Everyone will of course have come across the need to ‘get planning permission’ for properties at some point, whether you’re looking to make changes or you’re needing to dig around and find out what already exists for a sale to go through. It can appear like an unachievable goal yet something that you’re at the beck and call of the local authority to provide.
It also has a habit of cropping up just where you don’t expect it. Not only for those big extensions, but the subtle change of uses, or smaller signage upgrades.
And when it does appear, what a daunting experience it can seem. With endless hours imagined speaking with planners, submitting plans, and then waiting to see whether it’s a yes or no.
It’s therefore important to get a broader-picture of what’s important - to save all the confusion, costs, and complications; without going into technical detail, a sort of quick overview of the main angles and factors to consider in order to cut to the planning chase.
So here are 11 of the main points; not completely exhaustive, but enough to help take stock of the planning process.
1. Prescribed Timescales
The clock is often ticking with planning which you need to determine and fit around your plans.
The obvious timescales are how long it will take for an answer to an application, or how long any planning permission will last, but don’t forget as well all the other times involved around this. Preparation takes time, and delays can kill construction projects, so have a reality check on all things as soon as possible.
2. Consultations and Reports
Oh the joy of paperwork and correspondence, which unfortunately the planning system is full of.
Whether an initial application, ancillary reports and plans, or after-notices issued to neighbouring interests, you need to not only get to grip with these but make sure you get this all correct.
Frustratingly, all it takes is just one piece of information missing, or one detail omitted, or even one factor described incorrectly. The golden rule is therefore to have it all checked by someone who does know the planning game and can easily spot these.
3. Planning Officers
They’re the gate-keepers - so to speak - of the planning system, and although a full committee may make eventual decisions, they’re the ones with an important influence.
It’s therefore often worth a separate informal conversation or even meeting with them in a genuine attempt to try and get this right and fair. This will help everyone save time and effort and enable applying for just the right changes that will be accepted.
4. Costs and Charges
These can soon rack-up, so watch out.
Not only initial planning fees, but all the additional ones behind the scenes such as consultants, special plans and reports, and even stationery costs for high-quality and chunky documentation.
5. Planning Parameters
Having a handle on what needs planning permission is critical. In addition to knowing what you do need to apply for, you’ll also need to know what you don’t have to apply for – e.g. a General Development Order (GDO) automatically allowing certain things like a small house extension without even needing a planning application.
You may also see the nature of the permission changing, for example just basic outline or more in-depth full permission.
Planning permission may also include those more ambiguous property issues, for example how the property is used through Use Classes, or additions such as external air conditioning and illuminated signage.
6. Planning Conditions
These can be deemed as the downside to getting planning permission, and any limitations and conditions that the local authority place on the permission. So for example a certain new takeaway’s opening may only be allowed to 11 pm each evening, or construction of a building having certain sized windows.
A key here is to have a dialogue with the planners before the final granting of permission to begin addressing what’s needed, and then of course when they are issued making sure you comply with them.
7. Appeals and Disputes
Things will unfortunately get difficult at some point, as you’re trying to marry-up what a property wants from their perspective with the wider good of the area. Add onto that a lot of red-tape in the planning system, and issues do easily arise.
Being proactive then, try and liaise with people early on and iron-out any questions and deter problems.
Being reactive, when you do get problems and even a refusal of planning permission, look at options like a planning appeal, but within the context of the true costs and delays in going down this line. And other options thinking out of the box, may be even a whole new planning application instead.
8. Enforcement Action
There is an ability for the Local Authority to begin enforcement action where they believe there is a breach of planning controls by a property interest.
A classic example is someone beginning works without the correct permission, for the local authority to then set in and determine that this must stop. This could be due to both accidently not obtaining planning permission, and the more conscious decision to not apply for everything and wing it.
Check what the bottom line is; whether a definite take-it-down approach is being taken, or the planners are open to agree a retrospective application.
Time scales are also important, and seeing who is ultimately to blame and will therefore pay the cost for the hiccups.
9. Other Applications
Remember that there will be lots of other nearby property owners and occupiers who should have planning permission for their works and changes, a lot now available online through the local authority’s website.
This is helpful to gauge what construction tends to get the okay, and keeping an eye on other nearby ones where you may wish to provide feedback both supportive and critical.
10. Added Value
The local authority may well be involved with all other kinds of issues with a property, not just bread-and-butter planning permission, therefore make sure you don’t get confused with these and what role they all play.
Planning-related ones, but still separate to main planning permission, include listed building consent, conservation area agreement, lawful development certificates, and even unique issues like town and village greens.
Other more general property ones include business rates and council tax, HMO licences, and good old building regulations.
11. Planning Consultants
A final thought is to bring in a specialist to help save the day. Because the world of planning is so often less familiar even to property professionals, then it’s often worth seriously considering this to help jog things along.
However you have to watch the role and costs involved with this, even just one-off advice and steer on things while you do the donkey work yourself.
These can help save the day when it comes to any planning problems, whether reacting to enforcement action or submitting the best application for highest success.
Just make sure they know their stuff, and you’re clear on what role you need them to play. So even within a tight budget, you may be able to complete a lot of preparation and plans yourself and simply need a good set of eyes to go over things or advise. Because they will know how the planning game works, even re-wording things to help tick the planning boxes can help hugely.
Don’t Get in a Planning Pickle
When it comes to planning permission with properties, whether a proactive application or reactive dispute, make sure you take a step back and look at all the options. You can then begin seeing not only what the next stage is, but how this all fits together to accomplish an overall objective.
Although this is particularly important for property owners who often benefit most, it will also affect tenants and occupiers who may need this to effectively use the property a certain way with a specific fit-out, not to mention other third-party interests and advisors like property managers and solicitors who often get involved in these issues.
So take stock of these 11 important planning pointers, and get ahead of the planning game.
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