Paul Walton, Chartered Town Planner and Director at planning and development consultancy PWA Planning, offers his views on how to engage with local planning authorities at pre-application stage.
Don’t avoid pre-application engagement: Perceptions are often (particularly among clients) that the process is time-consuming and of dubious benefit and the local planning authority will have you believe that it is critical to the success or otherwise of a development proposal. As is often the case, the reality lies somewhere between. What is true is that pre-application advice can help to unearth any significant issues at an early stage and for clients this is crucial to avoiding wasted time and resources.
Prepare your submissions: The more information that the planning officers have to hand, the more informed a response they are able to offer. They are not mind-readers and cannot speculate on your client’s requirements or priorities. Provide a clear and concise summary of the proposed development and provide any relevant information to ensure a clear and unequivocal response wherever possible.
Meetings are important: Avail yourself of the opportunity to properly explain a proposal to the planning officers and their colleagues face to face. It is certainly time well spent and on numerous occasions, such explanation by the planning consultant (or even the scheme architect!) has helped to mitigate negative responses and engender support for a particular proposal.
Seek advice on validation requirements: Each authority operates its own ‘local list’ of planning application validation requirements – some provide comprehensive guidance, others do not. Either way, the need for clarity on such matters helps to avoid validation ‘disputes’ later in the process.
Always ask for a written response: Whilst discussion is important, it is vital that as much detail is provided in the form of a written response from the authority. Memory recall is no substitute for a good ‘minute’ of a meeting or a formal written response.
Do not assume the pre-application process is confidential: Whilst planning officers and authorities will tend not to publish or discuss pre-application negotiations with third parties, the authority can be obliged to provide details of such meetings and correspondence should a Freedom of Information request be made by a third party. It is safer to assume that once pre-application has commenced, the scheme or proposal is in the public domain.
Don’t forget to pay the fee: Most local planning authorities charge a fee for pre-application advice and don’t take kindly to those who forget to pay. The old line “the cheque is in the post” will not help to get a timely and positive response.