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An Essential Guide to Outline Planning Permission


As a landowner, understanding the ins and outs of planning permission will see you in good stead—especially if you’re ready to sell your assets to a developer.

When it comes to land development, there are different types of planning permission to consider. One of the most common forms of land development agreement is outline planning permission—and that’s what we’re going to discuss right now.

Here we will explain what outline planning permission is, how it differs from full planning permission, and how you can succeed with your application process.

Let’s get started.

What is outline planning permission?

Pencil on architect plans

Often utilised by strategic landowners and large land developers, outline planning permission is an agreement based on the concept or principle of a project, rather than the approval of a project as a whole.

With outline planning permission, applicants are granted a total of five years from the date of the agreement—this includes a two year period to arrange your reserved matters, plus extra three years to start commencement.

Reserved matters in planning permission are the finer details of a building development or project, administrative or logistical elements that need to be approved (those not covered by the outline planning permission agreement) before any form of construction can commence.

As such, outline applications in isolation don’t allow for the commencement of a scheme. That said, while it doesn’t cover every detail, outline planning permission allows you to seek approval for more than just the basic parameters of a development.

For example, you could apply for all matters reserved  except access. This in essence, means that you have applied in full for the point of access, but all other areas of the project will remain an outline (areas including external appearance, layout, and landscaping).

How will outline planning permission benefit you?

When applying for outline planning permission, understanding why you require this type of agreement and how it will benefit you is vital to the process.

To help guide your decision, here are the main reasons outlining planning permission might suit your goals as a landowner:

  • Time & resources: Outline applications are parameter-based,  so they are considerably less resource-intensive than going for a full application. As a result, outline planning applications are more cost-effective initially, with the difference made up when applying for reserved matters once an outline approval is achieved.
  • Profit: As a landowner, it’s unlikely that you will want to develop the land yourself. That said, securing outline planning permission will attract potential developers or house builders as they can bid on the land competitively as it comes with outline consent. In turn, this will maximise the potential profits of the landowner and  more importantly, you, the landowner.
  • Development qualification: Outline planning permission is also an attractive agreement option if your land qualifies as a major development. This is because it’s good to establish the parameters of the development with local planning authority before investing further costs into the details of the design. With a larger scheme, there are generally more roadblocks to consider and hurdles to overcome concerning planning, making an initial outline agreement a logical step forward.

While these points put the benefits of outline planning permission into a practical perspective, it’s worth noting that for smaller sites or minor developments, securing full planning permission usually makes more sense. 

Also, if your land lies near a listed building or conservation area, outline planning permission might not be the best option. This type of situation commands an additional level of detail that outline planning permission doesn’t cover and typically in such cases, the local planning authorities would expect  the submission of a full application.

How to apply for outline planning permission

Man writing on a document

For a successful outline planning permission application, it’s important to think about any potential issue that could potentially halt or derail the process. In addition to the points covered above, these potential roadblocks include:

  • The local ecology
  • Nearby trees and vegetation
  • General ground risks or drainage issues
  • Additional landscaping challenges

By outlining these considerations in your application and making a strong case as to why it will make a suitable option for your potential project, you will demonstrate your diligence and commitment. In turn, this will increase the likelihood of being granted outline planning permission. Conduct your research, consult the services of a local land expert, and your application is sure to get the greenlight.

What you need to include for a compliant outline planning permission application

  • The proposed usages on-site, plus their amounts.
  • The indicative layout showing the location of these proposed usages. For example, developable area, green space, and surface water attenuation.
  • A clear indication of the minimum and maximum height , width, and length of proposed buildings.
  • The general areas to which the access points to the site are going to be situated.
  • Plus, in most cases, an official design & access statement.

Full vs outline planning permission

Now that you understand the principle and prospective benefits of outline planning permission, we’re going to explore the differences between the two types of application, as outlined here:

  • Detail: A full application requires far more detail than an outline permission for successful determination.
  • Time: With full planning permission, you get three years to commence work and with outline permission, you get the three year period, plus an additional two years to reserve matters.
  • Constraints: If your site is a conservation area, for instance, a full application will give you a greater chance of success when applying.
  • Principle: Outline permissions are often to establish the principle of a development before going in for reserved matters.
  • End development: If you have an end developer lined up for your land’s prospective building project, outline permission is a good option as your end developer can help to influence reserved matters.

Final thoughts…

Before you make a firm decision, it’s worth knowing that outline planning permission isn’t the only way to establish the principle of a development. In fact, all local authorities offer a pre-application advice service that you can use to establish the principle of a development before the submission of both a full or outline application.

In conclusion, when considering which type of planning permission to apply for it’s best to make your decision on a site by site basis.

With so many variables to navigate, it’s always best to seek the advice of a professional land consultant as they can guide you through the process and help you choose the best application for your specific type of land.

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Want to know what we can do for you?