It can be frustrating work negotiating with planning officers. But here are some tips that could make all the difference in developing a relationship with the planning department to get that all important planning permission.
Review previous decisions
The first step to finding out whether a Council and their officers are willing to negotiate with you during an application is to research past applications on their website. But how do you do that?
Look for recent decisions made (only ones that were approved) and see if any ‘superseded’ drawings have been submitted. Usually it will say so in the file name. That will give you a rough idea as to whether the officer has asked for amendments to the application and has accepted them.
However, do not assume that because there are no superseded drawings on file that the officer isn’t prepared to negotiate. Sometimes a proposal can just be unacceptable and it would be a waste of everyone’s time to negotiate. It is usually only the cases where they are acceptable in principle when alterations can be accepted. So try to take a good sample size of, say, the past two weeks of decisions to give you a good idea of the Council’s practises.
However, as I am sure most of you are aware, not all officers and Councils are that helpful leaving the applicant very frustrated with a refusal when only small amendments would be necessary. If you get the impression that this is the case in your local authority then you may be best placed to seek pre-application advice rather than submitting a planning application straight away. Be prepared for the additional time this will add to your programme though if you are considering this route.
However, even though the pre-application process will add time, it will be a lot less in the long run if you have to appeal a decision which can take a lot longer.
Submit a professional application
Whether a planning officer is prepared to negotiate can depend on a number of things, a lot of those are out of your control. But what is within your control is the quality of the planning application you submit.
Depending on the scale of your proposal, you could have only drawings to submit or you may have to submit a number of supporting statements with your application. Either way they should look as professional as possible to give the officer and the Council some comfort that you have put the effort in on your scheme. Being honest, a lot of people skip this part and submit quite poor supporting statements just to tick a box. I can assure you this gets picked up one way or another and it can be the difference between a permission or refusal.
If you are submitting drawings, make sure they are clearly legible so that even someone who has never seen a planning application before can understand them. If you submit drawings that are not easy to understand then your whole application runs the risk of being invalid which starts you off on the wrong foot from the outset with the Council.
For your supporting statements, make sure that all of them are sending the same message. You do not want any contradictory information across them. Whilst the officer may not read all of them in detail, each of them will be read in detail by officers from other departments. So make sure, at least, that they all refer to the same details of the proposal (no. of storeys, no. of units, address, etc.).
Initial contact with the officer
Once your application is valid and you manage to get to speak to the officer either on the phone or on site, ask them whether they would be willing to accept amendments to the scheme, if it would help get approval. This will be for both your benefit and the officer’s.
Most developers kick back on the officer when amendments are asked for so, generally speaking, it will be welcome to them that you are even asking the question. This will help you build a relationship with the officer which can be invaluable and may even bring your case to the top of their list to help you out!
Keep in touch…
Once your application is valid and has been open to the public for a number of weeks, you may start receiving objections. Do not rely on the officer to let you know that you have received any. Instead check the website once a week and try and give the officer a call to see if any have come in. Objections should be logged on the website but sometimes the admin teams are very busy and it could just be waiting to be logged. Both checking the website and calling the officer should cover all your bases.
And once the statutory 21 days has passed, review all of the objections and assess for yourself whether a response is required. If genuine concerns are raised, then you can submit a response to the officer to explain how the scheme has overcome the concerns of the public. The officer has to respond to these themselves when they write their report anyway so helping the officer here can make a difference. But be reasonable and respond to the planning issues. Do not just dismiss the objections as irrelevant if they touch on planning issues.
You’ve probably noticed a theme throughout that helping the officer out can make such a difference to your application. It can help your relationship with an officer and could drastically improve the timescales of your application and chances of success.