Planning can, understandably, appear to be a complex area to those who are not used to dealing with it on a day-to-day basis. In truth it can become a complex area to step into and indeed, that is why the entire planning profession exists. We, as planning consultants, help people, in varying capacities, shape towns, cities or villages by balancing the needs of people and business for homes, jobs, local facilities and impacts on the wider environment.
Most people within the planning profession are qualified as Chartered Town Planners who are regulated by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Chartered Town Planners represent the highest standard of planning practice. They are a qualified expert in property development and management with specific emphasis on the field of planning permission and the wide range of factors which lead into this. They are specifically trained and required to maintain up to date continued professional development, to sufficiently advise and navigate the planning system. They have an insight to the application process, the decision-making process and the appeal decisions and are the best placed to understand the perspective of local authorities and advise on requirements and possibilities as part of your proposals.
Most commonly, we advise parties on how to interpret and apply, strategic and local planning policy, case laws, and material considerations such as national and local guidance. In our roles, as consultants, we generally prepare planning applications, plans and proposals for determination by a local planning authority (your local council) and/or the Planning Inspectorate depending on the stage of a proposal. We are trained to identify and analyse issues, courses of action, and advise on the planning of land and buildings and are usually required to write reports, which can be complex, to assess and explain legislation and why plans should or should not be allowed. Such reports can be used by a wide range of people, depending on who instructs us, but can include developers, commercial clients as well as individual members of the public.
So, if you come to us with a planning issue, this could be in a variety of formats. Most commonly, and broadly speaking, the majority of our planning clients fall into five distinct categories. These include:
- Owning land and/or buildings or looking to purchase land and/or buildings who want to understand what they can and cannot do in terms of specific objectives and or maximising value;
- Those who want us to specifically prepare a planning application;
- Those who have enforcement enquiries and need assistance dealing with it;
- Those who have tried planning and have had issues which need to be overcome with more detailed advice and/or be taken to an appeal and;
- Those who are close to potential or proposed development and need advice as to how it would affect them and/or assistance structuring objections and comments where appropriate.
The above are just a few examples of the types of people who we assist on a day-to-day basis, and it is in no way exhaustive given the wide area which planning covers. We often say to our clients that we, as Planning Consultants, are almost akin to a central focal point for the preparation of a planning application or more easily described as similar to a project manager. Planning Consultants understand the hoops, so to speak, through which proposals need to pass in order to gain the relevant consents. In order to gain the relevant consents, technical advice is often required and even the simplest planning applications can (and generally will) require input from other built environment professions (in some form) including, but not limited to, architects, ecologists, arboriculturists, structural surveyors, heritage professionals, highway engineers, landscape consultants, and drainage consultants.
Our role, as a Planning Consultant, is to ascertain the policy requirements and information which is required depending on the proposal in question, before explaining to/liaising with the client as to what technical advice is required from which built environment professional and facilitating the necessary contact with them to obtain quotations. We liaise with any professionals required, to explain and obtain the information which is required. We can then analyse information and make informed decisions as to how this impacts upon the overarching objectives of our instructions.
As a result of this, Planning Consultants are often not the only qualified professional required to support a planning application. Planning Consultants are required to have excellent communication skills and be able to explain a wide range of issues to people with highly varied levels of understanding to assist the planning process. We need to be able to engage and consult with stakeholders, local people, and applicants in order to listen to ideas and answer questions about proposals as well as collaborate with other professions to ensure the relevant policy requirements are met within a plan-led system with a large amount of public engagement.
We cannot be, and are not, all of the other professions that we need, and whilst we have a good understanding of the general issues and requirements which other professionals support us with, we are not qualified, for example, to design a site access and visibility, write a flood risk assessment, or write a complex heritage statement as part of a sensitive site where extensive background research and understanding is required.
Early advice, and initial assessments (appraisals), can identify proposals that clearly will not get permission due to conflict with planning policy and overall unbiased approach, sometimes combined with brutal honesty, can save you money and avoid a lot of heartache further down the line. We, personally, are not agents that will submit any application we are asked to submit – we do decline instructions where there is a clear, policy based, issue with the proposals where we cannot put forward a logical argument. This maintains confidence in our work as ultimately, we don’t create jobs just to generate fees.
Use of a planning consultant is key, in combination with other professionals, to ensure that the planning application process is as clear, and smooth, as possible and that the outcome of any proposal or project is the correct one which achieves client objectives.