How to Speed Up the Planning Process – Sally Arnold’s 5 Top Tips
Sally Arnold is an Associate at Planning Potential, a leading planning consultancy specialising in commercial and high end residential projects nationwide and a key collaborator in our new Fast Track service.
Her exceptional knowledge of Richmond, Kensington and Chelsea, Camden, Westminster and Merton planning policy has put her at the heart of many of our projects, so we asked her to share some of her planning advice with our readers.
The planning process can either be used to help realise your dream home or end up as a frustrating quagmire that your dream struggles to escape.
At Planning Potential, we have taken over projects that have been stuck in that planning process for months, or even years and managed to turn them around in a matter of weeks.
How can you make sure that your planning application is one that soars through to approval rather than one then never makes it off the ground? Here are my five top tips on how you can minimise both risk and delay in the planning process.
1: Perform a feasibility study
The first step to avoiding delays in the planning process is to decide which strategy would be best for your project. Which approach will be most efficient varies hugely from scheme to scheme, even between two that can appear quite similar.
For example, if your home is listed, requires significant construction works or if it is in any other way contentious, we will advise that you go through the pre-planning route to reduce the risk of an unsuccessful planning application.
But if your project only involves internal or minor external works, if we know there is a precedent for approvals in your area and it complies with planning policy, we may advise you skip pre-planning and go directly to submission of the application.
Determining the best strategy requires gathering as much information as we can about your site from the outset. This is called a feasibility study.
There are many factors to take into account. Here are just a few, and overlooking any of them could result in planning delays or failure:
• The nature of the works: whether they require demolition, excavation or large scale construction
• The design of your proposal: whether you head for a contemporary or traditional approach to development
• Protections on the building: local or national listed status, conservation area constraints or restrictive conditions/Article 4 Directions over your property
• Policy stipulations: what are the local planning authority policy requirements for your area and how could they make or break your scheme?
• Existence of previous applications: has a previous planning application been narrowly refused or turned down with little qualification? What can we learn from them?
• Attitude of the local planning department: we know different planning departments and can assess how they respond to various approaches
• Precedence of similar developments: if other houses on your street have an extension, there’s a greater chance that your application will receive approval if properly handled
2: Seek pre-application advice
I wouldn’t always advise the pre-application route but, on occasion, it can be the best route to obtaining an eventual planning permission, particularly for ambitious or potentially contentious projects.
Pre-applications can give you and your team an opportunity to sit down with planning officers to understand what will and what definitely will not be approved and, in essence, start the negotiations.
Whilst the pre-application process does increase the time spent on your application, it can help to reduce the risk of your proposal being refused and the cost and delays that such a refusal would cause.
Talking to planning officers is also an opportunity to build a relationship with them from the outset, perhaps allowing you to be more ambitious with your project than if they only knew you as a name on an application.
Making the most of the pre-application stage can also pave the way for a smooth eight weeks following submission of your application. Having high confidence that you will receive approval means that you can finalise your working drawings and arrange for contractors to commence works as soon as you gain approval – if there are no pre-commencement conditions of course!
3: Submit a ‘dummy run’ application
In some cases, it may be quicker to submit (what we at Planning Potential like to call) a ‘dummy run’ application as a means of gathering information rather than go through the pre-application process.
A dummy application is not submitted with the expectation that it will be approved (though it is a bonus if that happens) but as a means of gathering information on what will be permitted and gaining feedback from the planning department during the eight weeks it is being considered.
You can even submit multiple applications for different variations of your scheme or even individual aspects of it – such as one application for the front of the property and another for the rear – in order to spread risk.
The pre-application process can, depending on the planning authority and your proposals, take many weeks – even months (there are often no stipulated time limits). There may, nevertheless, be a significant cost involved. On occasions I’ve consulted on projects where the pre-application fees reached as much as £10,000+, though you’ll be thankful to hear that such heights are rare for private residential schemes!
However, planning departments are obligated to respond to all applications within 8 weeks and the application comes with a set fee. That level of predictability can be useful if you want to work within a set timeline.
If unsuccessful, you can withdraw your ‘dummy’ application, and use the feedback you gain during the process to help guide your future application all in a set time with a specified fee.
4: Front-load your application
Whether you go straight to applying for planning permission, submit a dummy run application or go through pre-planning, it is important to front-load your application with as much relevant support documentation as you can.
Part of this documentation will be mandatory ensuring conformance with local or national requirements – such as drawings, energy reports, flood risk assessments and so on – but others might only be requested after the application has been submitted or even after validation.
It is always better to be on the safe side when it comes to support documents. Including one or two that weren’t ultimately necessary is much better than discovering you missed some after the fact or have your application be saddled with numerous pre-commencement conditions.
The best case scenario is that you receive an application with minimal pre-commencement conditions or even none at all – as Planning Potential and DGA achieved with the Peek Crescent development.
5: Choose the right team
To front-load your application as we advise, you might need the help of several specialists. The more contentious your project or the more protections on your site, the more specialist advice you will need.
By way of example, an application for a private residential scheme might require advice from heritage consultants, flood risk assessors, tree consultants, ecologists, structural engineers, archaeologists – and so on.
If one of these specialists fails to perform it will have knock-on effects for the application, so it’s important that you assemble a team with a proven track record of communicating effectively and abiding by deadlines.
At Planning Potential, we have a list of favoured consultants who we know we can rely on at short notice. DGA have a list of their own, and some names are shared across both! Working with an experienced planning consultant or architect gives you access to their contacts and speeds up the team building process.
Working with quality planning consultants and architects will also accelerate the planning process as they will have built a reputation with planning departments who can be confident that the project will be carried out professionally and to a high standard.
The better the rapport between your team and the local authority planning officers, the more likely any minor issues with the application will be quickly resolved, rather than simply refused. Remember, planning departments are often short-staffed and have to prioritise.
Get in touch with Planning Potential to learn more
If you have any questions about the planning process and how we can help you smooth the planning process and your route to an approved application, please get in touch with me at [email protected] or 020 7357 8000.
To learn more about the work we do at Planning Potential, click here.