What is Planning Permission?
Planning Permission is the approval required for ‘Development’. Development is defined under the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act as ‘the carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operation in, on, over or under land, or the making of any material change in the use of any building or other land’.
Planning Permission is granted by Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) which are mandated by the Government to process and determine planning applications within their geographic jurisdiction. LPAs are usually specific departments within local councils.
The Government sets out a structure for the application of planning policies in The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). Local Planning Authorities are obliged to follow the principles prescribed within this framework, which requires Local Planning Authorities to prepare a Development Plan. The NPPF must be taken into account when they prepare their plan and, thereafter, the Local Planning Authority must determine all planning applications in accordance with this approved plan.
The Local Planning Authority has flexibility as to how it determines planning applications. Their planning officers can make the determination themselves (this is referred to as a ‘delegated’ decision) or a committee (typically a committee of elected councilors) can make the decision.
Whilst the majority of planning applications are determined by Local Planning Authorities, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government retains the power to ‘call in’ any planning application in England. This can happen where there is a conflict of interest, where the application is of national importance, or if it is considered that the Local Planning Authority is incapable of making a reasonable decision. Each of the devolved nations of the UK has similar powers to ‘call in’ planning applications.
Some other authorities also have powers to intervene in the planning permission process: for example, the Major of London, representing a larger geographic area than a single London borough, has the power to direct that he will become the Local Planning Authority for an application.
Do You Need an Architect for Planning Permission?
Unlike some other countries, the United Kingdom does not mandate that a registered Architect submit planning applications. Any person or company is allowed to prepare and submit a planning application. However, for a planning application to be registered as valid by the Local Planning Authority, certain validation criteria need to be met. So, while an Architect isn’t legally required, their professional expertise is usually the most relevant to the task.
Sometimes planning permission is requested for procedural matters that do not involve physical change: an example could be an application for planning permission for a change of use. In this instance, alongside Architects, there are other consultants that can bring specific professional expertise, such as a Planning Consultant. Sometimes Architects can also provide distinct Planning Consultancy services however it is more often the case that Architects and Planning Consultants provide distinct and complimentary services as part of the client professional team. For non-contentious schemes Rodic Davidson provides planning services as part of our architectural consultancy service. For larger or more contentious schemes we regularly work alongside a wider consultant team, usually taking the role of lead consultant.
Help with Planning Permission: Tips and Tricks
– It is important that the design is of the highest quality, with careful detailing and material consideration.
– A strong basis of research into the local area and planning history.
– Pre-Application engagement with the Local Planning Authority is advised in order to gain an initial view from officers. This process also has the advantage of being confidential (although it can be open to freedom of information applications)Engagement with neighbours, the wider local community and with councilor can be very useful.
– At application stage it is important to provide fully detailed proposals with accompanying documentation. This can often include a number of consultant reports and the application should be fully coordinated to provide the most persuasive and technically accurate application.
Research Planning Policies
Researching relevant planning policies can often be the key to obtaining permission without appeal. In recent years, most planning applications and associated documents, as well as the officers’ comments and decisions are available online. Review of these, as part of the initial research into local planning history, can provide an important insight into the attitude of the local authority.
The first step is to identify the Local Planning Authority that has jurisdiction.
At the heart of every Local Planning Authority is the Development Plan. This is a plan that will have been guided by National Planning Policy Framework but will have been written to take account of needs and requirements at a local level.
Other research is equally as important: such as whether the property lies with a Conservation Architecture Area and if it is listed. If it is in a Conservation Area, there will be separate guidance: commonly this is contained within a Conservation Area Appraisal. This is a document, prepared by the Local Planning Authority, will provide a history of the area, the reasons why it is deemed worthy of preservation along with other information and design guidance. The Conservation Area Appraisal will often include maps and many documents are very detailed in the guidance offered. In many central London boroughs, for example, the detail will extend to an analysis of individual properties.
The overriding premise for Conservation Areas is that any proposal should ‘preserve or enhance’ the special characteristics of the area. This special character will need to be established before and during the design process.
The Local Planning Authority may also publish other guidance. This is usually referred to as Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG). Usually these take the form of standalone documents that focus on particular aspects – such as basements, artist’s studios, garden squares and so on.
Local Planning Authorities and/ or the local Council of which they are usually part of, have sometimes prepared other documents – such as a masterplan.
