Getting Planning Permission: How to Overcome Planning Permission Hurdles

Getting planning permission can be a long and complicated process, with a variety of challenges to overcome. But there are things you can do to give your development the best chance of pleasing the planners. Here’s some advice from the experts at Landhaven:

Get good planning guidance: Hire a specialist planning consultant

A planning consultant will help with the crucial task of analysing the planning environment of your project, from the current planning policy and history of the site through to what your chances of success are likely to be, to what the main hurdles are.

Good planning consultants will keep an impartial mindset, so that their advice is neither too positive nor too negative. They will often play devil’s advocate and put themselves in the planner’s shoes to see what a project looks like from that point of view.

As part of the design team, they will help steer a scheme to the best chances of success.

If you’re looking for local, collaborative property development opportunities in the Bristol area, or need an expert team to guide you through the hurdles of the planning permission process, get in touch

Get great design: Hire a specialist architecture team

There are multiple stages to the planning permission process, and getting planning permission can feel like a long haul. Be prepared to manage and adjust project plans and timings, as well as expectations, along the way.

Hiring a specialist architecture team can help take the stress out of the process. They will balance a development’s needs for aesthetic appeal, planning consent, building regulations approval, buildability, and cost-effectiveness. They will also manage the whole design process, including engagement with stakeholders, the community, and the council, on your behalf.

In the long run, having a team with expertise and experience behind you will help you overcome the inevitable challenges that go hand in hand with property development.

Decide whether to make a pre-application enquiry

Pre-application (pre-app) advice is a way to discuss your project with the council and draw out what they like—and don’t like—about your plans before you commit to a full planning permission application. Crucially, it’s an opportunity to discuss your plans in private, without the glare, noise, and potential confrontation that can come with going public.

The council will give a view on the likelihood of your proposal gaining support, detail any relevant policies against which the proposal will be assessed, and advise on engaging with stakeholders or consultees as you proceed with your development.

However, there are potential disadvantages to pre-apps. There is a feeling that pre-app advice makes it easy for the council to say no (unlike a planning application, there is less requirement to justify a negative decision). Once a negative position has been taken, it is then unlikely that the council will reverse that position when the full planning application comes in.

Pre-app advice is also often couched in so many caveats that you can be left wondering whether it carries any weight at all. And then there is a question of time. With no statutory deadlines around these services, case officers often don’t prioritise them because full planning applications have target dates and take precedence. This means you can be left for months awaiting feedback, only to find it’s not that helpful after all.

We suggest taking a team decision, early on, on whether it is going to be worthwhile. Do you have the time to add to the process? Are there contentious aspects, and are these better discussed in private or in public? It’s a case-by-case decision.

Decide whether to blend in

For a simple life, make plans for your development to have a scale and appearance that will blend in with its surroundings, complementing the existing styles, materials, and patterns of the area.

However, it will be more challenging if you need/want to push the boundaries a little. Whether it’s introducing new materials, a new style, a new building use, or increased density, the less your design blends in the more you are likely to face hurdles in the justification of your proposals.

Assess amenity

On residential developments, amenity is at the forefront of planning policy and the planners’ minds. Amenity is the impact of a development on its neighbours—the ability of people around it to have quiet enjoyment of their space. This is often about privacy, overlooking or overbearing, but can also be about nuisance (for example from noise, traffic, odours, or light).

Often a development will cause some degree of harm to neighbouring amenity. The key question (in the context of good design and planning policy) is whether any harm is acceptable, on balance, given the benefits of the development.

Address mitigating concerns

Objections or concerns raised by the planning authority, stakeholders or local community must be carefully considered and addressed to have the best chance of getting planning permission.

Good design will look to foresee these from the start and mitigate them early on. Take such concerns seriously and demonstrate how you have listened, considered, and made reasonable adjustments to accommodate them.

Invest in a Design and Access Statement (DAS)

A Design and Access Statement is a report that tells the story of your design approach, explaining how the design has evolved and responded to specific challenges. It makes the case for why the team has taken a certain approach.

A strong explanation of your approach, in the DAS, will help persuade local planning departments to grant planning permission. The DAS should be considered a valuable asset in your planning process.

