Gaining planning consent for development projects can be a challenge at the best of times. The complexities of the national planning policy framework, distinct local policies and the highly nuanced manner in which guidance documents are interpreted and applied, can conspire to make the process feel like a lottery. For projects within conservation areas, or involving listed buildings the process can seem even more unwieldy.

Over the past 5 years Smith Maloney Architects Ltd have managed to gain planning, listed building and conservation area consent on a number of difficult and sensitive sites across the UK. Based on our experience here’s a few quick tips that can improve the probability of success:

  1. Early engagement: Try to engage with the Local Planning Authority (LPA) as early in the design process as possible through a Pre-Application submission. This will help foster a sense of collaboration between the client, design team and local authority. If the LPA feel they’ve had a stake in the design process from the projects earliest inception it may smooth the ride later.
  2. Present Options: By presenting 2 or 3 options at outline proposal/Pre-App stage it is possible to have a more informed dialogue with the LPA about the pros and cons of each design. The relative merits of various strategies can be assessed in real terms rather than hypothetically. Psychologically it feels better to be given a choice than a singular ‘take it or leave it‘ option.
  3. Establish principles first: Avoid wasting time and money developing detailed proposals until you have agreed a set of outline principles with the LPA. These principles are the framework from which the detail design will evolve, and should define development characteristics such as scale, form, density, etc. Make sure they are clearly presented, understood and recorded.
  4. Good presentation: It is imperative that presentation material issued to the LPA is of the highest quality from beginning to end. Drawings, models and other supporting documentation serve two purposes. Firstly, they communicate the distinct characteristics and material properties of the design proposals. Secondly, they demonstrate the expertise and competence of the design team, and by default the client’s attitude to quality.
  5. Maintain engagement: Once the full application documents have been prepared and submitted maintain contact with the planning/listed building/conservation officer throughout the determination period. If issues arise it is often possible to resolve them through further dialogue, more detailed design substantiation (sketches, diagrams or models) or minor design changes.

Finally, from a client’s perspective the planning system can often seem to serve no other purpose than to diminish the value or quality of a development proposal. By carefully navigating the process, having an open mind and being prepared to re-evaluate earlier decisions at key stages we believe it is still possible to optimise the value of your site and deliver great design.