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How to Approach Outline Planning Applications? Court of Appeal Guidance

A great many applications for planning consent are submitted in outline, with details of proposed developments left over for consideration at a later stage. In an important ruling, the Court of Appeal analysed the extent to which planners’ hands are tied by the limited scope of such applications.

A developer had applied for outline permission in respect of a multi-storey mixed shopping and office development. The local authority’s refusal of consent was later upheld by a planning inspector. The latter found that the proposed building would dominate, rather than complement, the setting of a nearby listed cinema. The developer’s appeal against that decision was rejected by a judge.

In challenging the latter decision, the developer pointed out that all matters of detail relating to the development – including its scale – had been reserved for later consideration. On that basis, it argued that the inspector had trespassed outside his remit in considering the height, bulk and mass of the proposed building.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the Court noted that the outline application specified floor areas for which permission was sought and was accompanied by indicative drawings of a four/five-storey building. The inspector had taken the proposals at face value and was perfectly entitled to consider the height, bulk and mass of the planned development when analysing its potential impact on the listed building.

The inspector had rightly informed his decision by reference to the indicative drawings, as the developer had invited him to do, and had not pre-empted any subsequent consideration of scale as a reserved matter.