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What’s your view on pre-application planning advice?

planning pre-applications

Have you previously taken some pre-planning application advice before submitting a planning proposal to the local planning authorities?  Did you feel you benefitted from the discussions with the planning officer? 

Your views on the topic of pre-planning applications will also evolve as you hear of stories, good and bad, from others based on their experiences.  So, how do you choose on each project whether to go straight to a formal planning application or to have pre-application discussions as part of the planning process. 

Alternatively, perhaps you are new to the planning process and are about to submit an application for the first time.  You might be considering if it would be worthwhile to get some planning advice before you submit your formal planning application. 

To do or not to do? – that is the question.  So, to help you decide let’s explore the Pros and Cons! 

What is pre-application advice?  

Just before we do this though, what is pre-application advice?  It is an advice service offered by the local planning authorities to enable you to have some exploratory discussions with a local planning officer.  It enables you to gain a view on whether the scheme you are proposing is likely to be granted planning permission when you submit a formal planning application. 

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Although it is not a requirement to engage with this advice service, it does offer the opportunity to understand how various local development policies might be applied to your proposed development designs.  Often informal meetings can lead to a better understanding of the views on both sides and it is a chance to identify any issues before it is formally submitted, thereby making it more likely to succeed. 

It is a good way to dip a ‘toe in the water’ before diving in, but it is to be remembered that any advice given at a pre planning application consultation is not legally binding.  Planning officers can change their mind afterwards perhaps as a result of feedback they receive from other interested parties such as local residents, the highways authority, or others. 

The benefits 

There are advantages to both participants: Developers and Local Planning Authorities. 

Developer’s viewpoint 

  • Get to know and involve the Planning Officer 
  • Demonstrate a commitment to undertake the development 
  • Discuss ways to deal with design issues and the impact of the scheme  
  • Opportunity to look for solutions rather restrictions 
  • Find acceptable compromises for the developer and planning officer 
  • Chances to make changes to the scheme prior to planning application 
  • Obtain an early indication of more specialist advice and reporting needed 
  • Confirm financial contributions (S106) at an early stage 
  • Avoid delays at the application stage by knowledge of further documentation required 
  • Confidence that the scheme is meeting local requirements and has general support 
  • Planning departments can be appreciative of an applicant talking to them in the pre application advice process as it demonstrates a willingness to consult 

Local planning authority’s viewpoint 

  • Get to know a developer 
  • Look at the impact of proposed schemes prior to formal planning application  
  • Find acceptable compromises for the planning officer and the developer 
  • Create the opportunity to filter out the unacceptable proposals in the early stages 
  • Improve the quality of formal planning applications 
  • Save time in the planning application process 
  • Save costs of potential appeals from developers if a scheme is not given planning 
  • Gain an informed view of the way developers are preparing future proposals 
  • Enable a view of trends within the private construction sector 

The pitfalls 

Just as there can be benefits, there can also be disadvantages to both Developers and the Local Planning Authorities. 

Developer’s viewpoint 

  • Planning advice is an additional cost in the planning process 
  • Costs of planning advice varies and cost more than formal planning application fees 
  • Advice from one planning officer may differ from that of colleagues 
  • Chance of influence as to what they want to see built rather than what may be accepted in a formal planning application 
  • Can be a drawback if you are not prepared to make design changes requested by case officer 
  • Restrictions can be established rather than looking for solutions 
  • Time delay in submitting a full planning and so may delay start on site 
  • Each council has its own pre planning process so there is not a consistent process 
  • Biggest pitfall is that any pre planning application advice cannot be guaranteed 

Local planning authority’s viewpoint 

  • Planning application form may not go forward despite pre application discussions 
  • Receipt of similar type of schemes may be seen as monotonous 
  • Some aspects may require more specialist input from other parties 
  • Time spent on pre application advice may not always be covered by the fee charged 
  • Impact on the ability to undertake other duties 
  • Members of the public might feel excluded from the planning decisions 
  • Danger of it being seen as a ‘deal behind closed doors’ 

Procedure & cost  

The government encourages local planning authorities to promote pre application consultation meetings as they allow local requirements to be considered and reduce the likelihood of poor planning applications being submitted.  Although not compulsory, there is section on planning application forms where you can indicate that you have taken some initial advice.   

Although planning application fees are fixed across the country, the cost of pre application advice is left to individual Councils to set the rates.  Councils are keen to promote their pre planning permission advice because they can charge for them, which increases their income and helps to cover the cost of a planning department. 

How do Councils decide what to charge? 

As part of a best practice guide from the government, Councils should all be aware of how much it costs them to provide a ‘useful good value pre application advice service’.   

What do Councils need to consider before deciding what to charge? 

  • Immediate cost of providing the pre application advice service needs to be balanced against the gains of giving early advice and involving the community 
  • Ability to provide useful feedback on a proposed scheme 
  • Delivering service within a set time frame 
  • Providing value for money 
  • Risk of applicants being discouraged by a high charge 
  • Risk of offering a cheap service without the resources to deliver 
  • Charges to be as clear and simple as possible 
  • Offering different levels of planning advice 

When advice used to be free, there was often a long delay in receiving comments whereas now charges are made it is done on a more commercial footing and responses are usually received within 10-30 working days.    

What can you expect of a pre application advice service? 

As opposed to the planning permission system, each council can set up their own planning advice process.  This means that the amount of detail that you need to prepare, the length of time that it takes, and the costs vary between councils. 

What do you need to do before your consultation? 

  • Be fully prepared to describe your proposal in detail  
  • Show plans and drawings 
  • Demonstrate that you have considered aspects that will impact on the local area 
  • Discuss site problems such as roads and footpaths as well as the utilities 
  • Look at potential problems and offer solutions 

Your contact with the planning officer may be a written exchange of emails or a telephone conversation, but with larger schemes it is more likely that you will have a consultation on site with case officer.   

You can expect a written response with a ‘non-binding’ view highlighting any policies or issues that arose from the pre application discussions. You can often get an indication of any additional information such as surveys, tree reports etc that would be needed in your formal submission for planning.  As mentioned previously any advice is given by one planning officer and there is a chance that the decision makers will not agree with their opinion – so no guarantees! 

Professional input 

The planning permission process is complex, and it can be a challenge to successfully navigate your way through.  Although each local planning authority follows a universal system for formal planning applications, whether to award the planning permission or not is made by local decision makers. 

Gaining knowledge of their local development policies and understanding the interpretation that is likely to be given can all help with gaining a successful outcome. 

It can therefore be prudent to engage in the helpful discussions of a pre-planning application consultation, especially if you do not have extensive experience of the process.  

Still not sure whether ‘to do or not to do’ a pre-planning application on your next project – then why not get some advice from the Kisiel Group Commercial team. 

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