Category Archives: Publications

Make an Ally of your Planning Officer

As Planning Departments struggle with under resourcing and heavy case loads how do you make the Planning Officer your ally? Chris Pipe, Director of Planning House discussed this in this month’s Northern Insight Magazine .

Once you submit an application a planning professional (known as your case officer) is allocated, they seek comment from consultees and neighbours, carry out a site visit and ultimately make the recommendation on your proposal.

There can be numerous people commenting on your application, however it’s up to the case officer to decide whether any issues raised are so significant as to influence their decision.

Planners inevitably have to make subjective judgements about your proposal therefore working with your case officer can improve your chances of having it approved. I have said previously that some planners are worth their weight in gold and if they have an issue with the proposal but are in your corner hopefully they’ll work with you to find a solution.

Under Pressure
Your Local Planning Authority is likely to be under resources which can often mean that your case officer will deal with a heavy work load, which along with the pressure of hitting an eight-week deadline for most applications means their time is limited. Don’t presume you’ll be able to get hold of your case officer quickly if you ring or email or that they will be up to speed with your scheme until well into the application process. Your application will be uploaded onto the Councils website so in the first few weeks defer to this for any responses. If anything needs addressing, contact your case officer to discuss their view of the comments.

After three weeks I advise contacting your case officer to ensure they have all the information they need, or to see if they’d like to arrange a site visit. However, be mindful that site visits are often done without arrangement, therefore don’t be surprised if the officer declines to meet you.

Be aware some officers are helpful and informative, others evasive. Ultimately your case officer is there to process your application and is under no obligation to discuss your proposal with you, meet you on site or to keep you informed of every step in your application.

Communication is key to establishing rapport but this is not done by harassing your case officer, think and act strategically.

Planning Politics
Local councillors can be helpful if things aren’t going well with the planning officer. Some are willing to give a ‘push’ to officers to speed up decisions or communicate with applicants, others will not. However, be aware that this could destroy any rapport you have established with the planner and is therefore a risky strategy.

When your case officer is opposed to your proposal, on occasion councillors can call an application to committee for decision, however this procedure varies from council to council.

The Decision
Recommendations are made by the planning officer through a report which brings together any comments received, assesses the proposal against the development plan policies for the area and any other material planning consideration. These reports are generally signed off via a scheme of delegation. Some applications go to planning committee, where Councillors make the decision, whilst informed by the officer’s report they don’t necessarily have to follow the recommendation.

Ideally you should aim for a positive recommendation from your case officer, however if they don’t agree with your proposal don’t be agitated or as I’ve heard many times remind the officer that you pay their wages. If relationships do break down or there is an impasse consider instructing a planning consultant to help you. Planning Officers are professionals; however, this doesn’t mean their recommendations are always correct.

My ultimate advice make an ally of your planner don’t treat them like a barrier as if their response to your scheme is marginal, developing a rapport with the case officer can potentially increase your chances of securing approval.

Planning Officer communication is key
Don’t pester the planning officer – adapt your strategy for securing planning permission

The Housing Crisis

This month’s Northern Insight Magazine has an article on the hot topic of the Housing Crisis, by Chris Pipe, Director of Planning House.

Anyone who follows the news should be aware that the UK is in the midst of a housing crisis. With political debates, media coverage and declarations from the Prime Minister that more homes need to be built, its little wonder that there is so much disagreement as to the potential ‘fix’.

But what does this mean for the planning profession, well aside from being blamed as one of the causes for the housing shortage through an overburdened bureaucratic process, changes are currently being consulted on in terms of national policy (the National Planning Policy Framework).

Planners had the radical and much needed change to national policy in 2012 when 1,000 pages of planning policy were consolidated into a single document. This ‘update’ of national policy comes after much litigation on interpretation and wrangling on whether the document goes far enough to effectively tackle the inequalities in housing.

The question on everyone’s lips: Is the proposed national policy change going to boost the supply of housing? I sincerely hope so, however, I can’t help looking at the proposed planning consultation and think that this just scratches the surface, we know the housing market is failing to keep pace with supply and demand, but I am doubtful that the changes in policy will be enough.

