further details if they are not convinced the site can be developed for 200 houses—a scenario that can lead to costly delays.

3. Know your rights

It’s helpful to know the limits of what can be requested and when especially when it comes to local lists.

Under paragraph 193 of the national Planning Policy Framework it states: “Local planning authorities should publish a list of their information requirements for applications, which should be proportionate to the nature and scale of development proposals and reviewed on a frequent basis. Local planning authorities should only request supporting information that is relevant, necessary and material to the application in question”.

This list is noted under paragraph 43 as needing to be reviewed every 2 years.

It is unlawful for any authority to rely on a local list that doesn’t meet the above provisions. Which is important to note, considering that many local authorities do not have up-to-date lists published on their website—and yet still request information that actually doesn’t need to be provided. This can be costly for applicants both financially and in terms of the impact of delays on a project. So making sure you understand if a local list is valid or not can help you avoid these issues, because if the local list is not up-to-date, only information in the national list can be requested.

4. Get pre-application advice

If there is a running theme with planning application validation, it’s that you need to check carefully what information is required ahead of time. Assuming you know what to submit (maybe because you’ve done it elsewhere or are using a local list without knowing how recent it is) can be dangerous and costly in the long run.

The easiest way to ensure you have the correct information for a planning application is to get in touch with your local planning authority ahead of time. This may be in the form of a quick call about consent types or a more comprehensive meeting for pre-application advice with a planning officer. That way you can discuss your planning application in detail and make sure that you’ve revealed any hidden problems that can impact its validity.

And while not every authority can provide this service, we encourage all those working on major developments to seek it wherever possible to reduce delays that could otherwise be avoided.