Planning Process

An Explanation of the Planning Process

(A work in progress)

What follows is a layman’s guide to the planning process – a little understood exercise that affects us all. Seen by many as shady ‘done deals’ behind closed doors we need to explain the process as best we can, and in an easy way.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) have one explanation on their web site that is written for the person wishing to make a planning application.

This is their link –   TWBC Planning Process

The table below tries to explain the process without the reader being judged as an applicant.   It is also written as a Tunbridge Wells planning issue.
We have indicated if there are parts of the process we do not understand, hoping a following reader may enlighten us.

1 A pre-application meeting can be arranged with an officer from the Borough Council.
2 An application is submitted to the Planning Department.
3 Council officials will check it for compliance with planning rules and give it a reference number.
A Planning Case Officer is assigned to each application or project.
Notices will be published to announce the proposed project.
4 A deadline or cut-off date is proposed for the consultation period. This may be extended for complex projects and comments can, in practice, be submitted up to the time the application is assessed and determined.
Statutory consultees, including the Parish Council, will also have the opportunity to comment.
5 The general public have a legal right, if they so wish, to comment on the project by submitting their support or objection to the planning department. Their comments may be by letter, email or online form.  All comments must contain the name and address of the writer.
6 The Planning Case Officer is duty bound to read and consider all submitted comments.
7 At the end of the consultation period the data is reviewed to determine if the application should be approved.
In simple cases the decision is made by the planning officer, but more complex projects are reviewed by the local authority Planning Committee (in our case TWBC).  The Planning Committee members are all elected members of the local authority, ie Borough Councillors. They are self-appointed as volunteers for the committees that interest them.  See Note 7.1 for more details.
All conflicts of interest between committee members and the applicant or the application are duly dealt before the start of the meeting as each member has to publicly declare or deny any such conflict of interest.  See Note 7.2 for more details.
8 If the application is to be reviewed by a planning committee the public have a legal right to attend that meeting.
Members of the public may speak at the meeting, but must register their intention in advance. They will be limited to three minutes, so must prepare their arguments. The three minutes is a strict limit and is enforced!  If more than one member of the public is to speak it is advisable to co-ordinate the messages to make best use of the limited time of argument. The use of videos, photographs and Powerpoint presentations are allowed.
9 The result of the process is either the application is granted or refused.
9a Granted.
If members of the public object to the approval they may submit an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol which deals with appeals from all over the country.
No new evidence can be used at the appeal stage. (See Note 9.1)
9b Refused.  A report will detail the reasons for the refusal.
If the applicant wishes to challenge this decision they may re-submit their application within 12 months.
Appeals against a refusal are also dealt with by the planning inspectorate. Lesser cases are dealt with by written submissions to Bristol. Those of more significant public interest are overseen by an inspector who, having first considered all the written evidence, holds an inquiry in the Tunbridge Wells area, usually in the town hall, at which the public can make further representations.  See note 9.2 for a bit more detail.

Notes – (some extra information for those with more interest in this kind if detail)

Note 7.1  We now have a set of councillors self elected for “planning”.  It is not yet understood how individual committees are formed for each application review – whether they self elect again, or are appointed. And if appointed – who does the appointing?


Note 7.2   As of July 2019 there are 11 members on the planning committee and they are listed on the TWBC website. 
The members are listed on the website under ‘committees’ and the political party balance is also shown. 
Council committees are sorted out after the May elections and are fixed (presumably subject to resignations) for the whole year.

Note 9.1 It is important to fully explain local conditions as if the reader is not a resident of the borough and has never visited the locations being discussed.  If assumptions over local knowledge are made in the initial objection, they will be lost at an appeal where the assessors are in another part of the country. It is very important to include all maps, photos and videos that explain the argument in the initial objection in anticipation of an appeal.

Note 9.2  It is thought that Bristol is the home of the Planning Inspectorate and covers the whole country. It is also assumed to be a part of the Home Office.

It is very important for residents to register planning objections with TWBC.  It is the only way that the planning authority get a feeling of public anxiety over a development.  The more objections that are filed the greater the impact on their decision making. 

It is not good enough to assume others will do the complaining on your behalf.

It is also a mistake for a group of people to submit a common objection via an organisation or a society or to submit a petition list.
Individual objections are what counts!  You must quote the reference number and give your name & address.

Initially compiled by Tony Nicholls and later corrected and edited by Kathryn Franklin, then enhanced further by Pembury Parish Council.
Three local councillors were asked to review and comment – no additional insights or data.
Fresh data, additions, corrections and modifications from informed sources will appear as necessary.
There will also be attempts to keep up with government changes and the inevitable moving of the goal posts.


Please email any further comments, corrections or additions to Tony Nicholls at