Practice note number 14: Planning permission – an on-going consideration

— 5 minute read

Soon after thoughts about carrying out some building work to a property have been formed, thoughts will often turn to planning permission requirements and how best to deal with them. Planning permission in one form or another will usually appear as a major milestone on most construction projects. With this in mind, it is useful to consider how the planning process fits into the overall project program.

When starting out on a project, the basic principles of the desired scheme are often set down in a sketch scheme design and that design will then be tested for viability before it is taken forward into more detail. Viability in terms of planning requirements is one of a number of ways in which most projects will need to be considered before the final decision to go ahead can be made. Other viabilities might be structure, cost, build-ability and program.

Testing the planning viability during the early stages of a project could take the form of looking at planning permissions for similar projects in the area, or it could take the form of checking through local authority planning guidance notes.

Of course, it is worth remembering that planning might not be required at all!  There is a fair amount of building work that can be carried out without planning permission on many domestic properties. This work comes under the heading of Permitted Development. The rules relating to Permitted development can be found on the Government’s Planning Portal web site. (See note in italics below.)

Assuming that planning permission is required, the next step will usually be a request to the local planning authority (LPA) for “Pre-Application Advice” (Pre-App Advice). This process is strongly recommended by local authority planning departments as it sets up a useful dialogue between the applicant and the local authority. During the pre-application stage, the applicant will be informed of any potential planning problems that the scheme might encounter. The applicant will also be told which planning policies will be used by the planners for reference when they consider the scheme when it is submitted for planning approval. The description of the proposed work, the most appropriate form of planning application and the associated  planning fee will be agreed upon with the LPA at this stage as well.

To request “Pre-App Advice”, information on the scheme will need to be sent to the LPA and a fee will need to be paid. A view will need to be taken by the design team on how much information will be required for the planners to make their judgment. The more information that can be sent with the Pre-App, the better, as it will give the LPA the opportunity to comment in more detail.

The response from the LPA can take a number of different forms. In some cases a simple letter or report will be issued, in other cases a meeting will be arranged to discuss the scheme before a report is issued.

When the response from the “Pre App” has been received by the design team, the scheme design will be reviewed against the findings and changes to the design might need to be considered. These potential changes will then in turn need to be reviewed against the other defined viability considerations before the scheme can be finalised.

The scheme can then be submitted for planning approval and hopefully, permission for the development will be granted. However, planning application work doesn’t always stop there. Most planning permission notices are issued with a set of conditions, which must be read carefully and acted upon as set out in the notice. Some permissions will be granted with only a handful of conditions that need to be borne in mind before, during and after construction. Other permissions will be granted with conditions that set out very specific demands for further applications to clarify questions of detail, which must be settled before construction can start or before the proposed building can be occupied.

As can be seen from the notes above, planning requirements form a large component of the design and construction process. It is important to remember that planning is not a stand-alone issue within the design and construction process – it is something that should be constantly reviewed to make sure that the optimum response to the planning requirements is maintained.

The rules on what is and is not Permitted Development are relatively straightforward. However, in most cases, where we think that proposed work is classified as Permitted Development, we would still recommend applying to the local planning authority for a Certificate of Lawful development. This is a written notification from the local planning authority that confirms that the work that is to be carried out – or has been carried out is indeed classified as Permitted Development. This certificate comes in very handy if the owners come to sell their property and the buyer’s solicitors are looking for confirmation of the planning status of the property. More information is available on the Planning Portal.