Navigating The Planning Process (I)

design access statement

Part I – Submitting a Planning Application

On the eighteen week anniversary of the date we submitted our planning application, we have finally been given the go ahead. I can’t quite believe I’m actually writing those words. Building a home has always been an ambition of mine and only now it finally feels like it might actually be realised. The target timeframe for a planning decision is 6-8 weeks and ours has taken almost three times longer. Our proposal wasn’t especially complex nor was there much objection (just one neighbour on the next street and the Parish Council – as we expected) but from what we gather the delay is due to the current workload at the planning department and inadequate staffing levels. It’s been beyond frustrating.

What is involved in a Householder Planning Application?

It’s difficult to write a general description of the planning process as it varies so much according to each individual proposal. From our perspective, other than the seemingly endless waiting, it was all relatively straightforward. The majority of residential planning applications are undertaken by an architect or designer on behalf of their client. Because my Dad is a retired Chartered Building Surveyor and I have been studying local planning applications in depth for years, we felt confident submitting our own, fortunately under the guidance of an architect who reassured us everything we’d compiled was as he’d have done himself.

Is it Worth Seeking Pre-Admission Planning Advice?

Because our house is just outside a conservation area and the proposals included a relatively radical design, the Architect suggested we seek pre-admission planning advice from the local Conservation Officer. This was a great idea in theory, as a specialist, he is more likely to be sympathetic to the less conventional elements of the design, the zinc roof and black cladding etc. If he favoured the proposal as the architect was confident he would, then a recommendation from him could go a long way to helping secure planning approval. In reality, this strategy turned out to be a bit of a pain in the ass. It added delays as the Conservation Officer has a heavy workload and pre-planning advice requests are low priority. Not only that, due to his workload he wasn’t able to thoroughly consider the documents we submitted and so didn’t quite grasp the fundamentals of the scheme. Initially he refused to recommend it but after we’d managed to have a sit down meeting with him and explain it all properly, he was completely on board and I was able to include his recommendation with our application.

Were I to do it all again I don’t know if I’d include that step. It added another three months on to the planning process and I have no way of knowing if the Conservation Officer’s recommendation had any influence on our final outcome. There was a potential issue with our proposed access which I was able to state that he supported and we have had no queries over the access whatsoever so it could well be that it helped, but we’ll never know. Its done now though so not worth dwelling on.

What is included in a Planning Application?

Once we’d received the Conservation Officer’s recommendation, it was time to apply for full planning permission. Along with the completed forms, the submission comprised our existing and proposed scale drawings, in this first instance drafted by my Dad after we’d spent months fine-tuning them together. I go into more detail about this process here. Alongside the drawings were also the existing and proposed site plans and a block plan which shows the site in relation to the street. We also submitted a Design and Access statement. This is a document which details the thinking behind the design and materials used, and the considerations being made regarding access and amenity – and how these things are in line with local and national planning policy. I spent an extremely long time drafting our statement and our consultant architect thought it was so effective he joked that I could write them for him if I liked.

What happens after a Planning Application is submitted?

After all of these documents were uploaded to the planning explorer and we had paid the £206 fee, the application was registered and we were allocated a planning officer. It was then that the consultation period commenced. This is where the council notifies any parties who may have an interest in the site, including neighbours and the parish council who then have 21 days to comment. Being as ours was a relatively imposing proposal we expected our immediate neighbours may have some concerns. We spoke to them in person at this time to explain our plans and reassure them. They all seemed very positive and we were relieved when none of them submitted objections. Somewhat surprising was the objection submitted by a resident on the next street along whose garden shares a (short) border with ours. We were confident his concerns were unfounded and would not pose much of a threat to the decision, and they didn’t in the end. We weren’t entirely surprised when the parish council submitted a lengthy objection based on subjective concerns, some of which were wholly inaccurate. Again, we weren’t too alarmed at this as the borough council can only take into account objective comments that they are confident could be upheld. We breathed a sigh of relief when the consultation period passed without too much fuss and moved into the next phase of waiting. And waiting. And waiting…..

In Part II I’ll go into what happened next.

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