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Why timing can be critical to your chances of planning success: Hourigan Connolly Guest Blog

Securing planning permission is generally about the right site in the right location but get the timing wrong and prospects can be ruined.

In this post, Hourigan Connolly explain some of the issues you may encounter and the significant impact they might have on your chances of success.

The right site at the wrong time?

A land owning family wanted to know if a field had any prospects of being suitable for housing.

The land in question had all the hallmarks of a potential development site. It related well to the settlement, there were local shops and services nearby and public transport was adequate. There were no significant environmental or physical constraints although the boundaries of the site with the countryside beyond would have benefited from further planting.

Whilst all the indications were that this was a suitable site to promote for development, there was a major stumbling block to moving swiftly on to realising the value of the asset. The opportunity had been missed to promote the land through the District Council’s recently adopted Local Plan.  The Parish Council had also recently “made” a Neighbourhood Plan.  Both of these “Development Plan Documents” now sought to prevent development of the land in question with sites elsewhere being allocated for housing.

The Council was also in a very comfortable position from a housing land supply point of view so there was very little prospect of demonstrating that the supply was less than five years, which would have greatly assisted prospects.

As time passes, things change

Another complication arose in December 2016 when Gavin Barwell, the Minister of State for Housing & Planning, announced (amongst other things) that in those areas with a “made” Neighbourhood Plan the five year housing land supply bar would be lowered to three years. That makes it much more difficult for those with a reliance on housing land supply arguments to promote sites.  That dramatic change in government policy is the subject of a potential legal challenge that is yet to play out and so for the time being we have to work with it.

So what to do?

In these circumstances, the risks and costs of pursuing an application followed by an appeal were understandably very high. Failure may well have adversely affected the prospects of promoting the land through a future review of the Development Plan.  The only feasible thing to do was for the family to wait it out until things changed: continue to intensively farm the land, introduce the structural planting mentioned earlier and, of course, keep a careful eye on the Development Plan.

This one example highlights the importance of timing in the planning process.  The outcome for the family may well have been very different three years ago when there wasn’t the sniff of an adopted Local Plan or a made Neighbourhood Plan and when the Council, unable to demonstrate a five year supply of housing, was prepared to release greenfield sites for housing.

Doing the right things at the right time

Of course, timing is also critical for those sites that can proceed now.  Careful consideration needs to be given to the timing of surveys necessary to support a scheme. For example, ecology surveys are dependent on the season so a missed survey can potentially delay a project by up to a year. Similarly, the timing of traffic surveys should generally avoid school holidays.

Engaging with the Council, local people and elected representatives before an application is lodged also has to be timed carefully and handled sensitively if it is to be meaningful and beneficial to prospects.  Even the timing of the submission of a planning application has to be carefully considered so that it is presented to the Planning Committee at a point when it has the optimum chance of being approved.

Those relying on housing land supply arguments also need to be able to react quickly to the annual change in the Council’s housing land supply position which might create a short window of opportunity to secure an approval locally.  This is also relevant in appeal situations, and there have been plenty of instances where an appeal has started with the Council claiming to have a five year supply of housing only then to change that position during the process.

How this can help you?

The approach to timing is different in every case. There has never been, and never will be, a standard approach that is right for every site; but rest assured that as far as planning is concerned delay breeds danger and quite often leads to lost opportunity.

If you have a site that you think might have the potential to be developed, the best way to check whether the time is right is to ask someone with experience of those sorts of projects. Whether a Chartered Town Planner or a Strategic Land Promoter, their insight into the process can help make sure you get the timing right to succeed.

Marc Hourigan is an Executive Director at Chartered Town Planners Hourigan Connolly who act across the UK for land owners, land promoters and developers.

The Strategic Land Group specialise in working with land owners to deliver planning permission on their behalf at our cost and risk – and helping them avoid common mistakes just like these. If you have a site that you think might benefit from our tailored approach, get in touch today.

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