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The Planning Portal is the Government’s official planning website. Every local authority in England and Wales accepts planning applications via the Planning Portal.

The system is open to any user, whether a private individual or professional. First time users register to use the Portal and from there you can logon to your own applications area. There is no subscription or registration charge.

The Portal provides a wide range of useful information and access to relevant sections of the Portal appropriate to the type of user.

You can work up your application online from anywhere with an internet access and at any time of the day or night. Just log in and go. You do not have too complete an application at one sitting. You can revisit at any time to make amendments and add information until you are ready to submit.

A huge benefit of using the Portal is that applications made in the old way (on paper) still have to be sent in triplicate, along with three copies of all the plans and supporting documents. Wheeling crate loads of paper into planning departments is becoming less common, but this does not mean that a shed load of reports and plans are not still required. If anything the planning application validation process introduced in 2009 is causing more rather than less paperwork.

The online system adjusts the type of form to suit the type of application required and the range and extent of questions vary accordingly. Certificates and notices are similarly provided.

There is a facility to obtain and create location (red line) ordnance based plans to accompany your application.

Planning application fees can be calculated and paid online.

In essence the online application works in the manner of a checklist and the system will not allow submission until all of the relevant sections have been adequately completed.

The system is so logical that it has taken only an hour or so to train up junior staff and secretaries to complete the basics. As an agent or regular applicant you can save basic information which is installed automatically for each new planning application.

Plans and documents can be attached with the application in a range of formats, but I typically use PDF’s. You do not need to have any expensive software to convert plans and documents to the PDF format. I use a free download from that works just like a printer.

There is a 25 MB limit and where large documents and detailed plans are to be provided this quota can be used up very quickly. The limit is not due to any restriction in the Planning Portal system, but has been set as a reasonable benchmark for local authorities whose systems are often less substantial.

As a result of this limit you have the option to submit documents electronically or by post, or as a mix of both. For straightforward applications you can submit all the necessary additional information online, but for larger applications I have tended to submit the Red Line plan and perhaps a supporting statement, together with a plans and documents list indicating the information that will be forwarded in the post. Rather than printing everything out, simply send a CD-ROM with all the PDF documents that would have been attached online.

Don’t forget scale bars, north points and proper plan references on all plans. Your application will not be validated if these are not present. It is also worth making sure you provide the print-out scale in the title box as well; i.e. 1:500 at A3; 1:200 at A1 etc.

You’ve just realised you needed to make a last minute alteration, but have already pushed the submit button? If you go to the overview page for your planning application there is a hyperlink entitled “amend”. If the local authority have not yet downloaded the application from the Portal you can recover the application from this link in order to make any necessary amendments. You then resubmit as before.

On the overview page there is also a hyperlink which allows you to print out the application once completed. You can print out at any draft stage if required. Here again, this need not be on paper, but use your PDF converter to save the document to file accordingly. In this way you not only have a full record of the application and all its documents electronically for your own records, but they can be circulated to other parties easily and quickly by e-mail or on disk etc. It is probably not a bad idea to back up applications on disk as a safety measure, in the event the office server decides to commit terminal meltdown! There is an archive facility on the Portal but remember, the Portal will only keep your applications for five years.

On submission of your application you will receive notification from the Portal that the application has been transmitted to the relevant authority. They will then download it from the Portal.

Your application is secure on the Portal and will only be visible to the general public once formally validated by the local authority and uploaded to their website. The information is saved on the Portal for a period of five years.

The local authority has 10 days in which to validate your application. They will check the application against their validation requirements and if all is well they will confirm this in writing and the planning application timescale will commence from that point.

The Portal is simply the post office for your application. You will need to look at the online planning section of the local authority website to monitor your application once it has been accepted. The authority will issue a discreet planning reference number for this purpose.

Many authorities now rely on you monitoring your application online rather than writing to you with questions or notifying you of problems. This is very helpful in keeping track of third party and other submissions, officers’ reports and so on. Some systems are more user-friendly than others though. The recent round of spending cuts makes this trend ever more likely to continue. The move to electronic planning is here to stay.

Good luck, and may the Portal be with you!

Next Time: Working from Home – A Quick Guide to Planning Issues

Planning information supplied by Ian Butter FRICS MRTPI

From: The Rural and Urban Planning Consultancy