Local authorities can give ‘prior approval’ for relatively small domestic developments without the need for a full planning application – however, it is vital not to jump the gun. A guideline High Court decision established that ‘prior’ is the operative word and that such approval cannot be sought for developments that have already begun.
A property owner had applied to a local authority for prior approval in respect of a proposed six-metre extension to her home. A neighbour objected and the council refused the application on the basis that the extension would be an obtrusive and overbearing feature amidst domestic rear gardens. It was unacceptable by reason of its scale, bulk and mass and would impact on the amenity and outlook of others.
The council had notified the owner of its decision a day after the expiry of a 42-day time limit. However, her appeal to a central government planning inspector was dismissed on the basis that work on the extension had commenced before she lodged her application with the council.
In rejecting her challenge to that ruling, the Court reached what it described as the unsurprising conclusion that a developer cannot lawfully apply for prior approval in respect of a development that has already begun. The inspector had seen a newly constructed wall and brick footings during a visit to the site and had fulfilled his investigatory duty in concluding that the development had commenced.