Whilst changes to planning policy wording are being picked over and debated by both Local Authority Planners and Private Practice Planners alike its importance to remember that planning first and foremost is about ‘people and places’ and whilst there are different planning roles and sectors the housing crisis isn’t just about changing wording it’s about action.

Whilst the proposed policy changes are a step in the right direction more needs to be done to assist the planning process, such as ensuring Local Planning Authorities have enough resources to efficiently and effectively deal with applications and by speeding up the decision making process, which also applies to the Planning Inspectorate in dealing with planning appeals. Reducing the red tape and properly resourcing to ensure we have a system which doesn’t put overly prescriptive barriers to development will assist in being proactive rather than reactive.

Inevitably the need to boost housing will not be welcomed by all, however the message is clear Britain needs to build more homes.

Planing for people and places
The Housing Crisis needs action not just words

The Hidden Costs of Planning

Planning House have prepared an article for the Northern Insight Magazine on the Hidden Costs of Planning.

Long gone are the days when securing planning permission involved no more than completing a form, providing plans, and paying an application fee. Applicants need to budget for potential additional charges such as pre-application charges, developer contributions, legal fees as well as the costs associated with the raft of supporting information some applications attract and discharging planning conditions.

Pre-application advice
Fees are charged by some Councils in return for informal advice prior to the submission of an application. The costs vary and are set generally on a sliding scale by the individual Council. Benefits of the pre-application process is confirming what supporting information is expected with the application, speeding up the application process and if contributions may be required.

Planning application fees
Application fees are set nationally on a sliding scale basis depending on your proposal and type of planning application.

Planning Conditions
Discharging planning conditions do need to be included in budgeting, these costs are often forgotten by developers. Not only is there a fee to pay the Council to consider information relating to conditions but there are generally costs associated with providing the information such as further studies/ information which may be required or costs associated with additional works which must be carried out, such as offsite highway works.

Developer contributions/obligations
Council contributions vary and are covered in policies in the Local Plan or supplementary planning documents. The aim of developer contributions is to balance any extra pressure created by new development with improvements to ensure that the new development makes a positive contribution to the local area and community. Contributions can be amount to large payments so check what is required and what they will contribute towards. Be aware that these can be negotiable if your development would be unviable if you are required to pay them, so do your sums.

Routes to secure developer contributions/obligations is via a legal agreement (known as s106 agreement or unilateral undertaking). Not only will you have to pay your solicitor, but you’ll be expected to pay the council’s solicitor as well. These agreements can take a few weeks or months to complete. Once the agreement is signed, your planning permission is issued, the payment or other obligation may be trigged upon signing the agreement, by the commencement of the works or some other point in the development.

Reducing costs
Is there a way to minimise the payment? This depends as contributions must be necessary, directly, fairly and reasonably related to the proposed development. Methods of calculating contributions are based on the type of development, number of units or floorspace created. Don’t be afraid to ask for the reasoning and policy basis for any potential contribution.

If you think the requested payments/obligations are too much or unreasonable, there is a right of appeal either when the application is refused or against non-determination. A Planning Inspector then decides if you should be allowed to build without making any payment. However, there are time and cost implications of going to appeal, not to mention the risk that the appeal is dismissed.

Community Infrastructure Levy
Councils can secure payments via the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), this levy once adopted by a Council is non-negotiable and is published on a Council’s website. CIL is based on local infrastructure needs of an area. Some developments may be eligible for relief or exemption from CIL, so check if your development could fall into the criteria.

More money needed to secure planning permission
The additional burden falls on the applicant

8 steps to choosing a Town Planning Consultant

Planning House have prepared an article for Northern Insights Magazine on 8 steps to finding your perfect town planning consultant.

If you’re planning a development, choosing the right professionals needs careful thought. An architect will design to your specification, however progressing this through the red tape of the planning process without a town planning consultant onboard can be risky. To help you narrow down your selection I’ve prepared 8 steps to finding your perfect consultant.

