Dealing with Delays in Planning Applications

When any planning application goes in, it requires monitoring and chasing.  The job is only ever ‘half done’ just by submitting the application.  Applicants need to chase up registration, and then validation of the application, to ensure that it is properly ‘in the system’ and travelling on its way through the formal application system.

Here’s a summary of the Planning Application Process:

  • Application Submission
  • Planning Portal Validation (week 0)
  • Council Registration (week 1)
  • Council Validation (week 1-2)
  • Public Consultation (week 2-8/ at least 21 days)
  • Scheme amendment (+ 1-2 weeks consultation?)
  • Officer review and reporting (delegated)
  • Committee report (1 week from Committee)
  • Registration of Interest (check time limits)
  • Committee and Decision/ Resolution to Grant
  • Section 106/formal PP

The initial administration through to the start of planning notices going up near the site takes 1-2 weeks usually, though we have seen some authorities taking longer and, in some cases, this being stretched out to 3-4 weeks.

A rise in development activity and planning applications coupled with staff shortages has led to a crisis in the handling of planning applications at local level. We’ve experienced similar problems with the planning appeals system.

Without a doubt, we have noticed a clear reluctance amongst local authorities to engage with us and discuss the progress of the application at least until after they have reviewed consultation responses (at least 4-5 weeks after submission).  In the case of permitted development and prior approval applications, officers often do not engage or comment at all, despite chasing emails.

Permitted development and prior approval decisions are often ‘rushed’ through the final stages of the process, after the public consultation stage with no opportunity to amend schemes prior to the decision, leaving little to no time for changes, even minor tweaks, to respond to concerns and ensure officer support and approval.

Mitigating or reducing delay

Delay in applications often cannot be avoided.  The 8-week deadline, other than for the most straightforward PD and Prior Approval applications, is now more of an aspiration rather than a guide, never mind a rule.

There are a few things we have learnt along the way that may help:

  1. Get it right the first time: PD and Prior Approval applications must be prepared with utmost diligence and accuracy throughout.  Revised plans, even on seemingly trivial matters, can be used as a basis by officers to refuse the application – and they will not usually tell you until after 8 weeks!
  2. Get advice first: Seek professional planning consultancy advice on strategy and the need for initial permission for new windows and doors to the existing building BEFORE submitting your PD or Prior Approval application.  It may be prudent to search out this advice before completing on the deal to acquire the site.
  3. Be persistent: Tenacity in chasing up applications through the process is key.  Make sure that you are clear with your consultancy team that this will be done and when it will be done.  It is easily forgotten in some cases, or wires-crossed between client and consultant, and then it does not get done and the application is left to linger unattended.
  4. Escalate (carefully) if necessary: Don’t be afraid to go ‘up the chain’ to team leaders and then to Heads of Service, or finally to Executive Directors, Councillors, Portfolio Members for Planning or Leaders of the Council.  A delicate balance needs to be struck in doing this so as not to jeopardise the relationship with officers.
  5. Build bridges: Knowing when and how to push officers, go up the chain of command or complain to Councillors is difficult and extremely subjective.  Discuss this with your professional team, exploit the inherent relationships with the Council within the team and contacts made through any prior informal consultation by the team at the local level. 
  6. Pointless Pre-App?: Pre-application helps to get an early steer and build relationships with officers but is rather pointless on PD and Prior Approval applications, should not be necessary in these cases, and not always a guarantee that the officer might not miss something which they later raise during the formal application.
  7. Plan ahead: Think well in advance of all professional reports required.  All consultancies are busy, and people’s time needs to be booked in, not left to the last minute, where possible.  Transport surveys can only be done during school term times at least one week clear of the start or end of school holidays, and bat surveys and some other ecological reports can only be done between May and September.

Delay, disruption, and frustration are ‘givens’ in the planning system.  They are part of the ‘pain’ that all developers and development teams have to go through on the way to achieving a successful scheme.

If you cannot change or influence what you cannot control, then it is best to focus with your team on how best to mitigate these potential problems. Look for solutions and the right planning and development strategy and manage expectations at all levels within the consultancy team as well as on the client and investor side. Good luck!

If you have an enquiry – email info@drkplanning.co.uk we’re happy to discuss your project in an initial brief introductory call.

[This blog is a series of extracts from an article written by David Kemp for Property Investor News in November 2021.]