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Planning Permission Tips UK - Understanding Your Local Planning Officer - They are Only Human

This time of year often sees an explosion in new enquiries for development schemes but the irony of this fact is that most people think that they are in time for a Spring/early summer build if they start the Planning & design process now through the Local Authority?? Sorry but this thinking should have been at the end of last summer - September at the latest. In most cases people do not seem to realise the time scales involved ....... 1 month for survey & design build up, another 2 weeks for clients alterations & Planning upgrade, 2 to 3 months for Planning Approval, 4 weeks for the Building Regulations upgrade, 5 weeks for the Building Regulations & tender & then 4 months to fit in with your chosen Builders programme & work schedule. Add that all up & 6 months would seem a challenging task. The moral? - If you have a development project start the design & formal applications process as soon as possible & at least 6 months (in most cases) should be allowed before you can start on site from inception. HOW MANY MORE TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY THIS?

Understanding Planning Officers - Now I warn you that I will be speaking in general terms on this topic but this is the only way that I can express how most of our experiences have been. Yes there are exceptions & yes we shouldn't stereo-type folk but lets hit the nail on the head more often that we miss eh! - so I apologise now for what I am about to reveal in this light hearted cynical way.

Firstly, you have to remember that 'Development Control' is generally the 'scummy' end of the Planning Officers career ladder. Its the place where all spotty 24 year old inexperienced graduates cut their teeth on for 2 to 7 years before being 'relocated' or 'on sicondment' to another Planning Department or Council. Most experienced Planning Officers are no longer at the sharp end of Development Control (householder applications & the like). These Officers often move on to 'policy' or become 'Team Leaders' simply attending to the queries of their junior counterparts amongst other more senior duties.

Therefore you have to understand that there is a 80% probability that your first experiences with your own residential development scheme (that is a matter of life or death to your own success in life) is dependent upon a very junior member of the Planning team who will have very little experience of the 'real life' practical matters relating to your scheme. His or her judgment of your proposal will be 90% guided by their own interpretation of how your scheme fits in with their local plan policy & relevant design guides - oh how they love those design guides - it means they don't have to think or stick your necks out in support of a scheme that slightly deviates form these documents as these are the 'holy grail' to the untrained & inexperienced. It is so easy to hide behind the written word that has been compiled by more experienced Officers - why stand out from the crowd to suggest otherwise & be counted or shot down in flames when you can so easily 'meander' through ones Planning career thrusting these policy & design guides to the forefront as a shield & defence to maintaining the status quo.

Regretfully, this is typical throughout our professions so its a bit unfair to have a pop at the Planners but this is the industry we are involved in so its important to understand their mind set in order for you to gain maximum benefit form a suitably designed development plan & a quick approval.

If your extension or residential development scheme deviates in any way from the Planners written guidance then beware - your scheme is likely to be refused unless you can present them with a very good design brief that explains why you have deviated & how this deviation should be permitted in wholly Planning terms that will allow them to write up their report in a favourable manner. Most design deviations presented by the householder without professional help to support their case will normally fail. An experienced Agent using 'planning speak' or 'jargon' that the Planners understand can often defend this deviation far more strongly & precisely than the DIY householder stating irrelevant facts unrelated to Planning Matters. A well written supporting design brief will normally ensure that the experienced Team Leader will at least be brought into the decision making process by the ill equipped Junior Officer. Planning Team Leaders will say that ALL junior decisions are passed through them prior to final decision but in the real world they simply do not have the time or resources to thoroughly read , vet & reassess every Junior Officers report prior to final signing. With the increase in delegated decisions year on year (not being presented for discussion at a full Planning Panel Meeting) , the opportunity for more & more non-conforming designs to be automatically refused irrespective of the site specific circumstances that may warrant deviation, will for ever grow.

My advice is clear - go read the planning policy & any design guides for what you are intending to do & try to ensure that your scheme follows these principals. Should your scheme deviate then your are best seeking advice from a professional Planning or Design Agent prior to final design plans. The golden rule is simple - no matter how much logic & common sense you have personally applied to your development, unless the Junior Officer can write a favourable report that covers the areas of relevant Planning issues contained within the planning policy or design guides that generally fits in with your own proposal, then do not bother wasting time & costs with an application that deviates from this unless you have sought professional help right from the start.

HOWEVER, should you be blessed with a more senior Officer for your application (& for that I mean 5+ years of experience acting as a Development Control Officer preferably at the same Local Authority for good local knowledge) then you could argue & defend any design deviation far more easily without professional help as he/she will be able to understand your point of view due to their extensive 'sharp end' experiences & be far more sympathetic to your needs. Some will even offer design guidance on any alterations to overcome sustainable Planning objections so lifes not all bad at Development Control even though they are under growing pressure to resolve applications within 8 weeks to access higher government grants which often means NO NEGOTIATION TIME ALLOWED - but that's another storey for debate that we won't go into here.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the Planning Officers role & how to submit schemes that seek to obtain Officer support right from the start. To the uninitiated, submitting a non-compliant scheme for Planning Permission will usually result in refusal. Our guide explains techniques & tips on how to resolve this process so that the Officer becomes your friend. The first hurdle to overcome in any Planning application is for the Case Officer to recommend approval of your scheme in his/her report - without it most residential development applications will be refused.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when developing or extending a property for planning permission.

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