Don’t confuse planning permission (either outline or detailed) with Building RegulationsThese are the legal regulations which govern how a house is constructed. (not to be confused with Planning Permission which is about whether you are allowed to build the house at all or what it might look like) see Building Regulations). Planning permission is to do with whether it is OK to build a certain kind of a building in a certain place (not to do with how well it is built). Usually people apply for outline planning permission first just to find out if they can definitely build the kind of house they want to on the land. Very often land is sold with outline permission for a purpose such as housing.
It often makes sense to go to the local planning department and discuss your ideas with a planner. They can save you a lot of time by giving you the background to what they would normally consider permissible.
When an application for outline planning permission is submitted to the council the planners initially decide a simple yes or no and they take into consideration such things as existing planning policies, the nature of the local surroundings, the visual impact of the building, how the traffic in the area might be affected, how services to the house affect surroundings and very many other factors. It doesn’t take into account the detailed or aesthetic design of the house. However some councils are now insisting that new developments should be designed and built to CSH Code for Sustainable Homes. A standard for eco-houses developed by the Building Research Establishment. It covers a wide range of criteria level 4 or maybe level 3.
So outline planning permission is a cheap and easy way to find out whether you will be allowed to do what you want in principle. It requires a very simple site plan to be drawn and a simple form to be filled in. Google your local council web site with ‘outline planning permission‘ and there should be an on line form and guidance notes. There is a charge for this and it is usually handled quite quickly. If land is being sold without planning permission then you should apply for it before buying the land to make sure you will be able to build the sort of house you want to on it.
If outline planning permission is obtained there will often be conditions attached to it. These are called “Reserved Matters”. They may be about the size of the house or position of access to the site or the appearance of the building or such like and will need to be agreed with the planners before detailed permission is granted.
If you don’t get the answer you wanted there is a process of appeal. However you don’t legally have to go for or get outline planning permission whereas you do have to obtain full planning permission at some stage before you can start to build. An interesting fact is that anyone can apply for outline planning permission even if they don’t own the land. So for example if you came across a plot which was not up for sale but you thought it would make a good site for building a house on you could apply for outline permission before approaching the owner.
see also the government Planning Portal site