Claire Greenhouse takes a look at the necessary requirements for planning permission when it comes to property. If you are starting along this process, there are many considerations and potential pitfalls to navigate successfully before you can even proceed to get what you want or need done.
Sometimes the process can be fraught and often disappointing when a proposal is rejected; sometimes for the most slight or even bizarre reasons. Here, Claire explains what is involved, and more importantly what to expect when developing a property.
Personally, I find it hard to think of the planning system without thinking of the little Britain sketch where David Walliams plays a lady travel agent who puts details into a computer and constantly says ‘Computer says no’ in a bored voice. Of course, it is a little unfair to summarise it all in such a way, and yes the planning system is often saying ‘no’ but it also says yes – sometimes (the number of approvals have risen over the last few years). The system and planners are a necessity of life, they are the ‘Guardians of our land’ to be very dramatic and it is not an easy job – but it can be incredibly frustrating from all angles when you are trying to get planning permission. It is a contentious subject at best.
A typical case study
We had a planning application (for two semi-detatched houses) go all the way up to the planning inspectorate who voiced their refusal and assessment with an impressive 12 pages of reasons as I sat down in my first planning law lecture at University for my Masters course. The lecture was illuminating to say the least. I absorbed everything I could from this unit and almost became a planner myself. I learnt so much from the whole experience about planning law itself, planning applications and the appeal system (helped enormously back then by a session of work experience in my local council) as well as my 16 years in the property business, that may be useful for others, as well as where we went wrong with this particular application.
So what did I learn that may be useful to others and that I can share to save people time, money, effort and frustration? Here is my advice to you in important steps.
The steps need to help ensure successful permission
1) Hiring a planning consultant does not guarantee that you will get planning! It really depends on the context of the planning permission you are seeking. The best planning consultant in the world will not be able to get planning in extremely difficult circumstances. Think of your planning consultant as a ‘barrister in court’ who is there to put your case forward in the best possible light whilst filling out the planning application forms and associated paperwork which can save you time and effort. I would recommend using either an architect with a planning consultant department/service or a planning consultant with an in house architect to be able to get small changes requested by the council turned around quickly. Ask around and go for planning consultants with good reputations for your type of application. For instance, someone with a great reputation for large commercial developments may not be the right person to get permission for Auntie Mabel’s small extension in a conservation area. There are even planning consultants out there who specialise in just Tree Preservation Orders (TPO’s).
2) Search the local development plans for your council on the internet – this will give you an idea of what you can build, etc. A good planning consultant and architect will work on this together if needed. If you are looking to build houses in your garden, is there a housing need in the area? Is the council meeting its target to provide new houses? These factors can help your case immeasurably. It you are looking to extend your house this may not be so relevant.
3) Use the planning portal website (https://www.planningportal.co.uk) to keep up with the progress of your application, also you can find similar planning applications in your area that may help you to succeed where others gained/ were refused permission for certain reasons.
4) Resign yourself to the fact that it is not an easy process to navigate and that local planners are often very hard to get hold of and there is often no personal dialogue with the planners in many Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s). It can be even more frustrating if you are not prepared for this.
5) Planning Officers are not the enemy! This is a hard one to remember sometimes, but they are reasonable human beings. Do not lie, over-exaggerate or embellish as they probably have seen it all before and have an inbuilt ‘BS detector’. Be honest, thorough and robust – backing up all your points with facts or evidence such as photos, acoustic tests, parking surveys, distances to train and bus stops etc.
6) Do you need planning permission at all? If you are not sure – it may be useful to carry out a ‘Do I need planning permission?’ application. If you do – this will save any building work needing to be undone. If you do not – they can issue you with a ‘Do not need planning permission’ certificate which is especially important if you have difficult neighbours or wish to sell the property on fairly soon after the work is completed. There is usually a charge for this service.
7) If you have a project that may be considered to cause townscape or landscape changes, or to cause amenity harm (which can mean it is harder for people to use the area around the site such as parking or noise issues), it is highly recommended that a ‘pre-app’ meeting with the council is carried out. If you have a planning consultant and are going down this route, make sure your planning consultant is there for the appointment. The council has to work with the agent, if one is employed – often they will not work with the applicant where an agent is in place. The council will charge for this – charges differ depending on the LPA.
8) Make sure your drawings are accurate and labelled as @A3, @A4, @A1 as appropriate to allow the council to print out accurately scaled plans – this will save time with the initial council validation process and the planners use their scale rulers on everything! Efficient labelling can save you time, hassle and cost.
9) For difficult plots – it is useful to compile a design and access statement including evidence that backs up any issues so you can show you have attempted to mitigate these eg. parking surveys, noise surveys, specifics of the design. Your architect/planning consultant should work to compile this document. If you are compiling it yourself – make sure you look at other examples of design access statements on the planning portal but be aware that some of them are better than others. Again, in complex applications – seek professional advice.
10) Pay your Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) if required (check on your council website). If your development will add floor space of 100+ square metres or if you are building a new residential unit, it is likely that you will have to pay this land charge. If this is not paid and work begins the council is legally able to come and shut down the site. Make sure it is calculated properly too. Your council should have a CIL calculator on their website. Your application should include a commitment that you will pay the CIL land charge somewhere on the form.
11) State in your application that you will pay any additional land charges (for example, in South Hampshire we have the Solent Regeneration Fund that pays for projects to protect the area). It shows commitment and saves time. A planning consultant or architect will be able to advise on this.
12) Conservation areas and listing – this is another article in itself. In short, even if your house is not listed but you live in a conservation area you will need planning permission for certain changes to your property. Working with a planning consultant or an excellent architect would be advantageous in this case, depending on the degree of the work to the property.
13) Tangentially linked to planning permission but no less important: a land law issue – check the title deeds of your land/property for any covenants that may impede your building work (or neighbours could find and use in an objection). The laws around covenants are complex and can depend on the wording in the deeds. Seek legal advice if you are unsure and allow for lawyers and surveyors fees in your costing.
In a nutshell, seeking planning permission can be daunting but be prepared and have the right people and knowledge available and it will make the journey less painful. There have been changes to make the planning process easier to navigate successfully but it really does depend on the context of the land/property. Every case will be different.
Planningportal.co.uk: Planning Permission and Building Regulations Approval