1 ARE THEY A REGISTERED TOWN PLANNER?
As with any profession which provides a service, you will want to make sure your town planning consultant is accredited and insured. A Charter Town Planning Consultant is a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute, fully trained and professionally qualified. All members of the RTPI are bound by a Code of Professional Conduct setting out required standards of practice and ethics. The Institute requires planning professionals to meet and maintain high standards of competence and conduct themselves in a way that inspires trust and confidence in the profession. A chartered town planner will usually have MRTPI after their name to identify that they are accredited.

2 DO THEY HAVE EXPERIENCE?
There are many areas of planning so just because someone is a town planner doesn’t mean they have been involved in handling planning applications. It’s not essential that a consultant has experience in public sector planning, however, if they have experience dealing with planning applications by working in a Local Planning Authority they can have an edge in providing advice to developers on what the best approach maybe for a particular scheme.

3 WHAT IS THEIR SPECIALISM?
Everyone has an area of expertise, a town planner who works predominantly in waste and minerals isn’t necessarily going to bring the right set of skills to support a self builder through the planning process. Whilst town planning isn’t rocket science each consultant can have knowledge and experience in different development areas.

4 WHAT DO OTHERS SAY ABOUT THEM?
Most planning consultants have a website, do they have references or testimonials to support their work. Do they advertise elsewhere for instance Yell or Google are there reviews you could consider? Do your homework.

5 ARE YOU ON THE SAME PAGE?
When you talk to your consultant are they interested in the proposal? Do they think what you are trying to achieve is reasonable? Talk about timescales but be aware once a planning application is submitted it is generally out of your planning consultants hands.

6 ARE THEY PERSONALLY SUITABLE?
Do you feel comfortable with them? At the end of the day they are acting on your behalf trying to secure your planning consent. Do they know what your aspirations are and what (if anything) you would compromise on? Be honest about what you’re looking for and ask them for their honest opinion about your chances of success, but don’t discount them if they don’t think your proposal is 100% guaranteed – be more worried if they think it is!

7 DO THEY HAVE LOCAL KNOWLEDGE?
I don’t mean do they live in the area, rather do they have experience in the local area, have they been involved in other projects? If they have they may provide more realistic advice about your project, local planning policies and what the best approach may be to take your proposal forward.

8 HAVE YOU COMPARED QUOTES?
Everyone loves a bargain; however, every town planner will have their own fee structure, it’s really no different to EasyJet and Virgin airlines, both services will get you there but you need to weigh up what’s important to you. Do you opt for a no frills service or go for a more personal bespoke service – neither are incorrect. My advice compare your quotes taking into account all of the other steps and I’m sure you’ll find your ideal town planning consultant.

 

Planning bureaucracy and how to avoid it
Planning can be bureaucratic

The Demise of the Public House

This month’s Northern Insight magazine contains an article by Chris Pipe, Director, Planning House which explores the demise of the public house.

With the party season behind us and needleless trees propped against overflowing bottle recycling bins, when thoughts turn to the age-old New Year’s resolution of being a healthier you, spare a thought for your local pub and the impact of Dry January.

There is no denying that pubs can play an important role at the heart of local communities. In many cases, they have historically provided social hubs amongst rural communities, and make a positive contribution to townscape and local identity. However, they can also be neglected by the same communities.

We’ve all noticed the closure of pubs in our local areas and there is lots of opinions as to WHY! Many believe it’s due to developer pressures, land values or the need for housing. However, the reasons for pub closures vary and my view is it’s generally down to other factors such as; the decrease in disposable income due to the recession, the smoking ban, costs of alcohol for example tax on alcohol which has consistently increased over the last 20 years, landlord ties to breweries and the availability of cheap supermarket alcohol for consumption at home.

I also believe there has also been a change in drinking culture with more people choosing to stay at home and the younger generation choosing to go out later heading straight to clubs rather than the traditional pub. However most importantly all these reasons lead to decreased patronage – which is the ultimate pub killer!

“How does this relate to Town Planning”, I hear you muse….
In 2011 the government introduced through the Localism Act a right for ‘groups’ to nominate land or buildings as Assets of Community Value, the most nominated buildings were understandably pubs and the consequence of the designation is that they cannot be disposed of without first being offered to the ‘group’ who nominated the building as an asset.

