Planning and development

Land use planning and development can be said to be the most influential area of environmental law and policy. This is because whatever change is made to land or whatever use it is put to, there are likely to be some environmental impacts and effects. The effects from a development may be, for example, a new building increasing light pollution in the immediate area, but also perhaps increased air pollution, biodiversity loss or impacts on climate change. These effects could arise from a major housing proposal or by allowing a change of the use of land from, for example, recreation to business use.

The potentially significant adverse effects from the development and use of land helps explain why the rules surrounding surrounding planning are so detailed. These rules are often called the ‘Town and Country Planning system’ and include a complex mix of law and policy all of which varies between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Yet, while each country operates its own planning system, there are four main areas within each country:

  • National government policy and practice, which sets out many of the general principles used, as well as planning and development
  • Local development plans, which set out how a local planning area may change over time as well as the local policies that need to be taken into account when a local planning authority takes planning decisions
  • Development management, which is the procedure for deciding planning applications
  • Enforcement, which helps to ensure that development is carried out correctly and, if not, outlines action which may be taken to resolve any problems.

The online guidance and information on development and planning is extensive and helps individuals, businesses and communities work through the planning maze. The links below may be helpful if you are applying for planning permission, including information on the potential costs of doing so. They also give you information about how you may get involved in or comment on development plan policy making and the determination of planning applications.


No content found

Who runs the land use planning system?


The planning system works at both a national and local level with national governments setting the broad planning policy and law (as set out above), and local authorities developing their own local plans, taking the majority of decisions on planning applications (certainly in the first instance) and providing enforcement functions if, for instance, there is unlawful development or illegal operations and activities in their area. 

Some strategic and major infrastructure planning applications are considered at a national level. For instance, In Northern Ireland, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) makes decisions about planning applications that are regionally important and could affect many people. While in Scotland there is the Infrastructure Commission that advises the Scottish Government on its 30 year infrastructure strategy. In England and Wales there is the nationally significant infrastructure project regime that falls under the Planning Act 2008


Local planning authorities

When investigating planning matters at a local level, planning decisions by local planning authorities are shared by district and county councils. District councils cover housing development and county councils cover proposals for minerals extraction. It is important to check your local planning area to see when and how the relevant planning functions are shared. Find your local planning offices in EnglandNorthern IrelandScotland and Wales. You can also consult the Planning Portal. National governments are also increasing access to planning by providing a general online option for applying for planning permission.


Planning appeals

The planning appeals system is run at a national level with the opportunity for many developers to appeal against any decision made at a local (city, district or county) level. More information about the planning appeals system can be found at:


Overseeing the plan-makers and decision-takers

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) aims to protect and improve the environment by holding government and other public authorities to account in England and Northern Ireland. Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) helps ensure Scotland has high environmental standards and strong systems which maintain them. The Interim Environmental Protection Assessor for Wales (IEPAW) may assist if you have concerns about the functioning of environmental laws in Wales. 

No content found

No content found

No content found


Nothing on this site constitutes legal advice. Specialist legal advice should be taken in relation to specific circumstances. The contents of this site are for general information purposes only. Further information can be found on UKELA’s Terms of use page.

If you need specific advice, see the page Further support for potential providers of legal advice and support.