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My background is as a planning officer for a local authority. The information posted below is a result of lots of discussions with landowners trying to make sense of the planning system.Some of the steps provided below are the exact steps that local authorities use to assess planning applications.So if your research seems to point toward a particular development being acceptable, then there is a good chance that your proposal could be as well.Step 1 – Check the planning policyThe first tip I would give is to check out the planning policy for your area and site. You might think that planning policies wouldn’t differ drastically from area to area but unfortunately, which is one of the issues people have with planning, policies can vary quite drastically from authority to authority.For instance, I had a friend ask me for advice on a site he was thinking of developing. The first thing I did was look at the planning policy for the area and I quickly realised that it was a non-starter. The site was what is known as ‘backland’ development which is effectively building on a site that is usually reserved for back gardens. This was clearly a development pressure throughout the borough as there was a policy dedicated to the issue. In some areas backland development was acceptable whereas in others, such as at my friend’s site, backland development wasn’t considered acceptable for a number of reasons. In this case, it was because of its impact on the conservation area.So whether it is building backland development or even just extending your own home, check the planning policy. There will be a policy directly or indirectly related to what you want to do. If its extensions and alterations you are interested in, then the Council usually sets out guidance within their ‘design’ policies. I guarantee you’ll be glad you took the time to check.DesignationsEvery site within your local authority’s area will have a designation. Some local authorities have different names for it but most call it a ‘Proposals Map’. This is a visual policy map which tells you which policies are relevant for your site. So search for your authority’s Proposals Map and see which policies affect you. Is your site in a conservation area? Is it next to a listed building? Is it in a town centre? Is it in a growth opportunity area? An Archaeological Priority Area? A Viewing Corridor?These are all key things that you need to check about your site as it will give you an idea as to how ambitious you can be with your project and what policies will apply. It will also give you an initial idea as to the development cost of a site. The more designations (like archaeology, for instance) the more specialist consultants you will need to advise you. If your building is listed, unless you know what you are doing or you are fully committed to preserving that building (and the time it takes for doing so), then I would think twice about developing such a site. IF the Proposals Map does not show listed buildings then you can use Historic England’s map function here:MAP SEARCHJust put in the postcode and see if your site is, or is next to, a listed building.It may be charming to look at but I know people that have bought because of its charm only to find out that it was the worst decision they have made because of the time and expense that it is required to develop listed buildings. So if you are thinking of developing a listed building, do your research or employ the help of a heritage consultant before buying to give you an idea of what you can achieve on such a site.As well as looking at the designations for your own site, check those around you. Are there any large redevelopment or growth areas identified? This could be a sign that the local area is on the up. If there is a site near you, have a look around their website (there is usually a dedicated webpage) and find out how progress is going. Has development started? Or are they struggling to develop the area?Minimum dwelling sizesThis is a little off topic but an important point to make nonetheless. I often see developers trying to squeeze those extra housing units on a site that just will not fit.Save yourself and the Council time and check the minimum dwelling sizes table before approaching the council to make sure that your units are big enough for people to live in. It is a nationally set standard and you can find the standards here: SPACE STANDARDStep 2 – Check the site and surroundings before seeing the site in personThe best way to truly assess a site is by visiting it in person. But before you spend the time arranging a viewing and travelling to see the site which might be across the country, have a drive around the site on Google Street.I once considered purchasing a house that looked a great investment and the price they were asking was incredibly competitive. I checked the policy. Opportunities were there to develop. But after having a drive around on Google I noticed an industrial yard was immediately behind the back garden of the house. Having a residential unit immediately next to such a noisy neighbour is a recipe for disaster.It depends on what you are looking to achieve on the site but I would think about a couple of things when looking at a site on Google Street:· Have a look around the immediate neighbourhood. Any noisy neighbours (nightclubs, bars, industrial yards) that could disturb future residents.· Is it near a town centre to offer the amenities for a resident?· Can you park on site?· What sort of developments have been built in the close vicinity? Is there scope to develop?· Has the property or site been heavily altered already? This could suggest that the potential for the site has already been maximised.Step 3 – Check the planning history of your site AND similar properties nearbyYour propertyFirst off check the planning history of the property or site in question. You may find that an application has been refused on site which would raise a red flag that needs further investigation. If an application was refused for something similar for what you had in mind then read the officers report which should be online as one of the publicised documents on the Council’s website. If it isn’t online then call or e-mail the Council for a copy. It could reveal exactly why the application was refused and might show that your site is a non-starter. Or it could give you an idea as to what would be acceptable.The planning history may also reveal that a significant amount of development has come forward on the site already. Again, make sure you read the officer’s reports if they are available. They may reveal that there is no further scope to develop on your site.Do not panic if there is no planning