The planning system in the UK is designed to ensure that only developments that are well designed and considered are permitted. At its best it filters out the poorly considered or designed projects and encourages high quality, creative projects.
Planning officers have a difficult task. They are required to balance the government’s demand to allow the creation of new housing estates whilst considering the immediate effect on the local environment alongside frequent local opposition. For architects like ourselves, largely involved in applications for individual bespoke houses or smaller commercial units rather than the large housing or industrial estate schemes, it can often feel that these projects receive a greater amount of attention and scrutiny than the schemes with government backing.
Our clients are increasingly called upon to explain and justify their schemes. In this climate, local authorities have introduced the concept of ‘pre-application advice’. Although tempting to submit a proposed scheme to the Planners prior to submitting the full blown application, there is still a charge for this and in our experience the advice received frequently leaves our clients unclear as to how a full application might be received.
So what is the best way forward to ensure the success of a Planning Application?
A good place to start is by talking to people in your vicinity, finding out about previous Planning Applications in your area and how they faired with the Planning Department. Talk to any immediate neighbours about your plans and aim to get them onboard. If you share a party wall, you may need to have your neighbour’s consent for any development close to their boundary.
Choose your architect wisely. Architects will be known by the Planning Department in your area and some will have a better track record than others. Planners tend to put an element of trust in architects they know have delivered good applications to them in the past, so having a good relationship with the Planning Department is vital for any architect.
When we are preparing a client’s project for consideration, we believe that a picture always says more than the written word. Drawings, whether hand drawn sketches or CGI 3D images, take time and effort to produce. But in our view the information they impart to the Planning officer, and indeed to a Planning Committee, is usually direct and effective. No amount of written description or rationale can match a picture of the project in its setting, showing daylight and shadows, surrounding trees and landscape, perhaps even people.
Whilst drawings are undoubtedly a powerful tool in assisting the understanding of a project, if opting for pre-application advice, they need to be used with caution. Any early initial dialogue with the Planning Department will be based on a simple drawing or sketch and the description accompanying this early enquiry is likely to be brief, reflecting the fact that the design ideas are still fluid. You do not want to be put in a position of having to commit to any particular design feature at this stage. Similarly, submitting photoreal images for appraisal can be disadvantageous as these often show too much detail, opening the way for potential criticism that would otherwise not be possible.
In many instances we favour the slightly softer approach, with images more akin to a sketch or watercolour, albeit computer generated. These effectively set out appearance, mass and form without committing to finish, colour or texture. Indeed, the use of these images to achieve Planning success is now firmly part of our approach and must be commended for the understanding and comprehension it brings in supporting Planning Applications.
Above all however, be patient! Planning applications have steadily increased over the last five years or so and with recent events, Planning Departments are often taking considerably longer than the statutory 8-10 weeks to respond to applicants. Our advice to clients aiming for successful submissions is to start as early as possible, be prepared for delays, communicate regularly with your architect and keep the joyous end in sight.