Collaborate & Communicate: Meaningful Engagement is Crucial

The planning system can feel adversarial and even like a bit of a lottery at times, with seemingly arbitrary decisions being made on some planning applications. However, there are key things you can do to improve your chances of securing planning permission for your scheme; meaningful engagement is crucial!

The outcome of the planning process depends on how effectively people work together: those who guide and control design; those who initiate and implement development; and the planners who manage the process and make the decisions.

For instance, do all parties communicate with each other? Do they negotiate to resolve potential conflicts? Do those preparing guidance documents understand the needs of developers and landowners? Do the public sector planners and officers understand the constraints of the market?

Effective collaboration can raise difficult issues at an early stage, which is vital if they are to be resolved and not delay or even derail a planning application. This is one of the reasons why pre-application advice is encouraged, although the significant problem is that not all pre-application responses are helpful or worth the fee developers often pay. Effective pre-application discussions can:

  • Verify what information is required to be submitted in support of an application (against the relevant local Validation Checklist);
  • Reduce the likelihood of submitting an invalid application;
  • Develop the understanding of how planning policies (national and local) and other requirements (Building Regulations) affect specific proposals;
  • Potentially improve the overall design of schemes and their chances for securing planning permission; and most importantly
  • Give you an understanding of any issues associated with the proposal so you can address them in your submission.

Successful collaboration is based on all parties engaging.  It is therefore important to question throughout the development process whether the most is being made of collaboration and public participation as means of resolving conflict to avoid unnecessary confrontation, polarised attitudes and delay.

Sadly, the long-standing view that the public and private sectors are pitted against each other in planning decisions frustrates the push towards a more collaborative and proactive approach across the development sector. Public and private sectors are both equally important in place-making, so it is important that the benefits of positive collaboration are more widely recognised.

Despite the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality of planning, good working relationships and open communication underpin effective collaboration; and is therefore vital to help secure planning permission. This is particularly important given the context of tightening local authority budgets and with officers under increasing pressure to deal with a rapidly rising number of applications. It’s important to recognise that those on the frontline are often facing an administrative battle that is difficult to win. In this situation everyone, including developers, suffers.

If you haven’t already, get to know your local planning officers! Building a positive relationship with them and understanding the pressure they are under will help move projects forward. If you’re not sure how to do this, have a look at our article Make an Ally of your Planning Officer.