Pre Application advice
Pre-app, as it’s normally known, is a good way to test the planning waters before falling in. So what is the pre-app process, what are the advantages and drawbacks, and how can you tell when you should or shouldn’t seek it?
The Government guidance urges local authorities to promote pre-application meetings. There’s also a section on planning application forms that asks whether you’ve pursued prior advice from the council and what was said at that stage. It’s not compulsory, but some planning departments are undeniably less helpful to those who haven’t sought it and have instead gone straight to making a full planning application.
Unlike the formal applications, where there’s a shared system to follow for the whole country, individual councils can determine their own pre-app procedures. The amount of detail you’re required to submit, cost of the meeting and length of time it takes to get an answer will therefore vary considerably across different local authorities.
Commonly, however, it involves submitting details of your proposed project to the council and receiving a letter or email back that comments on the relevant policies and issues. This will typically highlight any likely problems with the scheme and, sometimes, indicate what information will be required alongside a formal application. The process can involve a meeting at the council’s offices or your site or it might be a written exchange dependant on the Council.
How much do Pre-apps cost?
Many pre-app consultations start from £150 upwards.
For larger schemes, such as new houses or conversions, there’s normally a higher fee to be paid. In some circumstances this can amount to as much as £500-£600, which is considerably more than the cost of making a formal planning application.
The amount of information sought by councils varies, too. You might simply need to submit a location plan, sketches of what you want to build and a few photos or you may be required to provide full drawings and supporting information, such as tree reports, structural surveys (for conversions) and so on.
Pursuing the pre-app process can be helpful where the planning officer implements the attitude of looking for solutions rather than building barriers. If your proposals are met with general support, then all well and good; and you can then make your formal application with confidence.
However if there are issues for example the officer is unhappy with the design or thinks the layout might impact on the neighbours constructive suggestions as to how to overcome these problems can be really helpful.
Adjusting a project to address such concerns gives the planning officer a degree of involvement and ownership of your scheme. Working co-operatively with them to find mutually acceptable compromises can result in the officer being more supportive of your build than they might otherwise have been.
Where pre-app advice costs more than making a planning application, its benefit is arguable. If you make a formal submission and then discover the planning officer wants you to amend it, you can always withdraw it, amend and resubmit taking advantage of provisions that allow you a free go at this stage.
This allows you to make a similar application, within 12 months of withdrawal or refusal, without paying an additional fee. Full applications are subject to consultation, so arguably the feedback you get at this stage is more reliable than that you’d receive via an initial meeting.