Utilise your Planning Officer
Planning policies encourage dialogue between applicants and Local Planning Authorities (LPA’s). Determination periods (and fees payable) for Planning Applications are set at a national level. Penalties are imposed on LPA’s if they fail to determine planning applications within the statutory period prescribed. The statutory fees prescribed often do not cover the actual cost to the LPA. For these reasons, once a planning application is submitted, Local Planning Authorities will often refuse to enter into dialogue with the applicant or allow changes to the application.
However, it is recognized that informal discussion between applicant and LPA is positive as it allows the applicant to understand the local and national policies that will be applied and reduces the likelihood of an incomplete application being submitted.
Pre-application discussions used to be very informal (indeed they still can be in some, less pressurised, areas of the country) with local councils providing advice over the telephone or via a walk-in service. However, most LPA’s in high-demand urban areas, have now adopted a more formalised pre-application system. The LPA usually charges for this service and, as the fee is not statutorily controlled, they often offer a menu of different levels of advice at different costs. These costs are often higher, sometimes considerably so, than the planning application fees.
The application procedure is not dissimilar to making a planning application however the advantage of a pre-application enquiry is that it allows the applicant to focus certain areas and to ask specific questions. There are no validation requirements and pre-application enquiries can range from being very general in nature through to seeking advice on points of fine detail. For more contentious or complex projects, it is not unusual to submit several pre-application enquiries.
The time period for LPA’s to respond to a pre-application enquiry is not prescribed by Government. If a planning application is not determined within the statutory period, the applicant can appeal on the grounds of non-determination. No such right applies for pre-application enquiries and the applicant is beholden to the efficiency and workload of the LPA regarding timeframe. We find that the response times can vary significantly – with a recent pre-application enquiry in Cambridge taking 9 months for a written response.
Planning Permission: Consultation
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) encourages and requires consultation between applicant and neighbours & other interested parties throughout the planning process.
In advance of a planning application being made, the NPPF encourages applicants to consult with neighbours. Although a planning application can be made by anyone on anyone’s land, upon making a planning application, the applicant has a duty to inform anyone with an ownership interest in the land. After a planning application is validated by the Local Planning Authority (LPA), a period of structured consultation is undertaken. This can be split into three types:
- Public Consultation – For example, the LPA will write to the immediate neighbours to notify them that a planning application has been submitted.
- Statutory Consultation – The LPA is legally obliged to consult any statutory authority where a planning application affects their jurisdiction – examples being Highways, Fire, Police, Historic England and so on.
- Non-Statutory Consultation – The LPA is also can also consult with other parties who may have an interest in a proposed development.
The period of consultation is usually 21 days but the precise period will be set out in the planning application validation documentation. Although the end of the consultation period is usually set in advance of the date of planning determination, in practice the LPA will usually consider any material representation up to the date of determination.
Hire an Architect
A good architect will bring creativity and healthy pragmatism to your project. They will guide the project through the regulatory process, helping secure all necessary permissions, advise on builders and supervise the project through to completion. A good architect will be able to turn aspirations into reality and add commercial value through design excellence.
Architecture is a broad discipline and, not surprisingly, architects tend to specialize in particular areas. It is important to choose an architect that has the right experience for the project. There are many ways of doing this: for example by identifying similar projects and researching the architect that undertook the work or by personal recommendation or by searching online via the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) ‘find an architect’ service. If asked, the RIBA will create a tailored shortlist of Chartered Practices with appropriate skills and experience for your project.
Sometimes there will be just one practice on the shortlist but, more typically, there are likely to be a few options and it then becomes important to implement a selection process that identifies the best architect for the project. The drivers behind this selection process will vary from project to project – perhaps it will be design capability, perhaps it will be project management capability, perhaps it will be size or location of practice, perhaps it will be cost. The likelihood is that it will be a combination of all these criteria.
On occasion, and often for bigger projects, clients ask their listed building architects to make an initial pitch for the project. This pitch may include the architect’s initial response to the client brief, initial design thoughts and a fee proposal.
In every instance it is sensible to enquire about the architect’s track record with the local planning authority and to seek references from previous clients.
How Rodić Davidson Architects can assist you in securing Planning Permission
Rodić Davidson Architects have an established track record of securing advantageous planning permissions in central London and beyond. The practice has particular expertise within the London boroughs of Westminster, RBKC, Camden and Hammersmith and Fulham. Rodić Davidson Architects is always interested in new potential projects and the practice usually offers an initial meeting without charge. The practice offers a full range of architectural, project management and interior design services.
You can call our studio to enquire or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
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