Our expert explains how to appeal a planning decision

planning permission refusal
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wondering how to appeal a planning decision? Although a planning refusal can seem like the end of the world, there might be hope yet and this is certainly no reason to give up on your dream.

Even if you have been refused planning permission, you still have a chance to turn things around by appealing the decision. After all, even though there is a huge number of planning policies, rules and guidance documents out there, most of them are not black and white, so most planning decisions are, in the end, someone’s judgement about a proposal. Therefore, someone else could come to a different decision.

An appeal is a way to get someone else to make a judgement about your proposal. In this article, professional planning consultant Simon Rix explains what you need to know about the appeals process to try to make that happen.

How to appeal a planning decision

An appeal is a way of challenging a planning decision made by your local planning authority (LPA), which is either your local council or your national park authority. You can appeal if your LPA has:

  • Refused your planning application or your Lawful Development Certificate application
  • Granted your planning application with conditions that you disagree with
  • Failed to make a decision on your planning application within the statutory time limit (usually eight weeks for minor applications)

You might want to make an appeal if you think that the LPA has made a mistake or acted unfairly in reaching their decision. For example, you might think that the LPA has:

  • Misinterpreted or ignored relevant planning policies or guidance
  • Failed to take into account material considerations or given too much weight to irrelevant ones
  • Not followed the correct procedures or not consulted the right people
  • Been influenced by bias or prejudice

Making an appeal is not a guarantee that you will get the outcome you want, but it is a chance to have your case reviewed by an independent and impartial body. If you win your appeal, the LPA will have to grant you planning permission or remove or amend the planning conditions that you objected to. If you lose your appeal, you will have to accept the LPA’s decision or explore other options.

contemporary self build

The initial application for a replacement dwelling on this plot was rejected, but with the help of a planning consultant the owners were able to overturn the decision and get the green light for their 175m2 house. (Image credit: Jody Stewart)

How to make a planning appeal

The process of appealing a planning decision starts with receiving the decision notice from your LPA. This is a document that sets out the reasons for the decision and any conditions attached to it. It also tells you how and when you can appeal. The deadline for appealing depends on the type of application and the type of appeal. Generally, you have:

  • 12 weeks from the date of the decision notice to appeal a householder application (such as an extension or loft conversion)
  • Six months from the date of the decision notice to appeal a refusal or a grant with conditions for other types of application
  • Six months from the expiry of the statutory time limit to appeal on the basis of non-determination

To start your appeal, you or your planning consultant will need to submit various forms and documents to the Planning Inspectorate — the government agency that handles planning appeals. You will need to provide details of your application, the LPA’s decision and a detailed document covering all your arguments. You will also need to supply any supporting documents, such as plans, drawings, photographs, letters, reports, witness statements, statutory declarations etc. All these documents must also be sent to the LPA that refused the decision.

Once your appeal is submitted, the Planning Inspectorate will check it is valid and send you or your planning consultant an acknowledgement letter. They will also notify your LPA that it is valid and ask them for their response and any relevant documents within a specified time limit.

dormer loft conversion

The owners of this 1930s home in Twickenham appealed against their planning permission refusal and were able to gain permission to go ahead with their two-storey addition. (Image credit: Fraser Marr)

How long does a planning appeal take?

Just as when investigating how to get planning approval, understanding the timescales involved in the appeals process will be helpful. The length of time it takes for a planning appeal to be decided depends on several factors, such as:

  • The type and complexity of the application and the appeal
  • The method of deciding the appeal (see below)
  • The availability of inspectors and hearing or inquiry venues
  • The volume of appeals that have been received by the Planning Inspectorate at that point

As a general guide, you can expect your appeal to take over two months for written representations appeals, over four months for hearings appeals or over six months for inquiries appeals

You can check the current performance statistics of the Planning Inspectorate on its website.

contemporary self build house

After the owners’ first appeal failed, package company Baufritz came on board and helped to secure permission for a revised design. (Image credit: Joakim Boron)

How much does a planning appeal cost?

There is no submission fee for making a planning appeal, but there are other costs involved. These include the cost of hiring a planning consultant to advise you and to prepare and submit your appeal documents. On occasions there may be other costs as well, such as the cost of hiring expert witnesses or other professionals (such as architects, surveyors, lawyers, etc). And if you run the appeal yourself without professional help, you could end up paying the LPA’s costs if you are found to have acted unreasonably, e.g. by missing deadlines etc.

Mostly, the only costs will be that of hiring someone like me, i.e. a planning consultant. There is quite a lot of work involved, so an average planning consultant fee for an appeal is just under £4,000.

