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Town & Country Planning Act

Town planning in the UK has a long and complex legal basis dating back to 1909 when the Housing and Town Planning Act (H&TPA) was introduced.

Further legislation followed in the period leading up to the 2nd World War but the key legislation that formed the basis of the modern system of Town & Country planning as it is seen today was the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act. This Act provided the first comprehensive basis for the control of development and land uses in the UK.

Since 1947 Governments have passed legislation to vary how planning operates throughout the UK. The last consolidating Planning Act was passed in 1990 and that Act remains the principal Act governing how planning controls operate throughout England and Wales. Scotland operates under a different planning system.

The 1990 Act defines development as being the “ carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land” or “the making of any material change of use of any buildings, or other land.   The effect of the Act means that any development as so defined will require planning permission unless it falls within a category of development that has been specifically excluded from requiring planning permission by an Order passed by the Government, such as the Use Classes Order passed in 1987. The Use Classes Order classified certain common uses into a range of categories within which changes of use could take place without requiring planning permission. The Use Classes Order has been amended several times since 1987 but the main principle remains.

In 1988 the Government introduced the General Development Order which was subsequently replaced in 1995 by the General Permitted Development order. The GPDO sets out a large range of categories of development whereby planning permission is granted automatically if it conforms to the requirements of the Order. It is this Order that enables extensions and other alterations to be carried out to residential properties without requiring the submission of a planning application.

The 1990 Act also consolidated the requirements placed upon Local Planning Authorities to prepare Development Plans. In 1990 these comprised Structure Plans, prepared by County Councils, Local Plans, prepared by District Councils and Unitary Development plans prepared by Unitary Authorities. In 2004 the Government brought in the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act which replaced the Development Plan  system that had been established by the 1990 Act, by introducing Local Development Frameworks. This remains the current system of Development Plan formulation, although in 2011 the Government brought in the Localism Act which, amongst other things, abolished the previous system of Regional Planning.

Alongside Planning Acts and Development orders, Governments have brought in a large range of circulars and advice notes to guide how planning should be carried out. Before March 2012 this mainly comprised a large number of Planning Policy Statements such as PPS3 which set out the Government’s intentions for how new residential development should be controlled. However in March 2012 the Government brought in the National Planning Policy Framework which replaced the large majority of PPS and Government circulars and today the NPPF is the most important document that dictates how planning control is exercised.