There is no doubt about it that the planning system is becoming more demanding.  We do not say that to be intentionally negative but highlight, very honestly, that the days of filling a form in, sending it in with a few basic plans and hoping for the best in eight weeks are long gone (and have been for several years!).

We, as a company, aim to realistic and honest advice in as cost-effective manner as possible but, put bluntly, within the last few years, the local and national validation requirements have increased for most types of application which means that even the simplest of applications (in theory) often require a number of supporting reports, surveys, and further documentation.  It our job to make sure that clients embarking on their planning journey know, as far as possible, what to expect so that they can understand any potential risks as well as appropriately budget for the work that is required.

The most common types of additional information/supporting reports which we have to source for our clients, in preparing and submitting applications, include (but is not limited to) Technical Advice Notes from highway consultants (including speed surveys and visibility splays or tracking diagrams), Preliminary Ecological Surveys, species specific ecological surveys (for example Great Crested Newts or bats), Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) calculations, tree surveys, drainage strategies, flood risk assessments, structural surveys, heritage statements, noise surveys and drawing work (either by an Architect or a CAD technician).

Evidently, sites will not (generally) require all of the above, but it not uncommon for most applications to need at least three to four of the above types of document not only to achieve a successful outcome but, quite literally, in order to be considered a valid application by the Council which enables it to go live and be considered by a Planning Officer for determination.

In addition to this, some Councils have an adopted Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charging regime (which secures payments, based upon floor area, which act as a contribution to new infrastructure as a result of developments).  This requires completion of additional forms.  Some types of application require completion of either Unilateral Undertakings or Section 106 Agreements to secure matters which cannot be secured via condition such as, for example, mitigation payments for affordable housing contributions.

All of these reports, and surveys, cost money and, in addition to this, there are evidently the fees of your planning consultant who generally coordinates and manages obtaining these reports on your behalf, pulls the information together to prepare and submits the application as well as writing the required supporting/planning statements to present your application to the Council.  Each planning application then, generally, commands a planning fee to the Council which is calculated by application type and in many cases depends on the floor area or site area of the application depending on your proposals.

When we are approached with an enquiry relating to an application, and we fee quote in terms of our time, we do our very best to outline the additional requirements which are likely to need to be sourced to support your application in order to achieve the best chance of success.  We do not advise the preparation of reports/surveys unless we feel they are absolutely necessary and will always do so in the most cost-effective way possible.  Some matters are non-negotiable, for example Biodiversity Net Gain and without this information we cannot even get an application validated on your behalf.  We don’t make the rules!

So, taking this all into account, how can you, appropriately, manage the cost of your planning application?

As we have outlined, a lot of documents are mandatory in that they are either a validation requirement or reasonably required due to the site constraints of your application site.  There are, however, ways in which you can make sourcing these documents as cost effective as possible and, in our experience, this is generally most easily done by planning your development as far ahead as possible.

Most planning permissions (full planning permissions) generally only require you to commence development within 3 years of permission having been granted.  This is, we would highlight, a direct contrast to something such as prior approval under Class Q which requires completion within 3 years.  Generally, we would advise that it is never too early to start looking at obtaining your planning permission and there are in fact advantages to starting early.

Some consultants who we utilise offer tiered quotations (as do we on some types of work) which means the cheapest option of securing their expertise is to work with their standard lead in times and this generally means that if you book in advance, you can take advantage of the most cost-effective fees.  If, however, it comes to a busy time of year (for example ecologists are generally quite booked up now due to bat survey season) their standard lead in times extend to several weeks and this only leaves paid upgrade options to achieve and receive surveys/reports back in a timelier manner and this does, of course, cost more money.

Starting early means you can not only make use of more cost effective survey routes, if you can book in advance, but it also means that you have plenty of time to deal with any issues if something comes up such as, for example, a preliminary ecological appraisal undertaken in September flagging that there is potential for roosting Bats which means that the whole project would then be delayed until the following Spring, when Bat Surveys could be undertaken again when Bat Survey season recommencing in May.

If, however, that project had been started earlier in advance that year, it is more likely that the required additional surveys could have been obtained in the relevant survey season meaning that the cost of delay would have been avoided.  This is of particular relevance for some applications such as those affecting businesses that need new premises or expansion of premises, which cannot then be secured for several months due to a delay.

Obtaining your planning permission early, and in good time, also means that you are able to generally make better and more flexible decisions as to the purchasing of materials and booking of contractors in advance rather than being held, to some extent, to ransom by both availability of labour and also the cost of materials which seem to continue to rise every time we look at them!

There is also the opportunity to deal with some matters via condition once your permission has been granted.  This is not to say that conditions should be relied upon to support a substandard application and indeed some matters are at the heart of any permission granted with information required upfront, however, some matters can be dealt with by condition which can then assist in spreading the cost of surveys or reports.  Additionally, this does, at least, then give you confidence that permission has been granted prior to further expenditure on final technical details.

In a similar manner, exploration of some application types (for example permission in principle or outline consent) can secure the principle in a more cost-effective manner prior to the main expenditure on an application within technical details consent or reserved matters.  These routes do, however, typically work better when you have commenced well in advance to give yourself time to get through the application processes.

Overall planning is certainly not a cheap, or quick, process, but we will always pride ourselves on advising as pragmatically as possible and commit to giving you honest advice which will get you through the planning system in as cost-effective manner as possible.  Costs cannot, to some extent, be avoided, but with planning in advance it is possible to reduce some costs comparatively to make sure you can obtain the required information in as cost-effective manner as possible but also avoid delays which could add further to cost if you happen to miss a certain survey window which delays your project.

Starting early and booking people in advance also gives you an appropriate opportunity to budget for the costs of surveys and work being undertaken and spread the cost over a few weeks or months rather than requiring payment of them in one lump in some cases.  We are always on hand to assist you in achieving your objectives via the most appropriate route depending on your site!