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Step by step guide to permissions

We've created a short video with some top tips to consider when making your planning application, to help ensure it can be processed as efficiently as possible. Please watch below.

What needs permission?

There are many different kinds of permission for building projects. The Planning Portal contains extensive guidance on the permissions required for most common projects. If a project doesn’t fit into one of these categories, please contact us for advice.


Preparing an application

To improve the chances of a successful application, we offer pre-application advice. There are different levels of free and paid for advice that can help reduce errors and delays, although pre-application advice does not guarantee a successful application later on. We also manage the Greater Cambridge Design Review Panel, which can be useful for larger or more complex schemes.

Our website holds information on topics which we take into account when assessing applications. These include:

Our validation checklists set out what documents and drawings we require for each kind of application. Some of these are the same across the country, but we have local validation requirements too. If we do not receive all the information we require, we cannot validate an application.

Please refer to the Cambridge City validation checklists and the South Cambridgeshire District Council validation checklists which are currently applicable. 


Applying for permission

Applying through the Planning Portal is the best way to ensure we receive all documents, and that we receive all the information we require. Alternatively, applications forms can be downloaded from the Planning Portal and emailed to us using our contact details. Fees for planning applications are set nationally and can be calculated using the Planning Portal’s fees calculator.

Applicants can use an agent (typically a planning consultant or an architect) to prepare and submit an application on their behalf.


Validating an application

If we do not receive all the required information or fees, we write to the applicant (or to their agent, if one is being used) to inform them that their application is invalid. The applicant has 14 days to submit further information to us to allow us to validate the application.

New applications, once validated, are normally uploaded to our online planning register within 5 working days.


Public consultation

We put all applications on our online planning register, where anyone can submit a comment. Depending on the type of application, we may also put up a site notice, or notify neighbours by letter or publish a public notice in a local newspaper. For more information, consult the statutory publicity requirements.

We also notify and consult organisations which are relevant to the application. This can include:

Read about how you can view and comment on planning applications.


How we reach a decision

Different kinds of applications have different timescales for decision-making – please refer to our planning timescales page.

In reaching a decision, we assess whether the proposal complies with all relevant national policy and local policies and guidance. We take into account all the comments received as part of consultation. We weigh up the planning balance of all relevant matters and consider whether we think the application should be permitted.

If we think an application is likely be refused, we will contact the applicant and give them the opportunity to withdraw it. Minor amendments that do not require re-consultation can occasionally be accommodated, and in those circumstances we can extend the determination period to allow applicants to submit revised information. For more information, visit amending an application. All new information is uploaded to the online planning register.

Planning decisions can be delegated to officers to decide, or decided at Planning Committee made up of elected members (councillors). Further information can be found on our delegated planning decisions page.


Planning committee

There are three committees administered by the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service:

The webpages above hold records of agenda, minutes and decisions made at each committee.

Members of the public are able to speak in support or opposition to applications, and these views are taken into account when the councillors make their decisions. Please note that, due to Covid-19 social distancing, we currently have special measures in place – you can read more about this at Public asked to support social distancing efforts with return to non-virtual Planning Committees. Applicants within the Cambridge City Council area can also request a pre-application presentation to councillors, which are also open to the public.


Challenging a decision

If an application is refused, it may be possible to submit a modified application if changes to the proposal would make it acceptable. Submitting a modified application is free of charge within 12 months of the refusal – applicants should discuss with their case officer.

Applicants can appeal if we:

  • Refused permission
  • Granted permission but with conditions which are not considered acceptable
  • Rejected a proposal arising from a condition or limitation on permission
  • Did not determine (decide) the application within the time allowed (normally 8 weeks from validation of application)
  • Served an Enforcement Notice.

We advise that applicants speak to their case officer before submitting an appeal. Only the applicant can appeal a decision – members of the public cannot ask for an appeal. Read more about planning appeals.


After permission is granted

We upload the decision notice to the online planning register shortly after a decision is made we contact the applicant (or agent if applicable) at the same time. The decision notice will include all conditions that have been applied to the permission.

Some types of development will be required to make developer contributions (sometimes known as section 106 agreements) before planning permission can be granted, and we will discuss this with the applicant, or their agent, if required.


Discharge of conditions

Most planning permissions have conditions attached. These may fall into the following categories:

  • Actions required within a specific timescale – for example requiring that the development is started within a stated time period
  • Actions required prior to commencement – these need to be discharged before any development can start on site. Typically, a discharge of conditions application needs to be made and approved by us.
  • Actions required prior to occupation – these need to be discharged before the development can be used or residents move in. Typically, a discharge of conditions application needs to be made and approved by us.
  • Other conditions may require that the development must follow the approved drawings, or the approved method statements for matters such as ecology or land contamination.

Applications to discharge conditions should be made via the Planning Portal, or forms can be downloaded and emailed to us. Fees may be payable – refer to the Planning Portal’s Fee Calculator. A decision will usually be made within 8 weeks of submission.


Amending a consented scheme

Minor amendments to a consented scheme are known as non-material amendments. These should be submitted to us for approval. More substantial changes may require a new application to be submitted. Legislation for listed building consent means that we cannot approve any amendments to these schemes once consented.


Commencement and construction

Once all the pre-commencement conditions are approved, construction can start on site. In most cases, works have to begin within three years of planning permission being granted, but this can vary, and the exact dates will be stated on the decision notice. You may wish to notify us that commencement has occurred within the required timeframes – photographic evidence is usually accepted and can be submitted to the S106 monitoring team via  

Building control approval is a separate process and may also be required.


Extending construction working hours

The hours that construction work can take place are usually specified in your decision notice. Due to Covid-19 you can currently apply to extend working hours. Under section 74B of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 you can now apply for urgent changes to construction working hours. This is to support safe construction working in line with the government’s latest social distancing guidance on construction and other outdoor work.

Local authorities have 14 calendar days to consider such applications. If an application is approved, this will temporarily amend planning restrictions on construction working hours until 30 September 2021. An earlier end date may be requested by the applicant or decided by the local planning authority with the agreement of the applicant.

If the local planning authority does not determine the application within 14 days (excluding public holidays), the revised working hours are deemed to have been consented to and construction can take place in accordance with these new hours. For further guidance you can view the Planning legislation.


Monitoring and enforcement

If a development is not carried out according to the approved drawings and reports, the applicant can be contacted by our enforcement service and asked to make the changes required, or asked to submit a new application to cover the changes.

If you are concerned about a suspected breach of planning permission, please visit the Cambridge City planning enforcement webpage  or the South Cambridgeshire planning enforcement page where you can find out how to report your concerns.

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