So, is it worth contacting the Planning Department
for an Officers opinion on your scheme prior to submitting a formal application
when their response times are getting seriously worse as each year passes?
Well like all things it depends on a lot of variables.
From simple observations and anecdotal evidence,
I would say that the ordinary householder has a distinct response time
advantage over professional Agents in this respect when writing or contacting
the Council. I can only assume that the 'general public' are easier to deal
with and satisfy than 'Professional Agents' who often require a far higher
level of detail and concise opinion from the Case Officer rather than the
wooly explanations they usually offer simply quoting policy reference numbers
that you should be adhering to.
I can see their point of view. When offering
a clear personal opinion either way on a scheme the subsequent application
can quite easily become high profile for example by a very articulate
anti-lobbying neighbour that affects the outcome contrary to what the Case
Officer may have initially advised.
We (MSM) only tend to make pre-application enquiries
for schemes that we know will become high profile or have a high front end
fee cost to the client in order to pursue the more detailed scheme.
Regretfully, much of the site specific Planning advice we receive
is usually after a 6 week wait that simply regurgitates the relevant elements
of the current Planning Policy that we knew about anyway - so you
still end having to take a view.
Most Planning Officers these days wont even
visit a site for an opinion without having some for of sketch plan to comment
on. Hopefully, if you are engaging a professional Design Agent to draw
out your development scheme then they should be able to advise you right
from the start what will likely receive an approval and what wont so use
their expertise and experience to your advantage and listen to what they
have to say.
If you are not using a Design Agent then
I would advise allowing some time for a pre-application contact with the
Council whether it be through a letter, drawing, site visit or an internal
office meeting. About 4 weeks should suffice but always follow up about
2 weeks later if your written reply is still outstanding. I personally
would not rely on a simple verbal opinion as your final application may be
given to another Case Officer so cover all the bases.
Your sketch scheme doesn't have to be professionally
prepared and a simple hand drawn (but roughly to scale) plan is normally
enough for the Case Officer. However, like anything in life, the more
precise and accurate you can be with your initial presentation, you will
likely receive a better quality of reply.
I recently came across a very impressive service
that took your digital photographic information and created an 'as built'
photographic realistic view of your extended property. This is a great
way of demonstrating your intentions and is ideally suited for
pre-application discussions with the Case Planning Officer. This image can
then be used to also support the 2D drawings when your application is submitted.
The great thing about this service is that it can all be completed remotely
by utilising your own photographs without the cost of a surveyors visit.
Simply send them the photos and a small pencil sketch of what you intend
doing and 'hey-presto' out comes a photograph of the finished extension -
So, a few tips......
1. Always allow 4 to 6 weeks when waiting
for a Planning Officer to reply to your pre-application enquiry.
2. Try to provide the Case Officer with as detailed
description, drawing or visual presentation of what you are trying to
3. Always obtain the Case Officers name and
follow up every week after the initial 2 weeks have elapsed.
4. Always try to obtain the CAse Officers
opinion confirmed in writing. If they refuse then you write to them
to confirm the relevant details and conclusions of your meeting or
5. If you know that your scheme is already
high profile and has contentious Planning issues then don't bother wasting
your time getting this fact confirmed in writing - submit it straight away
as a formal Planning application and take your chances that way.
6. Always remember that it is easier for
a Case Officer to be informally negative about your marginal scheme than
it is for them to stretch their neck above the parapet in support. An early
negative informal opinion will nearly always result in a later Planning refusal
where it just may have passed without one.
Our 'Maximum Build
Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when
developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the
best chance of being granted an approval.