The battle for planning approval success

There are no short cuts to local authority planning approval, says Sam Dewar, director of planning experts DPA Planning, who believes that following best practice and close co-operation are the key to securing success in 2019

In the 12 months ending June 2018, district level planning authorities granted 374,200 decisions (down three per cent on the year ending June 2017); 48,800 decisions on residential developments, of which 6,400 were for major developments; and 42,400 were for minors (down by two and three per cent respectively on the year ending June 2017). More than 9,700 applications for commercial developments were also granted, down 11 per cent on the year ending June 2017.

Impressive numbers, undoubtedly. However, what they don’t show is the level of applications that failed, or never even made first base. Nor do they show the length of time applications have been stuck in the system. While there’s never any beauty in statistics, they also fail to reveal that steering planning approval through to a final decision can be a time-consuming, frustrating and expensive experience - and there’s never any guarantee of success.

Application submissions are almost back to the pre-recession 2007 levels yet planning department resource in local authorities remains at an all-time low. This leads to over worked planning officers struggling to look beyond the pile of applications on their desks in an ever-increasing impersonal planning service.  

This leads to ‘fire-fighting’ by planning officers, who are desperately trying to keep on top of their workload, rather than pursuing the pragmatic and cooperative approach that the private sector craves so much. This spiralling breakdown in relationships between the public and private sector ultimately leads to one thing – the inability to stimulate development and economic growth. Despite this, the government continues to increase their targets for growth and in particular housing figures across the country.

So, what can be done to avoid your plans becoming mired in delay, disappointment and disapproval, and ensure that they remain on track?

The government wants to see more ‘front loading’ with an emphasis on pre-application engagement with the council. So, don’t be afraid to start talking to your local authority sooner rather than later about your proposed project, and find out what you can effectively do to expedite matters. An early dialogue with your LPA can be crucial here if you want to save yourself some time and money in the long term. It can keep your plans on the right track from the onset and save you paying for revisions later.

Missionary work
We are seeing an increase in appeals because of a lack of two-way engagement between developers and councils. In turn, independent planners are taking on an increasingly ‘missionary’ role, working closely with councils as they attempt to cut through and overturn traditional ways of operating. They are more and more changing the approach of LPA officers, nurturing and encouraging them to work more ‘proactively’ with applicants to deliver sustainable solutions, which will benefit everyone involved in the planning process. 

We are also looking to encourage LPAs to more and more embrace the concept of working more closely with the private sector. This can manifest itself through bi-monthly meetings with regular agents and developers, or greater encouragement of free-flowing two-way dialogues. Progress is being made towards this, as local councils become ever more attractive places to submit planning applications, which ultimately drive economic development for us all.

When it comes to planning, patience is definitely a virtue. It can take months to get approval - and that’s if no alterations are needed. You may also face a long list of planning conditions if your project is successful. These are requirements you’ll need to fulfil before any construction work is completed. Again, best advice when it comes to building projects, is to expect the unexpected and be patient. With the right guidance and expertise by your side, the process can efficiently work itself out.

And what if you what to make major changes to your property? A successful planning application can often add value, but the path to success can be bumpy. Remember not all projects require planning permission and there are different kinds of permission depending on the project.

Independent expertise
If your planning application is rejected or has been approved with unfavourable conditions, contact your local planning authority. It may also be advantageous to consult an independent planning expert if you are mot already working with one. You may be able to submit an amended application – and this can often be done without extra council fees.

Take advantage of readily accessible tools such as the planning portal service to amend and resubmit your application. Alternatively, if you think the authority’s decision is unreasonable, you can submit a planning appeal.

The planning system manages built development and balances competing economic, environmental and social needs to reach decisions. Planning permission transforms the value of land and gives people the ability to create development opportunities. It can also be a long, painful and risky business, fraught with hassle and uncertainty — but the potential gain usually massively outweighs the pain for those who are prepared to be patient and follow best practice.

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