There are significant benefits in using a planning consultant, though. For example, we’ll be able to help you with:

  • Assessing the merits of your case and advising you on the best course of action
  • Preparing and submitting a robust and persuasive appeal statement
  • Negotiating with the LPA and other parties to try to confirm what facts you do agree on
  • Representing you at a hearing or inquiry and presenting your case to the inspector
  • Liaising with the Planning Inspectorate and keeping you updated on the progress of your appeal

A planning consultant can also help you avoid some common pitfalls that can jeopardise your appeal, such as missing the deadline for appealing or submitting documents; failing to comply with the procedural rules and requirements; missing new issues or evidence not considered by the LPA; making irrelevant or unreasonable arguments or claims and being unprepared or unprofessional at a hearing or inquiry. If you mess up on these things, you risk having to pay some or all of the LPA’s costs, which could be significant. This is probably the main reason why using a planning consultant is the best course of action.

Who decides a planning appeal?

A planning appeal is decided by an inspector appointed by the Planning Inspectorate. The inspector is an independent and impartial expert who has no connection to the LPA or any other party involved in the appeal.

The inspector will consider all the evidence and arguments submitted by both sides, as well as any relevant planning policies, guidance, legislation and case law. The inspector will also visit the site of the proposed development to see it for themselves.

The inspector will then write a decision letter that sets out their findings and conclusions, and either allows or dismisses the appeal. The decision letter will also explain the reasons for the decision and any conditions or limitations attached to it.

The inspector’s decision is final and binding on both parties, unless it is challenged in the High Court (see below).

What happens at a planning appeal?

A planning appeal can be decided by one of three methods — written representations, a hearing or an inquiry. The method of deciding an appeal is chosen by the Planning Inspectorate, taking into account the views of both parties and the nature and complexity of the case.

Written representations: This is the simplest and most common method of deciding an appeal. It involves both parties submitting their written statements and evidence to the Planning Inspectorate, without any oral hearing or inquiry. The inspector will then decide the appeal based on the written submissions and a site visit. Written representations are suitable for straightforward cases that do not involve complex or disputed issues of fact or law. They are also quicker and cheaper than hearings or inquiries.

Hearing: This is a more formal method of deciding an appeal. It involves both parties attending a hearing before an inspector, where they can present their case orally and answer questions from the inspector. The hearing is usually held in a public venue near the site of the proposed development, and anyone can attend as an observer. A hearing is suitable for cases that involve some degree of complexity or dispute, but do not require formal evidence or cross-examination. A hearing allows both parties to clarify their points and respond to each other’s arguments in person.

Inquiry: This is the most formal and complex method of deciding an appeal. It involves both parties attending an inquiry before an inspector, where they can present their case through witnesses and experts, who can be cross-examined by the other party or their representatives. The inquiry is usually held in a public venue near the site of the proposed development, and anyone can attend as an observer. An inquiry is suitable for cases that involve significant complexity or controversy, such as major developments, environmental impacts, legal issues, or public interest. An inquiry allows both parties to test each other’s evidence and arguments in detail.

What happens if you lose a planning appeal?

If you lose your planning appeal, you have two options:

● Accept the decision and either abandon your project or modify it to comply with the LPA’s requirements

● Challenge the decision in the High Court on a point of law

You cannot challenge an appeal decision simply because you disagree with the planning judgements made in it or because you just think it is unfair. You can only challenge it if you think that the inspector has made a legal error, such as misinterpreting or misapplying relevant planning policies, guidance, legislation
or case law.

How can you increase your chances of winning a planning appeal?

You can increase your chances of success by making sure your arguments are well put and backed up by evidence. Just asserting something will not hold much, if any, weight. For example a statutory declaration holds more weight than a simple signed witness statement because it counts as much stronger evidence. That’s because you
could end up in jail if you lie on a statutory declaration.

Finally, don’t necessarily accept the LPA’s arguments at face value. Many of the appeals I’ve dealt with, especially the recent ones, seem to have involved very junior or inexperienced people at the LPA writing their arguments against ours. In a recent one, the LPA’s case involved whole generic paragraphs that had clearly been cut and pasted as they simply didn’t apply to the type of application we were dealing with.

Simon Rix
Simon Rix

Simon Rix is a professional planning consultant, who began his career working in local government in the 1990s. He was a council officer and later an elected councillor, so he knows how the planning system works from both sides. He went on to set up Planix.UK Planning Consultants Ltd; a consultancy company that advises self builders, home extenders and those taking on small to medium-sized building projects on planning permission.

Simon Rix

Simon Rix is a professional planning consultant, who began his career working in local government in the 1990s. He was a council officer and later an elected councillor, so he knows how the planning system works from both sides. He went on to set up Planix.UK Planning Consultants Ltd; a consultancy company that advises self builders, home extenders and those taking on small to medium-sized building projects on planning permission.