Planning applications can be a real nightmare, but if they are handled right from the beginning, a great deal of wasted time and nerves can be taken out of the process.
Our planning solicitors have acted for both planning applicants and occasionally as advisors for local government. This means that we understand the process from both sides. We can submit an application for our client on any straightforward matter.
For other larger or more complicated projects, we can work with a planning consultant. This is often a good idea if there is a risk that the application may have to be taken to planning appeal.
We can guide both planning consultants and clients through the complexities of planning policy so that your application can showcase the planning gain that will result from your application.
We have included a basic guide to some of the issues involved in a planning application. It is by no means comprehensive, but should assist you in understanding what type of issues an experienced lawyer will raise.
What issues are a planning authority concerned about?
Before a planning application is submitted a lot of thought should go into considering which issues the planning authority will be concerned about when it determines the application. These important issues are usually called ‘material planning considerations’.
They may include local planning policies, planning case law, residential amenity and highway issues or even environmental issues. When a planning authority decides on your application, it will be attempting to manage a balancing exercise between these issues, and will assess whether the benefits outweigh any harm.
Tackling the difficult considerations head on
Generally, there is no point running away from the difficult issues. A planning application that tackles the difficult considerations head on is more likely to succeed than a matter of fact application. Our approach is to assist the planning authority in making the right decision for the client by making them aware of the positive nature of the application and how these support local and national planning policies.
We also show (using evidence when possible) why the potential harm of the development or change of use does not outweigh the benefit and also demonstrate how the planning harm can be mitigated. We consistently find that this open approach to planning applications is much more effective, and leads to a higher chance of success with a planning application.
Co-operating with planning officers
Wherever possible, working in cooperation rather than against planning officers can also be the difference between a successful application and one that fails. Planning officers are usually pretty open to discussing an application through and will make us aware of any concerns that they may have. This is normally a good starting point with regard to any application. If, for example, a planning officer raises concerns regarding highway issues you may want to consider a highway report which analyses possible highway impact.
A planning application that provides clear evidence showing why the purported problem does not exist (or how it can be alleviated) will succeed over one that only deals with the benefits. Planning officers deal with people trying to sell them the positives. However we find that they are often actually grateful for a well informed and balanced approach to the planning considerations, as it ultimately makes their job easier.
But what about the benefits?
That said, major thought should be given to the planning benefit. If you are building a house, for example, research should be undertaken on what local house building targets are. If you are changing a use, thought should be given on how the use would complement the local area and how it would benefit the street scene and local amenity.
How does the planning process work?
The first step with any planning application is collecting evidence in support of your application. Once a client instructs us, we start the process by having an initial consultation to determine what the client wants to achieve with the planning application. At this stage we will advise whether a planning application is appropriate.
There is no point in paying lawyers significant fees if an assessment has not been made at the outset of chances of success. We look at whether the proposed use is already a permitted development or whether a planning application is even necessary.
A permitted development means that certain operation or changes of uses already have consent by way of government legislation so a client does not need to submit an individual application. An example of this might be if someone wanted to extend his or her house. Depending on the nature of the house and the size of the extension the client may not need an application.
Another example could be if a person or business wanted a change of use from a restaurant to a retail shop. This can be done without planning permission because it is a permitted development.
Once we are sure that the client does need a planning application, we provide a clear list of what is needed before we can submit the application. For example, if someone is building a house he or she will need detailed plans from an architect or perhaps a drainage report from an expert, or other reports depending on the type of property or development.
We point the client in the right direction and work with the relevant experts to ensure that the reports or plans that are prepared are as useful as possible to the application.
Engaging with the planning authority
At this stage we also liaise with the planning authority and begin an initial consultation. Getting a planning officer involved in an application in the first instance is more than just a good idea. It is essential. In most cases a planning officer will be able to give you an initial indication on how the planning authority will deal with your application.
They may also raise issues that need to be addressed in an application so we can then prepare appropriate evidence that would address their concerns.
Local Planning Policy
Once we have completed the initial consultation with the client, the planning authority and any experts, we proceed to investigate the policy that is likely to determine the application. This usually includes local policy as well as national policy. We look at the appropriate policies and then we tailor the application to these policies and ensure that the application fits the local criteria.
We then also investigate how these applications have been dealt with previously by that particular planning authority as there is a requirement for planning authorities to determine similar cases in a consistent manner.
Fees and Supporting Documentation
Once we have fully prepared the application we will then proceed to submit it with all the relevant supporting information for the planning authority to be able to evaluate the application. There is normally a fee involved that needs to be paid to the planning authority to submit the application.
The fee is determined by what type of application it is and the size of the property. A planning authority may then send a request for further supporting documents if they need further information.
How long does it take?
The application process itself usually takes up to eight weeks, unless it is unusually large or complex, in which case the application will usually be assessed within three months. In the unusual case that the planning authority fails to determine within that period there is an option to appeal directly to the Planning Inspectorate for them to determine your application.
If the application is particularly complex the application may be sent to a planning committee so that it is determined directly by local councillors. At this point it may be necessary to make further submissions or statements to support your application, and it may also be a good idea to attend the committee and speak to the committee in person about why the application should be granted.
Planning applications expire after a certain period which is usually three years and any work required must commence before the expiry date. The permission may also include conditions that need to be complied for the planning permission to be valid. Legal advice is highly advisable on the implication of these conditions.
A section 106 agreement
If the local authority feels it is necessary, they may also require a planning obligation (otherwise known as a section 106 agreement). This is a private agreement between the person applying for permission and the planning authority to make acceptable development.
A specialist lawyer’s help with negotiating the Section 106 agreement with the planning authority can save serious and expensive problems later down the line.