HPH330 : What is a planning consultant? – with Andy Moger
Andy Moger, from Tetlow King Planning, explains the role of a planning consultant and the benefits they can bring to a project.
Interview with Andy Moger
Andy is a planning consultant for Tetlow King Planning: a planning and development company based in Bristol that operates nationwide.
A number of years ago he worked on the government's first pilot scheme for self and custom build – the Heartlands project in Cornwall. Following that, he became more involved in the self and custom build sector, primarily doing work for the Right to Build taskforce. Nowadays, this sector is all he works on, dealing with applications, appeals and site promotions, ranging from single dwellings to larger developments and appeal work for some of the big house builders and strategic land promoters.
Not all building projects will require planning approval
It is possible to use ‘permitted development' rights for work like small extensions and loft conversions, depending on the extent of the area you're adding to your property.
The ‘prior approval' process typically applies to larger extensions. You inform the council who will notify your neighbours. If there haven't been any objections after a period of time then you're deemed to have consent.
Local plans control development in each area
Each council has to have a local plan; sometimes called a district plan or core strategy. These set out a strategic approach for that area for the next 15-20 years, and contain the policies that control development. If you're looking to get planning permission on a particular piece of land you will need to check your local plan to see how you fit with those policies, or how you might overcome any potential issues.
All of these plans will work on the basis of concentrating the development in the most sustainable locations, which will tend to be the largest settlements within an authority area. The settlement hierarchy is:
- Towns and cities
- Larger villages with a broad range of services
- Smaller villages that have some facilities but still place a degree of reliance on higher-order settlements
- Hamlets and open countryside where the presumption generally is against development happening unless there are specific circumstances, such as for essential agriculture
Start with a site appraisal
A planning consultant can carry out a site appraisal before you get to the application submission stage. This looks at a number of areas that might be a barrier to getting planning approval:
- What the local policy position is
- What the chances of adhering to those policies is
- Site constraints, such as flood zones, ecological designations, conservation areas, nearby heritage assets, etc
This would be followed by a number of surveys and reports
Providing that the planning consultant thinks they can demonstrate that the project complies with the local plan, a number of surveys need to be carried out to support the planning application. These will depend on the scale of the development but it is likely that some will be requested.
An ecological report will typically be required to identify whether there are any protected species on the site and sometimes these can only be carried out at a specific time of year. If you miss a survey calendar window, you may need to wait until the following year before trying again.
Additionally, a transport statement will look at visibility splays and traffic generation from your scheme. Depending on where your site is, there could also be heritage reports, ground contamination reports and archaeological investigations.
Local validation requirements will tell you what you need to submit
Local validation requirements supplement the national validation list, with what the local authority considers as appropriate for their area. It tells you what information you need to provide with your application when you submit it. Once you have submitted all the required information on the Planning Portal, and paid your fee, you wait for the council to validate it.
There are two routes to a planning decision
If there haven't been objections to the scheme, or if they've been addressed and the case officer is satisfied, then there are two routes to planning approval that might be taken. The first is their delegated decision, which tends to be on smaller, non-contentious schemes. This is where the officer has been given the power to grant or refuse planning consent.
The other route is where it is put forward to a committee. This might be because it has been called in by a local councillor, or because it is more contentious with a number of objections.
You have six months to appeal a decision
If the case officer or committee refuse the application, you have six months in which to appeal. There are three routes for this.
The first is called written representations, which is the easiest and cheapest. In your statement you would set out your case and submit it to the planning inspectorate. The council does the same. The planning inspectorate reviews both statements and makes a decision as to whether the appeal should be allowed or dismissed.
The second route is a hearing. Both sides set out their case as above, but then attend a hearing together in person. The planning inspectorate will listen to both parties before making their decision.
And thirdly, it can go to a public inquiry. This is the most expensive and time-consuming and is run very much like a trial. There are barristers and witnesses, and the inspector will sit as judge. They make their decision based on the written evidence and what they've heard in the cross-examinations.
Choose a planning consultant based on their relevant experience
If you're looking for a planning consultant to work on your case with you, it is sensible to choose one with relevant experience of the appeals process that you are using. They should be a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (MRTPI) and have a good track record locally. Don't be afraid to ask for examples of cases they've won, so that you know you're going with someone who is familiar with local policy and has relationships with councillors and officers in the area.
Councils have a statutory duty to make self build land available
Putting your name on the Right to Build register means that the council has a legal duty under the Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act to issue the same number of permissions as there are names on the register.
Andy has been involved in appeals where they have been able to argue that because the council have failed in their legal duty to issue enough consents for self and custom building, then land which might be outside of settlement limits should be permitted for development.
Andy has also found that although some councils claim to have met their obligations by granting the same number of single dwelling permissions as there are people on their register looking for a plot, further investigation shows that actually, the majority of them aren't for self or custom build at all. Some of these can be planning permissions for up to 9 dwellings, where they're clearly developer-led models with no ability for customisation.
8 out of 10 people aren't aware of the Right to Build Register
In one appeal that Andy worked on, although the council had met its obligations, they were able to argue that secondary data sources showed the register was actually a massive underestimation of the numbers of people in the area that wanted to self-build. Many of these were people that weren't even aware of the self-build register. The inspector in that case allowed the appeal, even though the council had met its statutory duty.
Andy would encourage anyone to add their details to this register though, as this will increase the number of self build plots the council legally has to make available.
Outline planning permission is less risky
A full planning permission provides all the details about your scheme, including layouts, landscaping, scale and massing. If you were to then get planning consent, all you would have to do is discharge the conditions against it, such as material samples, working hours on site etc.
What a lot of people do is seek an outline consent with access only. This is an illustrative plan showing what you intend to put on the site. With outline approval you have to get subsequent reserved matters approvals for all the elements that you haven't included at that stage. Outline permission is cheaper, so is therefore considered less of a risk.
Andy stresses the importance of discharging any pre-commencement conditions, prior to starting work on site.
Self builders can apply for CIL exemption
CIL is the Community Infrastructure Levy that some councils have implemented. It is a per square metre charge on development and is intended to pay for strategic infrastructure. Self builders can apply for an exemption, but it is incredibly important to follow the process correctly, and within the timeframes, as failure to do so could lead to a bill running into thousands of pounds.
Find out more
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