Your DAS should include the following sections:

  • Details of the existing site
  • The use of the proposed development
  • The scale of the proposed development
  • The appearance of the proposed buildings
  • The site layout
  • Plans for inclusive access
  • Landscaping and sustainability
  • Heritage assets

Invest in an ecologist—Biodiversity Net Gain is now mandatory

Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) is now mandatory for development. Developers must achieve a BNG (i.e. overall biodiversity improvement) of at least 10%. This means a more or better-quality habitat than what existed prior to development.

You will need a qualified ecologist to carry out a survey and prepare a BNG report. Be warned that there are only certain times of the year that some species can be surveyed (e.g. May to October for bats) and ecologists can be booked up for months in advance.

Invest in an energy statement with low-carbon targets

Most local planning authorities insist on an energy statement to demonstrate how the proposed development meets their planning policy, which will have a heavy focus on reducing energy demand and carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy.

You will need an energy consultant to assess your plans, propose measures to achieve the required energy performance (or carbon-emission reduction) and provide calculations to prove this. Ensure that these measures don’t clash with the other demands of your plans—this is something your architect should be able to synchronise.

For our recent project in Westbury-on-Trym, we used specialist energy consultants, ecologists, and other experts to ensure we made the right decisions and met our low-carbon targets.

Invest in a transport statement

A transport statement assesses the impact of a development on the movement (of people and vehicles) in relation to the existing transport network. It is normally suitable for smaller developments with limited transport impact (as opposed to a Transport Assessment which would be required for major or strategic schemes).

Even very small schemes can have significant transport issues, particularly where there is no pavement/footway to a site or where the visibility exiting is very poor.

Transport statements are produced by specialist transport consultants. We advise that all development projects are at least checked by a transport consultant.

Decide how to communicate openly with the community

Sharing plans for development with the local community can be pivotal in obtaining planning permission. Pre-empt any rumours by being open from the start, making plans accessible and being available to answer any questions. Listen to objections and be open to changes suggested by local people and councillors. Be clear about how the development will genuinely benefit local communities.

One way to reach local communities is to deliver flyers to residents and businesses outlining the project plans and provide contact details and a link to the planning portal. At Landhaven, we even go as far as to make personal door-to-door visits to explain the benefits and openly discuss questions and concerns people may have.

Reuse brownfield land, where possible

Brownfield land is land that has been previously developed; and planners like this. There are numerous benefits to building on brownfield sites for developers, the environment and local communities, and planners will rate those benefits in your favour when considering planning permission.

Giving poor-quality, inappropriate, or inefficient spaces a new lease of life is a more sustainable and responsible way to approach development. It can offer social and economic benefits to communities, creating safe, usable, and attractive buildings in place of derelict or dangerous sites.

Overcome conservation area challenges

Conservation areas are designated for their special character or appearance, environmental value, or historic interest, so any proposed development within them will be subject to stringent considerations. To get planning permission in a conservation area, you need to demonstrate how your development aims to preserve or enhance the existing features of the site and its surroundings.

This was our focus for our Court Farm Mews project in Westbury-on-Trym. Previously used as private garages and a commercial unit, our designs for this brownfield site reflect the historic character of the Old Police Station fronting the High Street.

Ensuring biodiversity gain via tree planting, lawns, bird boxes and bee bricks, investing in renewable energy generation and air-source heat pumps, and including features such as electric vehicle charging, also all contribute to overcoming conservation area challenges.

Good design is important and will help the planners visualise how your development will support and respect the conservation area. We recommend investing in high-quality 3D designs and perspective drawings.

Get a heritage statement

A heritage statement is an assessment of the impact of a proposed development upon heritage assets and historical features. Where a project is in a conservation area, or within the setting of a listed building, then a heritage statement is a national requirement.

The level of detail required in a heritage statement will depend on the proposed development, but it should add to the understanding of the building and how it has changed over time. We recommend including:

  • An outline and assessment of the overall significance of the building, conservation area, and any other nearby heritage assets
  • An assessment of the impact of proposed works
  • A statement of justification for the development
  • Details of mitigation measures that will limit the harm caused by the proposed development
  • Supporting documents such as photos and drawings.
  • Partner with a developer

Partnering with a developer from the start, as did the O’Dea Family in Westbury-on-Trym, will mean you have the skills, insights and expertise you need to pave the way for successfully obtaining planning permission, right from the beginning of your project.

At Landhaven, our projects are based on strong design principles, quality craftsmanship, and unwavering respect for the environment and community.

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