The most extreme hurricanes for generations, breakdown of inter-continental relations, threat of thermonuclear war and rail prices going up by 3.6%…where’s the good news? Can there be any tenuous analogy to planning applications?
I regularly get asked for a second opinion from people half way through a planning application who have been alarmed by the cost and complexity of the process. Realising this halfway through an application is akin to realising what the cost of a train ticket from York to London when you reach Peterborough.
The planning system has to consider a number of factors when assessing applications, each of which has to be safe and within acceptable limits. It is true that the amount of reports necessary to validate the process has risen exponentially over recent years, despite bombastic Government statements of intent to the contrary. Regardless of the reasons for the reports, they are generally a fact of planning life. Good planning and experience can cut down the amount of reports required through a risk based approach but there will be a minimum requirement. Put yourself in the position of the planning officer, if they approve your application without a transport assessment, will someone get seriously hurt?
One of the problems with a purely risk based approach to applications is that it stifles creativity. I am involved in several applications for new towns and garden villages of 1,500-8,000 houses. Despite the massive complexity of assembling land deals and professional reports often running to millions of pounds, the refreshing thing is that there is a focus on creating a sense of place alongside a drive from developer and council to problem solve and create something great for generations to come.
When you are planning a development which will be built over 40 years, different questions come to mind. Will we still use cars? Will houses be connected to the grid? Will village shops and offices be a thing of the past; replaced by drone deliveries and hologramatic meetings? Will the housebuilding industry ever leave behind the frankly daft process of gluing together small bricks with cement based mortar? Watch architects smile when you ask them those types of questions.
The problem with focusing on the restrictive aspects of planning is that it leaves little creative capacity to focus on making the development great. That will endure long after the cost of the application has been paid off. Potential applicants must understand the cost of making an application upfront. Back to the journey analogy, you may not want to go first class but you will need a ticket to get to your destination or risk being thrown off the train. If the cost of that is prohibitive, there are other ways of funding the process or finding a development partner. Perhaps get a lift or maybe the Megabus?
Either way, understand what needs to be done before you get on board and if it fits your risk profile, appoint it and focus on what will make your development great. Experience tells us that leads to swifter applications, sites which sell quicker and for more money and great places to live.
Richard Garland, Partner