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Minor Amendments To Planning Applications

18 January 1995



After planning permission has been granted, it frequently happens that a developer wants to make changes to the approved plans. These changes might arise from unexpected technical difficulties, such as bad ground, from a need to accommodate different production methods in a factory, from restrictions imposed by the Building Regulations, or from changes in the demand for individual house types. The need for these changes often arises while construction is underway.

In some cases the developer will need to submit a new planning application. In other cases however, where the changes are small, the developer will ask for the changes to be approved as a minor or working amendment to the already approved scheme.

The Law

The Courts have held in (in the Bernard Wheatcroft case) that it is permissible to amend a planning application. The test to be applied is whether the substance of the application had been altered and is so changed that to grant it would be to deprive those who should have been consulted on the changed development of the opportunity of such consultation.

Government guidance (in Circular 31/92) states that "if an applicant wishes to vary his proposal after planning permission has been granted ... the local planning authority will have to decide whether the proposed variation is significant enough to require the submission of a fresh planning application."

Current Practice

Under powers of routine delegation to officers, it has been the practice over the last 20 years for the Borough Planning Officer to consider and approve minor amendments to planning applications which have been previously approved. This practice also applies in all the Greater Manchester districts and in most, if not all, the planning authorities in the country.

On receipt of the proposed amendment, the planning officer compares the amendment with the approved plans and makes a judgement as to whether there is a significant alteration to the character of the development and in particular whether it would have a greater, or lesser impact on the neighbourhood. In making this judgement, account is taken of the sensitivity of the site, for example, if there were objections to the original scheme, and in some cases neighbours are re-consulted.

Acceptable Minor Amendments

Acceptable minor amendments would not significantly alter the character of the development and should never make the development less acceptable in terms of Council guidelines or impact on the neighbourhood, for example:

  1. Minor elevational changes to house types or commercial buildings.
  2. Buildings or extensions which are smaller than and/or further away from neighbours than the approved plans.

Unacceptable as Minor Amendments

Applications are requested if the amendment significantly alters the developments character, for example:

  1. New uses are introduced.
  2. The number of houses on a scheme is altered.
  3. The type of dwelling eg house, bungalow, semi or terrace is changed.
  4. The buildings are bigger and/or closer to neighbours.
  5. The design is radically changed, eg from stone to brick.
  6. Provision, eg of landscaping or car parking, was significantly reduced.

The advantage of this procedure is that it enables minor changes to be agreed without the potentially very costly delay which would be entailed if planning permission were to be required for all amendments. The procedure safeguards the planning authority's position since all amendments can be vetted. If the speed and flexibility of the minor amendment system did not exist, developers, particularly where building was underway, would be tempted to change their plans without authorisation in the hope that the changes would not be noticed, or that the planning authority would not consider it worthwhile to take subsequent enforcement action.