The Planning System

The Planning SystemBee in Sheffield City Centre / Paul Hobson

In England we operate under a ‘plan-led system’; this means that all decisions on planning applications in an area are informed (principally) by the policies and supporting information set out in what is referred to as the Local Plan.

Local Level

Local Plans

Local planning authorities must prepare a Local Plan which sets planning policies in a local authority area. These are very important when deciding planning applications. Independent planning inspectors must look at all Local Plan documents that local authorities in England prepare for an examination. The examination is the last stage of the process for producing a Local Plan. The process should have fully involved everyone who has an interest in the document and they should have had the chance to comment.

Local Plans must be positively prepared, justified, effective and consistent with national policy in accordance with section 20 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as amended) and the National Planning Policy Framework.

The planning system is required to take biodiversity into account at an early stage as well as iteratively throughout the process. The result should be sustainable development, i.e. facilitating future development whilst safeguarding and, where possible, taking opportunities to enhance the environment for future generations.

The information contained in these Local Plans provides us with an invaluable tool for guiding future development in a way that helps to protect and enhance natural resources such as biodiversity. Local Plans can be viewed on local authority websites or hard copies are available to view at council offices or public libraries.

National Level

National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published and came into force on 27 March 2012. It replaced most previous planning guidance. The framework gives guidance to local authorities in drawing up Local Plans and on making decisions on planning applications. The NPPF states that the planning system should contribute to and enhance natural environments by minimising impacts on biodiversity, and providing net biodiversity gains where possible. Coherent and more resilient ecological networks need to be established. The NPPF advises that the planning system should plan for biodiversity at a landscape-scale across local authority boundaries. It recommends that policies need to identify and map components of local ecological networks, and to promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations.

Planning authorities must have regard to the national policies included in the NPPF when making decisions on both strategic planning and planning applications.

The NPPF is available to download from the Government's website.

Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects

Most developments are considered by local authorities. However, planning applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs), are submitted to and examined by the Planning Inspectorate’s National Infrastructure Directorate. NSIPs are usually large scale developments such as new harbours, power generating stations (including wind farms), and electricity transmission lines, which require a type of consent known as ‘development consent’ under procedures governed by the Planning Act 2008 (and amended by the Localism Act 2011). The 2008 Act sets out thresholds above which certain types of infrastructure development are considered to be nationally significant and require development consent.

Any developer wishing to construct a NSIP must first apply for consent to do so. For such projects, the Planning Inspectorate examines the application and will make a recommendation to the relevant Secretary of State, who will make the decision on whether to grant or to refuse development consent.

National Policy Statements

National Policy Statements (NPSs) are produced by Government. They include the Government’s objectives for the development of nationally significant infrastructure in a particular sector. NPSs undergo a democratic process of public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, before being designated (i.e. adopted). They provide the framework within which Inspectors make their recommendations to the Secretary of State.

For information on proposed NSIPs, the planning process and advice on how you can get involved visit the National Infrastructure Planning section of the Planning Portal website.

How the planning system can help us to conserve our natural environment

If you are commenting on local plans or policies, or are considering making representations relating to a planning application, check the national policies on biodiversity conservation contained within the NPPF to see if they support your argument. Quoting the NPPF, when you believe the policy or application contradicts its advice, is a powerful tool when participating in a consultation as it will add significant weight to your case. Equally, policies contained within the local authorities' Local Plans, and in the case of NSIPs National Policy Statements, can be used in the same way.

For more information on the planning system visit the Planning Portal website.

Green infrastructure

Planning for a healthy environment: good practice guidance for green infrastructure and biodiversity

This guidance has been developed by The Wildlife Trusts and the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) in partnership with a wide range of organisations. It is intended to help local planning practitioners deliver positive practical solutions when planning for the future – solutions that protect and enhance the natural environment and provide quality of life benefits through the delivery of well-planned Green Infrastructure (GI). It has been designed to offer advice on how GI and wildlife can be protected, enhanced and restored through Local Plan policies and development management decisions, working within the context of the National Planning Policy Framework. 


FilenameFile size
Green infrastructure guide7.02 MB
Green infrastructure guide annex144.11 KB