The Planning Lifecycle
Batcheller Monkhouse, leading Estate and Letting Agents, Chartered Surveyors and Chartered Town Planners in the South East, explain the stages and intricacies involved in completing the planning process, to help provide an understanding to businesses and help them plan their timeline accordingly when looking to expand or relocate.
If you have ever driven past a development site with all their hoarding up and wondered why nothing was happening, then it is quite possible that the developers are in the process of agreeing the final elements of their planning permission to allow work to start.
The planning process is much more involved and complicated than many people would think - or, some would argue, than it should be! From the initial seed of an idea to being in a position to start getting the diggers on to site requires commitment both financially and in terms of time and effort required to navigate through the process.
The lifecycle of securing a “planning consent” has many stages, most of which will be the same for all developments, with some stages added or removed dependent on the complexity or scale of the scheme. For example, a simple home extension project or new garage or outbuilding is unlikely to be of large enough scale and impact to require EIA screening and probably would not need extensive public engagement. It is unlikely that a legal agreement would be required either so stages 3, 4 and 13 would not apply. However, a scheme for 50 new houses is very likely to proceed through all stages.
For most developments, pre-application advice and dialogue (stage 2) is a critical first milestone as this is the first time that there will be any interaction with the Council about a project. Discussions with the Council at an early stage can help to iron out any problems with design and provide an opportunity to find out directly what the Council will be expecting.
Stage 3 consultation is also a key element of preparing to make a planning application. Discussion and dialogue with local communities, groups, and individuals who might be affected by a development or have an interest is a good way of gauging opinion and understanding what issues and concerns might be raised. In many cases these can be addressed from the outset by making changes to the design or content of a development and wider suggestions and ideas can help shape a proposal. Inevitably that is not always the case and not all concerns and ideas will be resolved or accommodated. It is still worth considering this stage very carefully though as it can help to lessen the strength of objections if plans are well known and have been fully explored before being formalised.
The technical surveys (Stage 5) required to support even the simplest of developments can be extensive. This stage is critical to programming for any planning application because some surveys and assessments can only be done at certain times of year (such as species surveys) and others may require further testing work beyond the initial assessment which can add considerably to the timeframe for securing the information needed to prepare a final design and to submit a planning application.
Preparing and submitting a planning application can be a complex process to navigate. The online planning portal aims to make things easier, providing a virtual platform for filling out the application form and uploading supporting documents. But for those who do not regularly interact with the system, it can be daunting. How do you know what type of planning application you are making? Which form do you need? How do you know what information to include in the form and how do you know what documents to upload or submit submitted?
Hopefully the work done at Stage 2 will have helped cover some of these questions and there are national criteria and guidance for what needs to be included in all planning applications. However, each Local Authority has their own set of requirements, and to make things more complicated some ask for items/information that others do not! Preparing and submitting an application is not a straightforward task, even for professionals.
Once all of the hard work making a planning application is complete, then comes the task of negotiating the proposal and trying to persuade officers (or Planning Committee Members) to approve your scheme. This can be a lengthy process and although there are national targets for reaching a decision (8 weeks for minor proposals and 13 weeks for more complex major developments) these are only targets and most applications end up running on beyond those periods. The planning officer assigned to an application must consult with their own technical consultees and take account of comments made by all parties before coming to a conclusion. This is determination process runs from Stage 9 to 12.
Having (hopefully!) received a positive decision, it is likely that there will be conditions attached to the planning permission. Normally these either require actions to be taken or more detailed information to be submitted and agreed with the Council before work can start on site or perhaps before a building can be occupied. If an application has been granted in outline, then there will also be a requirement to have any matters that were reserved for future consideration formally reviewed. Discharging or clearing planning conditions or securing approval of reserved matters requires a separate application to be made to enable work to lawfully start in site - Stage 16-17.
In the event that a planning application is refused, there is the right to appeal the decision. Normally this must be done within 6 months of the decision. Alternatively, a revised proposal can be put forward, but this means entering the process again from the start.
Securing planning permission is clearly not a simple task and there are numerous stages to travel through, whatever the size and scale of your scheme. In much the same way as a snakes and ladders game, the process can start and stall if not properly managed - and in some cases even when it is! You could run through stages 1- 14 and be unable to convince a planning officer or planning committee to approve your scheme and find that you are forced to either go down a completely separate appeal process or go straight back Stage 1 to reconsider.
Alternatively, you could travel through stages 1 to 5 or 6, and find that the additional costs of producing technical assessments, providing physical mitigation works or on bigger schemes, the financial contributions and affordable housing requirements impact make the scheme unattractive or perhaps financially unviable to proceed with – again, straight back to Stage 1 to reconsider and/or reassess. Financial viability is fundamental to the success of all developments no matter how large or small and needs careful review from the earliest stages.
Understanding a bit about how the planning process works and what could happen is key to ensuring there are no nasty surprises and a scheme is not derailed by things that could have been foreseen or prevented. Securing professional planning advice at an early stage of a project can help to avoid this. So, if you are looking to develop, whether it be a large or small scale project, a professional planning consultant will know the process inside out and be able to help you to glide down the snakes and avoid climbing back up the ladders.
Locate East Sussex can support East Sussex businesses with finding commercial property as well as potential funding to support business growth. To see how we can help you, Get in Touch
For those looking to make changes to existing buildings, you may be able to access the 'Stalled Sites Fund'
The Stalled Sites Fund is an East Sussex County Council one-off capital fund designed to:
1. Help finance feasibility studies and business case development to support schemes that are not viable without public support, to enable them to apply for public funding (e.g. Local Growth Fund)
2. Unlock stalled employment and housing sites that have site-specific reasons for remaining undeveloped with loan or equity share finance.
Read the Stalled Sites Fund guidance notes. For an Expression of Interest (EOI) form, please email Economic Intervention Fund.