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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.

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 advice that can help reduce errors and delays. Pre-application advice does not guarantee a successful application later on. We manage the Greater Cambridge Design Review Panel, which can be useful for larger or more complex schemes.

Please use our general guidance to find answers to many common questions. In addition, the ‘Common Projects’ page on the Planning Portal has information on over 50 typical homeowner building projects. 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 that we receive all documents and all of the information that we require. 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 of 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, which will 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 onto our online planning register, where anyone can submit a comment. Depending on the type of application, we may also put up a site notice, notify neighbours by letter, or we may 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 the 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 to be refused, we will contact the applicant and allow them 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 by Planning Committee made up of elected members (Councillors). Further information can be found on our delegated planning decisions page.

Planning Committee

There are 3 committees administered by the Greater Cambridge Shared Planning Service:

The webpages above hold records of each committee's agenda, minutes and decisions.

Members of the public can speak in support or opposition to applications, and these views are taken into account when the councillors make their decisions. Applicants within the Cambridge City Council area can also request a pre-application presentation to councillors, which is 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 this acceptable). Submitting a modified application is free of charge within 12 months of the refusal - applicants should discuss this with their case officer.

Applicants can appeal if we:

  • Refuse permission
  • Grant permission, but with conditions which are not considered acceptable
  • Reject a proposal arising from a condition or limitation on permission
  • Did not determine (or, decide) the application within the time allowed (normally 8 weeks from validation of application)
  • Serve 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 also 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. 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 period.
  • Actions required before commencement 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 before 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 (login, click the button marked 'Start new application', and then select 'Approval of details reserved by a condition (discharge)') - or forms can be downloaded and then emailed to us. Fees may be payable – refer to the Planning Portal’s Fee Calculator. A decision will usually be made within eight 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 of the pre-commencement conditions are approved, construction can start on site. In most cases, works have to begin within 3 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 planning@greatercambridgeplanning.org.  

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

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 they may be 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.

Section 106 Agreements

Planning obligations often called section 106 agreements, are legally enforceable obligations entered into under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. They are agreements made between a developer and the Local Planning Authority designed to meet the concerns an LPA may have about meeting the cost of providing new infrastructure for an area.

A section 106 agreement may be used for;

  • restricting the development or use of the land in any specified way;
  • requiring specified operations or activities to be carried out in, on, under or over the land;
  • requiring the land to be used in any specified way; or
  • requiring a sum or sums to be paid to the authority

A planning obligation may only constitute a reason for granting planning permission for the development if the obligation is: 

  1. Necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms.
  2. Directly related to the development; and
  3. Fairly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development

A person against whom a planning obligation is enforceable may apply to the local planning authority to have the agreement amended.

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