In day to day practice we are noticing a trend for major applications being submitted that are limited in terms of their “front-loading” of information and often having no preparation for information likely to be required during the application process itself; once the principle of the case is established the process is essentially a negotiation. Without a ready and available armoury of tools to rely on, how can one negotiate when the time comes and timings are pressing?
We are similar to many consultants who are parachuted in to an application at a midway point, often to facilitate a jump-start to an application that has had its momentum stalled. Submissions do consistently provide on the surface what appears to be a well front-loaded application; often incorporating environmental technical reports, a design and access statement and the requisite plans, as guided by pre-application advice. But whilst this submission may address the initial issues raised by the local authority in pre-app, it often doesn’t address the issues that fundamentally push the scheme through to success.
Three issues appear to crop up consistently, each with the potential to hold up process, derail and/or chip away at the credibility of an otherwise robust submission.
Firstly, applications that refer to planning policy within a Design and Access Statement but don’t contextualise how the policy is meant to be applied (particularly in terms of planning balance). This is a common occurrence in submissions made by architectural practices as a supplementary and limited service to accompany often superb design plans and is perfectly acceptable for validation purposes. The issues arise from the off however; the approach allows an authority to set the planning narrative rather than respond to a policy position set by a Planning Policy Statement; meaning that unless the submission has blown them away it becomes hamstrung by the concessions councils require to accord with their own unchallenged policy position. Also, if during the application a policy position or issue is raised that could challenge the legitimacy of the submission; the issue may be a simple one to resolve with the right skill set available to answer or counter it, but this is quite clearly not the architects skill set. Where from and how quick can a reaction to the issue be made?
Secondly, and becoming more and more common, is a lack of consideration at the earliest juncture (and certainly throughout the life of the application itself) to the issue of Affordable Housing (AH) contributions and the consideration of viability. Assuming a major application is liable to AH, it is highly likely that an applicant will appraise the contribution as part of their Development Appraisal well before submission, testing the sensitivity of different potential contribution liabilities. However often a submission is made with no consideration of that viability in the form a financial viability report to support the application.
This means that 1) the councils housing officer has an initial free run at a preferred rate of contribution which the applicant has to react to, rather than making the officer react to a pre-prepared position and 2) offers significant time lags as viability appraisals are not something that can be produced overnight. Combine the production of that report with the negotiation after it and you can kiss the initial determination deadline goodbye.
Thirdly, is the draft, or at least draft Heads of Terms of, a section 106 agreement with the author ready to hand to make adjustments, negotiate and finalise during the application period. Any submission can assess the likely contribution requirements (especially if viability is prepared in advance) or mechanisms required to address potential issues (i.e. parking) and as such lay out the framework of the wording of the contribution in the first instance.
Not only does pre-empting these issues save time, it makes a huge difference to the robustness and as such the credibility of the submission as a whole (especially where planning balance should apply). Momentum and credibility are often everything when major applications are supported.
Further to preparing and managing entire applications, we are employed across the UK to provide services in relation to planning policy statements, viability appraisals, section 106 agreements and committee consultation as individual services and as part of a “parachuted in” programme.
If you require any assistance on any matters raised above, do not hesitate to get in touch. Front-loading an application is the correct approach initially, but it needs to reflect the requirements of the application process that will likely unfold and react accordingly.
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Christopher Whitehouse MRICS BSc (Hons) RICS Accredited Expert Witness