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The planning system in Wales

This guide gives an overview of the planning system. It explains when you need planning permission and how you can apply.

First published:
7 May 2014
Last updated:
18 September 2023


1. Overview

This guide gives an overview of the planning system. It explains when you need planning permission and how you can apply.

It has links to the Planning Portal, which sets out advice on the planning system for England and Wales. Please make sure you are viewing content that relates to Wales by checking the 'region' flag in the top right corner of the Planning Portal website.

2. The planning system

Local planning authorities in Wales – usually councils or National Park authorities - are required to produce local development plans, which set out the broad framework for acceptable development in their areas.

Planning permission

The planning system controls the use of land and what is built on it, and is enforced by the planning authority, which is responsible for deciding whether a proposed development should be allowed to go ahead and then granting or refusing planning permission.

Planning applications must be decided in line with the local development plan unless there is a very good reason not to do so.

Planning obligations

Planning obligations can help overcome obstacles which may prevent planning permission from being granted. These are normally binding agreements between a developer and the planning authority.

An obligation either requires the developer to provide a financial contribution, physical infrastructure or a management plan in relation to their development proposals or restricts what can be done with land following the granting of planning permission.

Before agreeing to a planning obligation you may choose to seek legal advice to ensure that you understand exactly what it might mean.

Environment Impact Assessment (EIA)

An Environmental Impact Assessment assesses how the proposed development will impact both on the nearby environment and on the wider environment generally. You must produce an EIA for:

  • specified large developments ('Schedule 1' projects)
  • other specific developments, which are likely to have significant environmental effects ('Schedule 2' projects)

Schedule 1 projects include:

  • major industrial plants
  • transport infrastructure
  • extractive industry developments.

Schedule 2 projects include developments such as:

  • metal production and processing
  • chemical industry installations
  • leisure industry facilities
  • urban development projects, including housing.

You must have an EIA with full and outline planning applications, and may also apply to applications for approval of reserved matters.

If your development requires an EIA, you should submit the environmental statement along with your planning application. Download EIA guidance from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) website (PDF, 256K)


3. When you need planning permission

You will usually need planning permission to:

  • build most new buildings
  • make major alterations to existing buildings
  • make significant changes to the use of a building or piece of land

In some cases 'permitted development rights' (PDRs) mean that you don't need to apply for permission – find out more from your planning authority.

Changing the use of premises

In many cases, a change of use of a building or land does not require planning permission. You can read about use classes and whether planning permission is needed for changes of use on the Planning Portal website. Remember to check the 'region' flag in the top right corner to make sure you are viewing content that relates to Wales.

Most external building work associated with a change of use is likely to require planning permission.

Changes of use requiring planning permission

Planning permission is always required for material changes of use involving:

  • amusement centres
  • theatres
  • scrap yards
  • petrol filling stations
  • car showrooms
  • taxi and car hire businesses
  • hostels

The exception is when changing use from a car showroom to Class A1 use.

Before you negotiate a lease or buy a property, you should check whether you need planning permission for your intended use and, if so, how likely this is to be granted.

Flats over shops

You can convert the space over shops and other high street buildings to use as a flat (and convert it back again) without planning permission, provided you do not change the outside appearance of the building.

Industrial and warehouse development, schools, colleges, universities and hospitals, office buildings, shops, financial and professional services

Permitted development rights (PDRs) cover minor extensions to these buildings including in some cases the erection of additional buildings within the property boundary, or 'curtilage'. Download and read a guide about the new permitted development rights, effective from 28 April, 2014.

Planning permission for working from home

You may not need planning permission to work from home, providing that the main use of the building remains as a dwelling house.

Working from home includes:

  • using part of your home as a bedsit or a bed and breakfast
  • using a room as a personal office
  • providing a childminding service
  • using rooms for dressmaking or music teaching
  • using a building in the garden for storing goods connected with a business

However, you will usually need planning permission if:

  • your home will no longer be used mainly as a private home
  • the business causes more traffic or visitors
  • the business involves unusual activities for residential areas
  • your neighbours are disturbed at unreasonable hours or there are other forms of nuisance - eg noise or smells

If your property is a listed building, listed building consent may be required as well as planning permission.

If you are unsure whether a development would be permitted development and does not require specific planning permission, check with your planning authority.

Withdrawn PDRs

Your planning authority may have withdrawn some PDRs through a locally made direction or removed those rights through a condition included in an existing planning permission for the site. If they have done this, you will have to submit a planning application. You can check with your planning authority if you are unsure whether PDRs have been withdrawn.

Lawful Development Certificates (LDCs)

If you want to be certain that your proposal does not require planning permission - or to continue a use of land - you can apply for an LDC.

You do not have to apply for an LDC but you may need one to confirm that a certain use, operation or activity is lawful for planning purposes. Read about LDCs on the Planning Portal website. Please check the 'region' flag in the top right corner to make sure you are viewing content that relates to Wales.

Non-domestic premises: micro generation equipment

Download and read a guide about permitted development rights for micro generation.

4. Making a planning application and the right of appeal

You should check with your local planning authority (planning authority) whether you need planning permission for the work you intend to carry out. If permission is needed then the planning authority may be able to say whether your project is likely to be approved.

You can meet a planning officer for an informal discussion, if this service is offered by your planning authority - but note that there may be a charge for this. You'll need to be ready to describe your proposals and show your plans.

Outline planning applications

For a new building, you can make an outline application to find out whether the development is acceptable in principle. This has the advantage that detailed drawings are not needed, but it will help to provide the planning authority with as much information as possible. Once outline permission has been granted, you will need to ask for approval of the details (reserved matters) before work can start. These comprise access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale. What you propose must be consistent with the outline permission. If your proposals have changed in any way, you may need to reapply.

Full planning applications

A full planning application requires the submission of all details of the proposal. It is appropriate in the following circumstances:

  • if you wish to change the use of land or buildings
  • if you want to start work quickly

Applying for planning permission

A full planning application must be accompanied by the necessary plans of the site, the required supporting documentation, the completed form and the fee. A design and access statement may also be required. You can get information on making a planning application on the Planning Portal website

You can use the online form to submit your application.

Decision-making process

Minor planning applications are often decided by a council officer under delegated powers. Otherwise, a planning officer will present a recommended decision to a planning committee. You may be allowed to attend the meeting.

A decision will then be made within eight weeks of the formal application, though complex applications may take longer. If your planning authority can't decide on your application within the specified time, it should obtain your written consent to extend the deadline. Otherwise, you can make an appeal on the grounds of 'non-determination' through the Planning Inspectorate.

If your application is refused

If the planning authority refuses planning permission or imposes conditions, it must give written reasons.

If you are unhappy or unclear about the reasons for refusal or the conditions imposed, you should contact your planning authority. You can also find out if there are ways to modify your proposal to improve the chances of acceptance. As a first step, ask the planning authority if changing your plans might make a difference. If your application has been refused, you may be able to submit another application with modified plans free of charge within 12 months of the decision on your first application.

Alternatively, if you think the planning authority's decision is unreasonable, you can appeal through the Planning Inspectorate. You can find guidance on making a planning appeal on the Planning Portal website.  Make sure you are accessing information relevant to Wales.  


You should always apply for planning permission before work starts. If you don't, you might be served with an enforcement notice requiring you to remove an unauthorised building or cease an unauthorised use of land.


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