- Have pre-application discussions with the Council You'll have to pay up to about £3,000 (depending on the scale and nature of your proposals) but it will be worth it. Pre-application meetings will elicit an honest officer view and identify any issues they feel need to be addressed before they can recommend your scheme for approval.
- Consult widely and listen! It is important to engage early and meaningfully with statutory consultees and the public – and to actually listen to what they have to say. Treat this stage as a way to minimise objections later; where possible, be willing to amend your scheme to address concerns raised.
- Employ experts early Assemble a team as early as possible to advise and provide supporting evidence on all aspects of your development. Always have one eye on the possibility of Judicial Review. Get lawyers on board to certify that, both procedurally and evidentially, your "ducks are in a row". This is especially important if your development requires an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
- Engage with the local politicians Councillors normally have the final say and, as elected officials, will be particularly influenced by their constituents (another reason to address public concerns!). Getting the planning committee members and the local ward councillors onside can make a significant difference.
- Deal positively with officers Council officers can sometimes seem overly-bureaucratic and even unreasonable in their demands for additional information and/or amendments. Treat their demands as a positive: they are probably trying to make the scheme more acceptable to members. Remember, they wouldn't bother seeking amendments or clarifications if they'd already decided to recommend refusal!
- Consider a planning performance agreement Major applications frequently take longer than the statutory 8, 13 or 16 week limit. Entering into a planning performance agreement with the Local Planning Authority enables a realistic timescale to be agreed and adhered to. This certainty allows you to produce a reliable development programme.
- Seek early discussions on conditions and s106 heads of terms Try to get the case officer to share draft conditions and s106 heads of terms with your team as early as possible and, in any event, before the publication of the committee agenda. Once conditions and s106 heads have been seen by councillors and the public - and particularly once the committee decision is made – they become much more difficult to get amended.
- Consider appealing against non-determination If (but only if) there is a delay in dealing with your application and you suspect, or it becomes clear, that the Council are not going to support your application, consider an appeal before they make a decision. You can appeal against non-determination at any time within six months after the date by which they should have determined your application, often leading to a more positive decision from the Secretary of State.
- Attend the Committee meeting Most Councils allow objectors and applicants to each make a short address to the Committee, providing you with a final opportunity to explain the advantages of your scheme and deal with any objections. Get someone to take a detailed note of proceedings. It will be useful if there is a legal challenge or you need to appeal a refusal – particularly if the refusal is against officer advice, which might be unreasonable behaviour potentially leading to a costs award in your favour.
- Be prepared to deal with Judicial Review applications If you have followed tips 1-9, you shouldn’t experience this but controversial planning decisions are all too often the subject of (usually groundless) Judicial Review applications, leading to delay. Be prepared for Judicial Review especially if, despite your best efforts, there have been vociferous objectors. Your aim should be to persuade the judge in your written pleading that the claim is wholly without merit, in which case the proceedings can be dismissed at an early stage.
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