This was then strengthened in 2015 when permitted development rights for pubs which were designated as assets of community value were removed for 5 years, ensuring a further degree of protection for drinking establishments.

More recent changes to permitted development rights in 2017 have imposed restrictions to ensure changes aren’t made without planning consent to pubs even if they aren’t designated as assets of community value in the hope that public houses are not demolished or turned into another use such as a shop, generic high street unit, restaurant or café. This doesn’t stop development or closure of pubs, it requires a planning application to be embarked upon and approved to allow these changes of use and the status of a pub has in effect become a more desirable asset to save in the eyes of the government.

In my experience there have been many planning applications refused on the basis that a public house is an asset of community value (or perceived to be), and therefore should be retained and protected. Which I agree with – ONLY IF – the pub is a social anchor for a local community.

However, amongst these refused applications and in many cases subsequent appeals numerous pubs have been closed for a number of years; 10 years in one case without community concern until an application was submitted to change its use; the culprit for closures being lack of patronage.

In planning the term ‘Use it or Lose it’ is commonly associated with developers and perceived land banking however in my humble opinion the same should go for local pubs, so why not be a patron of the pub by using it as a social hub which in turn endorses that it is actually an asset for the community, and have a Merry Wet January.

The article can be read HERE.

alternative uses for pubs
Demise of the Public House

Everyone is a Nimby!

Chris Pipe, Director of Planning House offers her top 10 tips for avoiding the title of NIMBY when commenting on a development proposal in the October edition of the Northern Insight Magazine.  If you’re in doubt of what Material Planning Considerations are please also read our download.

Everyone is a NIMBY’ bold title to start an article with but it’s true… we need waste recycling centres and sewerage treatment plants but we don’t want them built next to OUR home. The label of NYMBY conjures up derogatory connotations which isn’t always the case.

So, what is a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard), well, to a developer they’re generally perceived as a pain in the proverbial but essentially they can be anyone who is strongly against a development. Often a so-called NIMBY has genuine issues and questions about potential impacts of a development. The term NIMBY comes with an inbuilt sense of contempt. People are sometimes viewed as selfishly putting their own interests ahead of the wider benefits a development could have. So how do people with genuine concerns put this across to developers and the people who make the decisions without gaining the label NIMBY? Here are my top 10 tips:

1 Be informed, don’t take the word of a neighbour or friend find out about a development yourself view plans at your local Council offices or online, and think carefully about how it affects you;

2 Know what planning policies relate to the land/buildings/area there is little point objecting to a housing development on a site which is allocated for housing, you need to be aware of your local and national policies;

3 Be aware of timescales, Council’s generally give 21 days to comment on an application, make sure any comments you have are submitted within the timescale;

4 Avoid knee-jerk responses which are irrelevant, know what material planning considerations are as Councils only take these into account. Thoughtful, well considered objections are much more likely to be affective, if you’re in doubt my website has a summary of What are material planning considerations?;

5 Avoid using a standard letter or relying on a petition, these hold limited weight. A letter/email citing your own reasons will carry more weight in the consideration of an application;

6 Don’t get personal, angry or blame the Planning Officer for the application, they didn’t submit it however it’s their duty to determine the application;

7 – Talk to the Planning Officer, ask them what their view is on the proposal, you can gain a lot by having an open and honest conversation;

8 Gather support, speak to your neighbours, lobby your local Councillor and in some controversial cases your MP for support, don’t expect Councillors to stop the process but they can voice constituent’s concerns in a political arena but this sometimes doesn’t mean a development does not go ahead;

9 Know the process, is the decision going to be taken by the Planning Officer (delegated) or by the Planning Committee? You have an opportunity to speak to a Councillor to ‘call in’ a planning application to the Planning Committee, however the rules and procedures vary by Council so know your local process and how you can be involved in any Committee.

