Planning Permission – Improve Your Chances!

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Even though we owned our property and the site on which it sat, that did not mean we could do what we wanted to it. Of the many rules and regulations that govern what we could and could not do, Planning Permission is the first one we had to contend with before commencing our renovation project.

The first thing to recognise and not forget is the key principle that the owner of a property is ultimately responsible for complying with the rules and regulations which govern any building work. You can’t blame your architect, builder or aunt … it’s your responsibility. Yes, you might have a counter-claim against an architect or builder for poorly advising you or not carrying out the build in compliance with provided instructions, but if you’ve fallen foul of the rules the authorities will come after you, not them.

Even more worrying is the fact that failure to comply any such rules means the owner is liable for any remedial action. In the worst cases, remedial action can be as extreme as enforcing the demolition of all your building work!

Before Applying

Having a qualified architect well-versed in UK build projects was a big help from the start. It might have been even better if we had chosen a local architect who was very familiar and friendly with our local planning authority, but then we may not have been happy with their work style or design ethics. Theoretically, all local planning authorities work to the same basic principles: following national guidance which is found in the government’s National Planning Policy Framework supplemented by each authorities own local planning policies. Our architect Peter was clearly well versed in the national UK guidance so his experience was still very relevant. He did however also stress that each local planning authority, and the individuals working within that department, have a degree of flexibility and personal opinion as many decisions were grey areas in respect of reference to statute, so nothing could be advised on in certainty.

We decided to plan and research all aspects of our project, in the context of Planning Permission, as carefully and as detailed as we could to ensure we had the best chance of obtaining planning approval on our first attempt.

There is a great website, called Planning Portal, which has been set up by the Government which provides lots of really useful advice. We used it to get a good basic understanding of the framework of rules but it is also very easy to get lost in the detail of all the regulations and laws which interact and together form the full set of rules. Often when we would spend some time reading it and make a suggestion to Peter based on our research, we would find that Peter would very quickly reply with an unexpected response and then we would realise that we had missed a sub-rule hidden deep elsewhere in the regulations.  We soon decided it was a great resource to use to get comfortable with the background but not necessarily a good idea to try to become an expert in planning approval! We decided to leave the task of “rule compliance” to our architect.

We did however do something else which the architect was not doing. We viewed several recent successful planning applications in our neighbouring area. These are all available for everyone to review in detail, either online (as in our local authority) or in person by visiting the office.

In particular, we found the details of a planning application for another coach house, on the same street, which had been granted planning permission just the previous year. This was invaluable! We read all the documents in great detail. Not only could we see what had been applied for, the reasons given and subsequently accepted by the local authority, but even more interesting were the local authorities comments and areas where they had not accepted certain parts of the application or had requested an amendment to the plans.

We used all this information to create a planning application which, as far as was relevant, mirrored the previous successful application and even more-so, the local authorities comments. Our thinking was, “if our local authority stated XYZ as a condition on a similar application last year, then surely they will love to read that we have already suggested doing XYZ in our application!”

For example, we discovered an application from a householder in the same area as us with a very similar property, where the local authority had rejected his request to build an extension to the immediate side of his existing house.

The local authority had provided its reasoning – and this was the crucial bit for us. They has mentioned that in their view the original house (which was, like ours, a coach house style built over 100 years ago) absolutely must remain more prominent when viewed from a public perspective after any renovation. To achieve this, the local authority viewpoint was that any new build element must be at least 12 metres back from the public footpath.

We therefore simply ensured that our side extension was also at least 12 metres back from the roadside! In our application we clearly highlighted the consideration we had applied to this area and also explicitly stated that in our view our original house would remain more prominent after the build.

We simply mirrored what the local authority had itself stated to others to improve our chances of being on the right side!

Of course we could have been more bold and tried to argue a case for things we had discovered the local authority had previously rejected … but we did not have the time, inclination or budget to do that. We wanted to increase our chances of getting approval and were happy to come up with a design that fitted within that framework.

Our Planning Application

Our planning application comprised of the following parts:

  1. Planning Statement;
  2. Architects Drawings; and
  3. Design & Access Statement

At the outset, we had thought we would simply be submitted some drawings but the other two documents were very useful descriptive documents that helped define the reasons behind our drawings and very importantly the consideration we had given to the local authorities rules and criteria for building in one of their Conservation Areas.

The Planning Statement included our thoughts on how we had considered issues related to the character and history of the building in the context of the Conservation Area in which it is located.

The Design & Access Statement included paragraphs on sustainability and energy efficiency benefits (a current hot topic for many councils across the UK), access considerations (in particular demonstrating how our proposals would not adversely affect any access issues both to us but also from our house areas which led to public areas such as footpaths) and also referenced recent properties nearby which had obtained approval for similar projects as precedents.

Finally, we made an important and key strategic decision about our application: we would apply for a little more than we would be happy with getting approval for … but not so much more that it could stretch the overall risk attached to our application!

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