history for a site. It is quite common. Instead use the planning history of the immediate neighbours to get a flavour as to what is possible on the site.Surrounding propertiesAs well as looking at the planning history for your own site, looking at the planning history for neighbouring properties or streets may reveal some very helpful information. For instance, you may find that rear extensions have been refused all along your street. Why is that? It may be that you are in a conservation area or those buildings are listed so they are very sensitive on design grounds. Understanding the development pressures immediately surrounding your site is very helpful. It may reveal something that cannot be picked up through usual desktop research of a site.Conversely, a number of extensions or developments may have been approved around your site which might reveal an opportunity. Again read the officer’s reports to look for any further information that might help you.Step 4 – Do you have permitted development rights (or PD)?Permitted development rights are rights you have to build certain forms of development without the need for planning permission. The various forms of permitted development are set out here: PD RIGHTSIn certain instances, though, a local authority will serve an ‘Article 4 Direction’ on an area or property which removes CERTAIN permitted development rights. Some Councils display the content of their Article 4 directions differently from one another. Some provide it within a Conservation Area statement or some may have a dedicated webpage explaining exactly which properties are affected and how.Step 5 – Check on siteOnce you have done all of the research above, have a good look around the site or property and look for anything of interest. For instance, if you want to build a terrace, a rear extension, or even a new house, will there be any impacts on your neighbours in terms of overlooking, daylight, noise from use of the terrace etc. Anything that could scupper your plans for the site.The main concerns to neighbours are related to noise, overlooking and impact on daylight (generally speaking). If you can cover those things off early on then you will be in a good position.Step 6 – Bid accordinglyOnce you have assessed the site and determined that you can add value through your newfound planning genius then submit a bid in line with the level of work required. This is where it would help to have a discussion with a builder or contractor. Get a rough estimation and calculate how much you can spend to generate the value you identified through your planning research.So now you should be able assess the planning potential of a site with more confidence! Let me know how you got on below.
Founder of MyPlanningExpert.co.uk
link to space standards don't work
Thanks Joe. Try this: https://www.gov.uk/government/https://uploads.propertytribes.com/system/https://uploads.propertytribes.com/attachment_data/file/524531/160519_Nationally_Described_Space_Standard____Final_Web_version.pdf
or this: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/technical-housing-standards-nationally-described-space-standard
And the other links: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/596/contents/made
Let me know if they still don't work?
Wow Ian! Thank you so much for posting this valuable information. It is very generous of you to share your knowledge with such a detailed post. I very much appreciate this contribution and hope to see you posting here more as we do not have many people with an in-depth knowledge of planning.P.S. Nick took the liberty of inserting the live hyperlinks into your post so that members did not have to cut and paste.
Thank you very much, and thank you Nick, for correcting the links for me. Very much appreciated.
Yes I am intending on putting up some more posts. Just on topics that seem to come up most in my experience and that I think people might need help with. It will be interesting to find out if your members have the same issues!
An amazingly useful post. Many thanks.
What a great article thanks for sharing your knowledge a complete breath of fresh air just a shame there are not more people with your input contributing on here rather than the normal mundane threads. Thanks again.
Nice little guide. BTW where are you based? can you send me some contact details via private message? I think there is such a possibiilty.
Many thanks for this helpful post, very clearly written.
Do you think that at some time you could describe the inner workings of the planning process, e.g.
1) what happens when you first receive an application
2) How you decide what the title is on the notices
3) What timelines and processes are used to come to decisions, e.g. how are for example specialists like conservation officers brought in, and how do they interact with normal planning officers. What is the role of more senior/more junior officers
4) How is the role of pre-planning advice taken into account
5) Any advice on getting a response from planners when they are hard to reach
6) Any advice on how to negotiate when planners have concerns about an application?
Thanks for your message. Very interesting that you are asking these questions. I was actually going to prepare a post on just this! Because I actually wondered the same things before I joined a local authority myself. It's not quite ready yet but when it is I will let you know. I might add in a couple of more bits of information that you might find useful.
One question though - what do you mean by the title on the notices? Do you mean how to understand what the description of development is?
Very much looking forward to your post. I mean what is sometimes listed as "proposal", and which is used by the council as the title on public notices.
The motivation for my question is I have recently had some troubles recently these. In one case the council wrote an extremely long title, which made it sound like I was creating a new HMO, when I was in fact splitting a family home off of an existing large HMO. Local residents got up in arms, as HMOs are not popular. Even the local councillor got involved, who like the residents, apparently does not read anything except the title/proposal. In the second case, just before the determination date, I was told that the wording on the notices hadn't quite been right, so that it had to go up again, in this case for 6 weeks because it was a conservation area. It was a very vanilla proposal, so this delayed works considerably and cost me lots of money as I thought everything was going along smoothly.
My local council's planning department is inept, to say the least, and so I was wondering if there was a way of feeding into this process to stop such errors from occurring.