10 Know when to stop, the ultimate decision is not going to please everybody. Councils have a responsibility to listen to objector perspectives, understand them, and weigh up a scheme using their planning judgement it’s not personal, its planning! If a scheme is allowed only a Judicial Review can quash a decision and if refused a planning appeal may be progressed so be prepared it may not be over.

How to avoid becoming a NIMBY
Not In My Back Yard (NIYMBY)

Planning myths

Some of the common town planning myths are dispelled in the September issue of Northern Insight by Chris Pipe, Director of Planning House.  This is a must read for anyone embarking on a development project, especially those who may not have been through the planning process previously.

There are some common myths about town planning which you should be aware of before you embark on a project, in this article I want to dispel a few of them.

‘Apply for something bigger than you want to build then you can compromise with the planners to the actual size you want’   What a load of rubbish! Apply for what you want and save time and resources with unnecessary negotiations, if a planner has a scheme they can support they will planners don’t tend to disagree out of obstinance.

‘My plans are similar to down the street, so it’s guaranteed to be approved’   Every planning decision is based on specific circumstances. Policies evolve and significantly influence a planning decision. The creation of a conservation area or where a development boundary line is drawn on a local plan can all fundamentally change the way a proposal is viewed. Planning history and constraints of a site also play a huge part in the process. Whilst precedent can be a contributing factor the planning mantra is ‘every application will be determined on its own merits’.

‘Pre-Application advice has been positive so my application will be approved’  Planning decisions are based on adopted policies, however, don’t underestimate local objections and politics.  If nearby residents object against your application and contact the parish or local councillors you could also end up with objections from them.  Some Councillors sit on the planning committee and can override the planning officer’s recommendations. Speak with neighbours and local representatives in a bid to avoid objections and potential appeal.

‘Planner Officers will guide me to an approval’  A planning officer’s role is to process your application. Some planners are worth their weight in gold and talk to applicants about issues and guide in overcoming them. However, planners have set timeframes to decide an application, they are often under resourced and as a consequence can take the easier route of refusing an application rather than discussing any issues. Contacting your planner to ascertain their view on your application can avoid unnecessary refusal.

‘I’ll get my decision in a couple of months’   Let’s assume your planning application is valid when its submitted, i.e. all relevant information is submitted. Only once its valid does the decision making clock start to tick.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if an application is valid no further information could be requested, something could crop up which means you may need to provide further information, potentially meaning further time is needed. Planning applications have timescales for determination and Council’s try to adhere to these, however extensions of time can be requested by the planners you don’t have to agree to them, but unless you appeal against non-determination the Council can take longer to decide your application, especially if the application goes to the Planning Committee for determination.

‘Once I have permission I can start to build’ Sometimes this is the case but generally there are conditions attached to a planning approval which must be discharged, for instance agreeing a brick or tile for your development or providing information relating to boundaries etc. Check your conditions, as discharging conditions can take a number of weeks which you need to plan into your build schedule.  Also, don’t forget about Building Regulations Consent which is a completely separate process to planning.

‘I can change my plans as I go’  We’ve all seen TV programmes that encourage alterations however be aware that technically, if a proposal is not built in accordance with the approved plans or conditions it doesn’t have planning permission! Changes can be risky and could have fundamental consequences such as enforcement action, demolition, finances being withdrawn by your mortgage company, or an unsellable asset. Always check that changes don’t invalidate your planning permission.

Common Town Planning Myths
Top Tips on Common Myths of Planning

Planning A Self-Build?

In July’s edition of Northern Insight magazine, Chris Pipe talks about the first steps of planning a self build and finding suitable land.  With the Government encouraging housing growth there’s no better time to plan your own ‘Grand Design’ project (large or small).

Most of us have watched Grand Designs and thought ‘I could do that’ but in reality, the UK is well behind Europe in terms of actually building or commissioning our own homes.

The onslaught of planning bureaucracy often associated with the show can make people wary about building their dream home – not to mention the rare occurrence when a Grand Design actually stays in budget!

The planning system is more receptive to self-build housing projects than Grand Designs may portray particularly with emphasis firmly from the Government on housing growth and choice.

