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Overcoming hurdles in the planning process

Craig Alexander, Chartered Architect within our in-house Architectural Design team here. Here, he outlines six tips for overcoming some common pitfalls along the self-build planning journey.

The planning process can be stressful and at times, a challenging stage of a self-build project. Essentially it is one of the main stages of the project where the pace (and outcome) can be outside of your direct influence. However, our Architectural team are on hand to guide you through this process, and provide our ‘top tips’ for a successful planning outcome, based on our past experience:

1.Appraise your site

It’s best to start your project with two things- a brief- a list of requirements (a ‘wishlist’) outlining the space and layout aspirations you have for the project, as well as a site appraisal. This is a chance to look into the context of the site- both the physical, e.g constraints and opportunities, such as trees, views, rights of ways, access layouts, as well as the planning context. This desktop-study can set your project on a much sounder footing, identifying potential hurdles which need to be met to ensure a smooth passage though the planning system.

Looking into the local planning policy, including local and neighbourhood plans, and any emerging changes to the policy can help steer a project and help to inform and mould the brief.  It can be the case that a local housing need can help justify a particular size or number of bedrooms, as well as looking into policies which support sustainable or high quality design, which we can draw on to help support and justify your application.

2. Validation

Working with an experienced Architect or Designer can help overcome delays when your application is submitted. The first stage of a planning submission is called validation- here the Planning Department check over all the documents and drawings to ensure they have the right information required for the Planning Officers to understand the application and make a decision. Simple things such as missing off north arrows and scale bars, or not submitting to a recognised drawing scale can cause applications to be held up until new drawings are sent-in.

Some of the requirements can be more complex, or involve additional consultants or reports, depending on the information can feeds directly from the Site Appraisal in Tip 1.

Our Architectural Team can ensure your proposals are presented in a clear, legible and attractive manner and meet all the requirements for validation.

3. Local Engagement

Many people are concerned about local opposition when submitting a Planning Application; this is perfectly understandable, particularly when setting out to build a dream home, you want to get on well with the neighbours! It must be noted that, any new development invariably ruffles a few feathers, and the Planning Department have a very strict and clear list of points they can take into consideration from members of the public.

I always advise getting to know the neighbours, prior to submitting a planning application, and give them a courtesy heads-up before the application is submitted. You don’t have to ask for their input about every aspect of the design, but in my experience, a polite and friendly explanation from the self-builder themselves explaining the motivation and concepts behind the design (and particularly how you have taken views/privacy and boundaries into account) is much better than waiting for the council to post up a public notice, or write to the neighbours inviting comments. People respond much better to advance warning and the personal touch.

4. Being Proactive

It’s important that either you or your Planning Agent/Architect are proactive once a planning application is submitted. There is nothing worse than receiving a refusal notice for something relatively minor which could have been tweaked or amended during the application process!

I always contact the Planning Case Officer regularly through each application, and monitor the council’s online portal for new public or statutory body comments (e.g from the conservation officer or other advisory body).

This ensures I can react to any developments, and engage proactively and positively during the process to ensure the best chance at a positive outcome. I’d always be mindful that it can often be better to negotiate and tweak a design, rather than attempt an appeal, as this can be a very time-consuming process.

5. Avoiding Amendments & Redesign work

Often at the start of a project, clients are keen to get moving as quickly as possible; this is perfectly understandable, but I’d always recommend taking a little time to ensure the design fully meets your brief, expectations and aspirations for your self-build process before it is submitting to planning.

It’s always possible to go back and tweak designs later down the road, after the scheme has been approved, but this can add unnecessary delay and cost. It isn’t unusual for applications to take longer to decide than expected, so going back for further applications can introduce risks of delays before you are able to start on site.

It’s also important to make sure that the proposals are fully ‘buildable’ and can comply with Building Regulations– the Planners won’t be looking for any issues outside of their remit that relate to planning issues and policy, so it’s important that the design is sufficiently developed to ensure amendments can be avoided.

This is particularly relevant for storey-and-a-half designs, with dormers and over staircases, to ensure sufficient head-height.

Our Architectural Team design using 3D software, ensuring that the design is developed to a good degree of detail, even before it goes into planning, including building-in an oak frame into the design.

6. Don’t forget your Planning Conditions!

While getting planning approval is a moment for celebration- be careful not to rest on your laurels! It is quite common for planning approvals to come with ‘conditions attached’. Some are very common- such as starting the work within 3 years of the date of approval, but others can involve additional drawings, details or reports to be prepared.

Always check over the decision notice carefully and ask your designer to explain the conditions to you and any requirement for them to be ‘discharged’.

Our Architectural Team are always on hand to assist with Planning Conditions as an additional service, once you’ve secured Planning Approval.

The Oakwrights Architectural team are available for site appraisals and initial design consultations; please contact us for further information and a discussion with one of our Architectural Designers.