Getting planning permission
Getting planning permission not only means you can build the house of your dreams with extensions and renovations but can also transform the value of a piece of land. It can be a long and painful process but Oxford Builders can help you through the process, introduce you to the right architects and guide you from your initial ideas through to completing you finished home or development. Alison Nash from Homebuilding and Renovation Magazine wrote a very informative and interesting guide to planning permission in the November 2016 issues that you can read below.
It is planning permission on a piece of land that makes the difference between a building plot and just another field. As a self-builder, you will have the choice of either buying a plot with existing planning permission or to speculate yourself and achieve planning permission for exactly what you want.
Either way, you need to have an understanding of the planning process because having the right permission is the only way you will be able to build the house of your dreams.
Play the Planning Permission Game
Like any game, planning has its own rules but they are particularly unpredictable, open to interpretation and capable of being bent quite dramatically! Unlike building regulations, planning regulations are not hard and fast and they differ from one area of the country to the next. This is because planning involves local politics.
Planning decision making requires the interpretation of national and local planning policies by individual planning officers and by committees of elected councillors. The scope for inconsistencies between planners even in one authority is quite high — between different authorities it is huge.
So if you’re going to get involved in building a house or even extending and refurbishing one, a flexible and pragmatic approach to achieving what you want is going to be helpful.
The Planning Permission Process Explained
From the submission of your application to a decision being made should take no longer than eight weeks. The planners are under real pressure to meet that timescale. The Government has come up with a clever wheeze of effectively linking a council’s performance to the financing of planning departments. This means that people’s jobs are at stake if they don’t deal with things quickly.
Speed, of course, does not encourage negotiations during the life of an application; in the past planners may have been happy to look at amended plans to overcome problems but they are much less likely to do so now.
Planning officers will unhesitatingly refuse a proposal rather than seek to negotiate. So it is very important that you track your application through the system to avoid any nasty surprises. Don’t allow your application to be refused, withdraw it and resubmit having overcome the problems they identify. The second application will not require a fee.
Buy Land Subject to Planning Permission
The good news is that it is possible to avoid a lot of risk without reducing the potential gain. This is because it is perfectly legal and possible to make a planning application on land you do not own. You don’t even need the permission of the landowner — permission goes with the land, not with the applicant.
This means it is common practice in the development world to make a purchase subject to satisfactory planning permission — this is legally secured by exchanging contracts with completion conditional upon getting the permission you want, or by entering into an Option Agreement, which gives you the legal option to buy if you’re successful or to walk away if you’re not. Although such agreements require legal fees, very little money changes hands compared to the value of the site once it has the permission.
Research Local Planning Policies
To take advantage of the best opportunities you need to play the game effectively, which means knowing how to bend the rules and use them to your own advantage. In planning speak, a development should be carried out in accordance with the development plan unless there are material considerations that indicate a different decision should be made. In plain English, planning decisions should be made in accordance with the local plan policies unless there is a good planning reason not to.
The development plan for your area is either comprised of a County Structure Plan and District Local Plan or a combination of both, called a Unitary Development Plan. In any event your local council can guide you, and they will probably have it on their website. It will contain policies that stipulate where new houses are likely to be allowed and where they won’t. It will list the criteria that should be used to assess and judge planning applications.
In addition, the council will also probably issue supplementary planning guidance that gives more detailed information about what they expect in terms of design and it should spell out what they deem to be acceptable distances between new and existing houses, in terms of privacy and overshadowing.
A reading of development plan policies will soon tell you which villages to aim for if you’re looking for a building plot and which to avoid. Policies will spell out the council’s approach to replacement dwellings and extensions. They may well have draconian restrictions on the size of new houses and extensions in the open countryside.
You may wonder why some people are obviously allowed to build exactly what they want whilst others get refusals. It’s not because of ‘backhanders’ or an evil conspiracy against you: it is just because successful developers look at the local plan and understand that policies do change all the time, so what was suitable last year may not be suitable today and vice versa.
Who Makes the Decisions and Grants Planning Approval?
So, who’ll make the decisions to approve or refuse your dream home? It could be the chief planning officer (or a less senior member of his staff) using delegated powers on behalf of the planning committee. Or it could be the planning committee itself during a daytime or evening meeting.
In some circumstances you may wish your application to go to the full committee, but generally it is unlikely to help. In all cases you are faced with the task of trying to get an individual planning officer, and ultimately their boss, and possibly all the members of a planning committee, to support what you want to do. And it can be quite difficult!
The local councillor can be important because if the planning officers are not convinced, it is usually possible for the local member to request that the application is put before the planning committee. This at least gives you a chance to persuade them in person, rather than face a certain refusal under delegated powers.
Outline or Detailed Planning Permission?
You will see plots for sale with Outline Planning Permission (OPP): this means that the principle of a development has been granted. But there may be no more detail than a red line around a plan of the site, with no indication at all of the size of the house or even its position. Sometimes even the access may not have been agreed. So if you buy a plot with outline permission there are still a lot of details that need to be formally approved by the local planning authority.
Think carefully before buying a plot with bare outline permission as you really don’t want to find that the only thing they will let you build is a tiny bungalow. As an alternative, you will also see plots for sale with full permission for a particular house or bungalow which you could then build. But be very aware that it is usually perfectly possible to make an alternative application for a different type or design of house. If a plot has three or four different permissions, it is you who decides which one to implement.
Get Pre-application Advice
Your local planning department and its website is a resource of information that is freely available to help you exploit development opportunities. They will also offer you more formal ‘pre-application advice’ (at a fee which varies wildly from authority to authority).
What you should aim to do is to tease out of them an understanding of the key issues that you will have to deal with if you’re going to get planning permission. This should enable you to avoid objections and to anticipate any issues that neighbours or the committee might raise.
It is probably best not to try and get pre-application advice in writing as it could just be a knee-jerk reaction to a sketch scheme. If it’s a negative reaction it could be quite difficult to get them to change their mind even once you have amended your proposal with a better design. Conversely a letter that is supportive will not actually tie their hands as they will feel quite free to change their minds once an application has been out for consultation.
Remember: It’s important you realise that no planning officer ever got into trouble for saying ‘no’ — they lay their neck on the block if ever they say ‘yes’, or even ‘maybe’. So you’ll probably encounter a natural caution amongst the planners you come into contact with.
If you can achieve a good rapport with the planner this is extremely desirable; it is perhaps best to approach them as one of the various professionals helping you build the house rather than as an adversary. In that way they feel more important and probably less defensive.
However, always remember that regardless of the positive advice you may receive before the application is submitted and despite their support during its consideration, it is always quite possible that the chief planner, or more likely the politicians on the planning committee, can overturn the case officer’s recommendation.
So there is an innate unpredictability and risk within the planning process. This said, this flexibility in the system can also work to your benefit. It is certainly not unknown for applications to be recommended for refusal by the planners only to be approved by a planning committee whose sympathies lie with the applicant and/or because they disagree with the advice of the officers
Read the full article at https://www.homebuilding.co.uk/planning-permission-how-to-play-the-game/