The Government specifically promotes self-builds through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which places a duty on Local Planning Authorities to plan for a mix of housing, including people wishing to build their own home and through the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 placing a requirement on each relevant authority to keep a register of people who are seeking to buy serviced plots of land in the authority’s area in order to build houses.

Assuming you have the finance and drive to build your own home, the first hurdle you face is finding suitable land. There are a few common ways to source a site:

Internet search – there are a few land search websites available, you may need to subscribe;
Local authority register – contact the local authority to register interest in building your own home, they should hold a record of available land;
Land or Estate agents – some sites may not be openly marketed therefore it is advisable to contact agents to make them aware you’re looking for a site;
Local knowledge – you may know of land which may be acquired.

Deciding if or when to bring professionals onboard is your choice. Some people navigate through the planning process successfully, however often the cost of a planning consultant can save you time, potentially money and in some instances can secure you a permission which you may not have been able to achieve. Even a small planning project can be complex, Planning House are here to help.

The services that Planning House provide are always tailored to the client. Some clients want to go head first into submitting a planning application and some are more cautious and want comfort from the local planning authority through pre-application discussions that ‘in principle’ their development will be supported – which I would in general advocate, however each case is different.

Should you decide to progress with a planning application without professional help make sure you have all relevant plans, application, fee and supporting documents for your proposal (i.e. Design & Access Statement, Flood Risk Assessment, Contamination Risk Report, Bat Survey etc) not all applications need technical documents but be aware some do.

It’s also a good idea to speak to neighbours before you submit an application to make them aware of the proposal and pacify any concerns they may have. One piece of advice I would give is don’t take it personally if objections are lodged to your application everyone’s home is their castle.

No better time to build
Do you want to build your own Grand Design?

 

 

How to Maximise Land Value

The May edition of Northern Insight contains an article written by Chris Pipe, Planning House

Unless you’re au fait with the planning system and land markets you should seek professional help in maximising land value. I wouldn’t re-wire my house, or carry out medical procedures that’s what experts are for! However, I am fortunate to have worked in both planning and land and appreciate the expertise required for the creation and maximising of value through the planning and land process.

In the first instance, I would recommend a development appraisal for the site which is a good way to ascertain development potential, these appraisals generally consider the planning policy position, local circumstances, planning history and recommend a clear planning strategy to achieve the sites planning potential.

Whilst Planning House can advise on a site’s planning potential through a development appraisal engaging with the relevant local planning authority is a good way of gauging the informal views on your proposal, you do not need to have detailed plans drawn up at this stage. There are many benefits of seeking pre-application advice as well as potentially saving you money in abortive professional fees if development is not feasible. These discussions can flush out any site specific issues and potentially speed up the decision making process. However, be aware local authorities sometimes charge for these discussions.

I would recommend that anyone who wants to maximise land value to speak to a land agent, who are different to estate agents as they specialise in sourcing and disposing of land taking into account build costs and constraints of the site, they can advise initially on existing values and offer guidance in terms of potential values should planning permission be secured. However, a site with development potential will only realise its value once planning permission has been secured. A site marketed as ‘development potential’ will not achieve its true value as this is speculatively based on ‘hope value’.

Some people assume that if a site has development potential its existing value can be inflated without securing planning permission, which is why one of the issues faced by land agents is vendor expectation. Whilst land is an asset the value of it must be offset by the costs of the development itself this will ultimately affect land value, for a development to be realistic it must be viable.

The cost, timescale and resources needed for a planning application depend on the site and proposal. In some cases, it may not be prudent to secure planning consent yourself when weighed against the cost of the planning process, timescales and particulars of your site, however this is very much dependant on the existing and potential difference in value, scale of the site and personal circumstance. Land agents can explore options with you such as land assembly, overage clauses, promotional and option agreements. They will also take into account any covenants, existing tenant or access issues the site may have.

In a nutshell planning permission generally increases land value when there is potential for a viable development, however realising the value must be weighed against the investment needed and timescale to achieve it. If you have a potential development site and are looking to maximise land value contact Planning House to discuss how we can help.

Planing permisson increases land value
Top Tips for maximising Land Value