Much careful work and planning go into designing a new development. Every planning application needs to go through the local council planning permission process. You want to resolve as many of the key sticking points that might hamper a planning application as early as possible.
As a result, a large part of the design development needs to draw on local planning policies and the sentiment of local stakeholders towards the application. Most successful developers start dialogues with essential stakeholders, including the council and residents, as soon as practical. Having a detailed real-world insight and steer from local stakeholders early in the planning process can drastically reduce hold-ups later.
This is where the council's paid-for pre-application process comes in. It is one of the first point of call when trying to gauge the likely planning issues to be aware of.
What pre-app services are offered by councils?
Local councils in the UK refer to ‘pre-app process’ to any activities, including advise, done or sought before making a planning application. The pre-app stage can involves paid-for advice, including also pre-app meetings, with a local planning officer. Paid-for pre-app advice services by councils sit alongside other activities, such as stakeholder and community engagement.
Example: Nottingham City Council Pre-application service
With the introduction of design codes, an expanded pre-app process with the local authority that includes design reviews is an ideal mechanism to improve the quality of designs, particularly on challenging sites. For example, the Nottingham City Council’s Design Quality Framework and pre-app process is an exceptionally well-developed example.
Applications that undertake pre-application consultation in Nottingham take ten weeks less on average to get planning approval compared to planning applications that don't make use of the service. They result in eleven fewer planning conditions than applications that don’t engage in the council's pre-application process.
A good pre-app service can resolve critical design decisions early and establish a working relationship with the local council. Benefits can include:
Consider the cost vs benefit of pre-application advice
When it comes to local authority advice, it's essential to consider the costs of the pre-app consultation service. These costs vary based on the project's size and the local authority that is receiving the application.
Public Practice, a social enterprise focused on building public sector capacity for proactive planning, recently reviewed pre-application services provided by London Borough Councils.
The review found significant variance in cost and service provision for pre-app advice across planning authorities. Average costs for projects of different sizes are listed below.
When considering pre-application advise services, it always pays to seek a second opinion on the quality of the service obtained so to judge whether it is worth to incur the additional fee. Alternatively, it is possible to create conversations with local councillors and residents first to start a conversation around key planning issues.
What issues might arise in the pre-app stage?
Time delay is a key stumbling block for pre-application services: The quality of the pre-application advice service different for every local authority. Local authority resources are substantially stretched, and often even internal departments cannot jump the queue for advice from planning officers.
Public Practice also listed key issues that local authorities face when it comes to pre-app services.
Generally, design teams should plan for delays in receiving official pre-application advice. Applying for pre-application advice will likely add at least two months to the project schedule, not considering any amendments based on advice received. This is outweighed by fewer issues at planning application stage.
Making the most of pre-app services
Do a baseline investigation before approaching the council. Before you consider applying for your pre-app advice with the local authority, research the area around your site in your own time with available data, ideally also incorporating insights from local people and organisations.
The pre-application process is unlikely to be beneficial without a baseline investigation of the site to get a feel for what is possible.
The government advises as follows:
“The level of information necessary for effective pre-application engagement will vary depending on the scale and nature of the proposed development. [...] A prospective applicant would not necessarily be expected to provide all of the information that would accompany a formal planning application, but it needs to be sufficient information to allow the local planning authority to take an informed view.” https://www.gov.uk/guidance/before-submitting-an-application
Try to do the following to support your pre-application process with the local council.
How digital tools can help during the pre-app process
From a local authority perspective, the report by Public mentioned earlier also flagged the need for councils to develop a database for consistent record-keeping on processed pre-apps. There's also mention incorporating and developing capabilities to use 3D models and geo-tagged proposals. However, be prepared that councils may not necessarily have these resources in place to refer back to at a later stage. To support documentation and design workflow, you want to invest in your digital tools in house.
The PlaceChangers platform provides a suite of digital tools that aid the design team during the pre-app phase. This tool enables applicants to create simple parameter plans.
The place report from PlaceChangers Site Insight provide a detailed overview of the provision of social facilities and the local population's makeup, which helps consider travel and green space requirements. It provide an excellent starting point to generate real-world insights at the pre-app stage.
With PlaceChangers interactive consultations you can invite feedback from the local planning authority, residents, and other stakeholders as part of a interactive consultation programme.