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.


Law and policy


Each nation is separately responsible for planning and development in the UK. Below are links to websites of the national government bodies providing planning policy and planning practice guidance.



The Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is the main government department responsible for planning and development. However, its work also includes investing in local areas, delivering housing, and overseeing local government and building safety. It works with 15 agencies and public bodies, including such as the Planning Inspectorate. You can browse an A-Z guide of relevant planning and development including information on planning applications, appeals and also associated matters such as building regulations here. The National Planning Policy Framework (2021) sets out the planning policy for England.


Northern Ireland

NI Direct is the government department in Northern Ireland that manages planning and development. It explains that in Northern Ireland “[t]he planning system ensures built development is in the right place when new houses, shops, parks, community centres or factories are planned. Eleven local councils and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) are responsible for different types of planning applications.”



The Scottish Government’s Local Government and Housing Directorate  is responsible for Scotland's planning system including the development and implementation of national policy on planning, architecture and place. It explains that planning applications and appeals can be made on the ePlanning scot website.



Planning and development falls within the Planning Directorate of the Welsh Government although its online access falls within the area of building and planning. The work of the Planning Directorate includes developing national policy such as the national development framework: Future Wales: the national plan 2040 and other policy such as Planning Policy Wales (2021).

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