Objecting to building work and development permissions
If your neighbours, the local council or any other private or public developer are applying for planning permission to carry out building work in your area, you have the right to comment on their plans or write a planning objection letter. Your opinion will be taken into account when the council's planning department decides whether or not to grant planning permission for the building project. Unfortunately if the permission is already granted then it is very hard to object to the building work permission unless you believe it was granted unlawfully.
How will I know about work planned for my area?
You may be affected by building work carried out in your area by your neighbours or other builders or developers. This can range from your neighbour adding an extension to their home to a developer building a new shopping centre or the Scottish Government building a new motorway.
Before the council's planning department will grant planning permission for the building project, the applicant should let you know about it. For example, they may put up notices in the area, put an advertisement in your local newspapers or write to you directly. The planning department may also let you know about the proposed work.
You can also search the planning register to find out whether anyone in your area is applying for planning permission, and what stage their application has reached. You can do this at the council's offices or online, either at UK Planning or your council's website. It's also worth checking out the public notices section of your local newspaper. Planning notices regularly appear there and you might see something that affects you.
Some developments may require the developers to carry out a consultation with local residents before submitting their application for planning permission. This could involve the council or the developers contacting you directly, or advertising consultation sessions in local newspapers. The council may also decide to hold a pre-application hearing, to discuss the proposals.
How can I get to see the plans?
You can then call the council's planning office and arrange to inspect the plans for the building work. Staff at the planning office should be available to explain to you anything about the plan that is unclear. You may be able to view the plans online, or staff may be able to send you out a copy (although they may charge a small fee for this).
Who can comment on the plans?
Anyone who is interested in the development can comment on the plans. You don't even need to live in the area of the proposed building works. For example, if you do your shopping in town, but live outside in the suburbs or countryside, and you discover that there are plans to knock down a row of local shops in town and replace them with a big supermarket, you would be able to comment on those plans.
How do I comment on the plans?
If you have any comments to make on the plans, you need to put them in writing in a planning objection letter. Make sure you include the planning application reference number, so the council knows which plans you are commenting on - the reference number can be found on the planning register. You may also be able to submit your comments online.
It's important that you meet the deadline for comments, otherwise your views may not be taken into account. You'll usually have 21 days from the date the planning application is registered with the planning department, but check the deadline on the planning register or ask at the planning office to make sure. Bear in mind that your comments will be available for other people to see.
What can I comment on?
You can make comments either in favour of or against the proposed building work. If you have a good reason to object to the plans, the planning department will need to take this into account when deciding whether to grant planning permission.
However, they can only take into account certain concerns, known as 'material considerations', including:
loss of light or privacy
noise, nuisance and smell
potential problems with parking, traffic or road safety
what the development will look like
the environmental impact
the needs of the local area.
They can't take into account:
any loss of value to nearby properties
loss of view(s)
personal disputes between neighbours
issues about ownership and party walls
complaints about disturbance while the work is being carried out.
What should I bear in mind when making my comments?
Before you make your comments, look at the council's local plan for development, which contains details of their planning proposals and policies. You can access these plans at the planning department offices and, in some areas, in local libraries and online.
Check to see whether anything about the planning application you're commenting on contravenes the policies in the council's development plans. You can also look at other local developments that have been granted or refused permission, and check whether there are any similarities to the application you're interested in. You could also ask the planning office if there are any other council policies, called 'non-statutory policies', which could affect the proposed development.
If the development is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, the developer should be asked to carry out an environmental impact assessment (see 'what is an environmental impact assessment' below). You can refer to this when making your comments.
What happens next?
If there are any objections to a development, a committee meeting will be held to discuss them. You may be able to attend this meeting to make your feelings known - contact the planning department to find out whether this is possible. in some situations, the council may arrange mediation sessions, so opposing parties can talk through their concerns and opinions and perhaps reach an agreement.
What else can I do?
Contact your local councillor and try to get them on side - you can find their details at the council's website or at write to them. They may sit on the planning committee, which means they will have a say in the decision.
You may also wish to lobby your MP or MSP, although bear in mind that they won't necessarily be able to change the situation.
Contact your local tenants' and residents' association and encourage your neighbours and other people in your community to get involved by sending in their comments and lobbying local councillors. It's also a good idea to elect a spokesperson to represent local residents at the planning committee meeting (see 'what happens next' above).
Start a petition and get as many signatures as possible.
Contact the local newspapers and radio stations to publicise your campaign. However, be careful when doing this. Stick to the facts of your argument as getting emotional may not help your case.
Depending on the kind of development you are opposing, you may be able to get support from local heritage, environmental or wildlife groups.
What happens if permission is granted?
If permission is granted, you don't have any right to appeal. However, if you don't think the planning department has followed the correct procedure, you can complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.
What happens if permission isn't granted?
If permission isn't granted, the developer may appeal. If you objected in writing the first time round, you'll be given the chance to put your comments forward again during the appeal. Appeals can be decided by:
What is an environmental impact assessment?
If a development is likely to have a significant effect on the environment, the developer may be asked to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA). Some developments, such as chemical works or storage plants for radioactive or toxic waste, always require an EIA to be carried out. Other projects, such as urban developments or waste disposal sites, may require an EIA, depending on how big they are and what kind of area they're in.
To find out if a development in your area has an EIA and, if so, where you can see it, contact your local planning office or check your council's website. In addition, when a developer submits an EIA, they must put a notice in a local newspaper, telling you where you can see a copy of the assessment. You will then have 28 days to comment on the assessment. If you wish to comment, you'll have to do so in writing.
What if the work is a public development?
Some developments carried out by public authorities such as the Scottish Government or utilities companies do not need planning permission. This means you won't be able to object to the plans.
However, if the development involves the compulsory purchase of people's homes (for example, if a new railway line or motorway is being constructed and people's homes are in the way), you will have the chance to object. Read the section on compulsory purchase orders to find out how the CPO process works and how you can object.
If the development requires an environmental impact assessment (see above) you will also be able to comment on that.
If your home is badly affected by the construction work or the development itself, you may be entitled to compensation. The page on public developments explains what you can do in this situation.
What if I think someone in my area is carrying out building work without planning permission?
If you think someone in your area is carrying out building work without planning permission, you can take action about it. First of all, read the page on
Your local planning department should have an 'enforcement charter' explaining how you can let them know about possible breaches of planning permission. This charter should be available online, for example on your council's website, and in your local library.
If the council believes that this is the case, or if they think that the developer is breaking the terms of their planning permission, they can take enforcement action against them. The page on planning permission explains in more detail the steps they can take.
Where can I get help and advice?
Planning Aid for Scotland offers free, independent advice to individuals and community groups on all aspects of Town and Country planning and related issues. You can also get information and advice from the council's planning department and your local Citizens Advice.
Last updated: 10 October 2017