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Have your say on cutting ‘red tape’ in planning

by on February 5, 2013

‘Red tape’ and planning? Surely not.

In addition to the publication of the NPPF, recent changes to PD and the ongoing Taylor Review of planning guidance, the Government is looking to reduce the amount of unnecessary regulations affecting planning and building.

The Red Tape Challenge is being run by the Cabinet Office and is an invitation to the people who deal with regulations day-in, day-out to have their say on what’s holding back the industry.

The current theme is Planning Administration and looks at how we could make the administrative process underpinning the system more efficient and accessible.

It’s not looking at policy and is committed to ensuring that countryside and environmental protections continue to be safeguarded.

If you want an opportunity to highlight areas where you think the system can be made simpler, clearer and easier for people to use, now is your chance.

Over the next five weeks the website will be inviting views on around 180 planning administration regulations across four areas:

  • Planning procedure (regulations associated with the development and use of land)
  • Planning infrastructure and major projects (including minerals)
  • Planning authorities regulations specific to certain geographical areas, including Mayor of London powers and development corporations
  • Local planning (regulations associated with local plan making)

You can share your views on the Red Tape Challenge website.

  1. One of our biggest headaches is the general lack of consistency on what is required for an application, not only between planning authorities but also within a local authority. Having extensive published “validation” requirements is fine but only if they are applied in all cases and across the board. Too often we see planning applications submitted by ‘amateur’ draftsmen with little or no dimensional information, missing site sections etc yet as the professional side of things we are constantly asked for more and more information, but incosistently.

    In the last three months we received planning for two new houses through the same local authority, one in a woodland site and one surrounded by dense trees with an adjacent river. No biodiverstiy study was requested. We have today been asked, by the same local authority, for a biodiversity study for a small site with half a dozen trees around the garden, nothing special, just run of the mill fir trees and pretty ropey ones at that. This will now delay the application and cost the applicant more money.

    It often feels that the planners hide behind red-tape to delay validating applications for the profession yet seem to allow utter rubbish to be validated when submitted to a much lower standard.

    It is impossible to second-guess what a local planning authority requires – regardless of published validation criteria. A Pre-Application is supposed to help flush this out but often does not (and simply adds to further expense and delays).

    The Planning Portal has certainly helped our practice to submit applications much quicker and at less cost to the client (paperless applications are a huge help) but there seems to be no end of excuses and “additional” information required by planners to slow things down.

    • Gerry Binmore permalink

      I totally agree with BWP.
      I have seen some very poor quality designs, very poorly drafted which still get validated and permitted, yet we professionals often get a hard time from planners – the authority uses a validation “officer” whose job seems to be to find any old excuse to avoid validating a scheme. I have one recently where they thought I was destroying a tree which they spotted on Google Earth – it was a small bush ( you cant tell the difference from outer space).
      (remaining text edited by Chris Kendall as it breached our blog rules)

  2. There appears to be an overall dislike from developers/agents with planning. I believe this being the Control/Management of developments which is financially of benefit to them; they prefer the more “Open For Business” approach regardless to affect it may have on it’s surroundings. Historically customer service from councils has been lacking which for most councils is a thing of the past, so it’s not surprising that planning is yet again being bashed.

    Whilst I agree some of the National/Local requirements could be looked at and be tailored to be more relevant to each application. I do not think that it should be an area of negotiation between council and applicant. Everyone benefits from knowing exactly what is required and it ensures consistency which without it is an invitation to further conflict.

    It should be noted that if validation is taken from the Technical/Admin Team then validation will fall to the Planning Officers thus requiring less staff within the Technical/Admin Team and more qualified Planning Officers on a higher salary rate – false economy.

  3. Gordon Dixon permalink

    It is my considered opinion that planning officers , ”nit pick” on very small items of no great importance , such as size of windows , colours of paint , tiles and bricks on buildings .

    There is also the problem of dealing with one planning officer , who then passes an agreed application on to ‘the line manager’ , who then wants some thing changed , this is very time consuming , as well as costing financially .

    Both of the above items being on very small no intrusive domestic extensions , and do not
    have any impact on the local environment or street scene .

    If some thing could be done about this , am sure it would benefit everyone involved , clients
    agents & builders , enabling applications to go through more quickly .

    One other point , why is it that small scale domestic applications [such as extensions that require planning permission] , have to take eight weeks to be dealt with , these used to go through in five weeks , without any detriment to the locality , especially when on the rear of properties .

    Finally , is there really a need for so much ”written work” , again when dealing with small scale
    domestic situations , surely drawings [coloured] should be more than sufficient , to identify what is being proposed .

    • If the LPA start to nit-pick on detail, refer them to paragraphs 59 and 60 of the NPPF:

      “59. Local planning authorities should consider using design codes where they could help deliver high quality outcomes. However, design policies should avoid unnecessary prescription or detail and should concentrate on guiding the overall scale, density, massing, height, landscape, layout, materials and access of new development in relation to neighbouring buildings and the local area more generally.

      60. Planning policies and decisions should not attempt to impose architectural styles or particular tastes and they should not stifle innovation, originality or initiative through unsubstantiated requirements to conform to certain development forms or styles. It is, however, proper to seek to promote or reinforce local distinctiveness.”

      • Andy Ashworth permalink

        an excellent point (points!)– i will be using this advice–pity i suspect it won’t apply to listed sites!

  4. Please can someone do something with the process for discharging planning conditions. There are too many conditions in the first place, often duplicating other legislation. Every consent now seems to contain a threat from the Planning Authority of the sin of commencing development without discharging pre commencement conditions. But there is no time scale for this, no right of appeal and quite often no action as this process is at the back of the queue behind applications.
    Somebody help; its no wonder the construction industry is going backwards.

    • Jen permalink

      There is the right of appeal against planning conditions and if an application to discharge a condition is not dealt with within 12 weeks (and the LPA hasn’t contacted you to explain the delay) then they are obliged to refund the fee.

  5. Andy Ashworth permalink

    on a listed building project in the NorthWest it has just taken over 6 months to clear conditions, while the authority was aware it was on site: this was entirely down to the ineptitude of the officer concerned who even lost documentation in the process. i could go on.

  6. ian robertson permalink

    All attempts during the last 40 years to improve/streamline the planning process have only served to make it worse – to the point that I describe it to my new clients as “impenetrable”.
    I can’t remember where pre-app originated, but it adds another 3 months to the timescale. Most planning officers are either frightened, or disinclined to be anything other than reserved in writing a response, consequently, one is left struggling to overcome negativity from day one (or rather day one+12 weeks)
    One way to circumnavigate the pre-app is to go straight to a formal application – thereby risking retribution by way of a refusal just within the 8 week period on the grounds that the LPA hasn’t had time to address/resolve any perceived difficulties.
    The NPPF doesn’t appear to have changed anything – which is no surprise to those of us who have been around for any length of time. Most of these initiatives simply get ignored by planning authorities.
    Given that we are increasingly kept at arms length from planning officers – most of whom we can’t meet, who no longer take telephone calls, and only reluctantly respond to emails, is it any wonder that those of us who are obliged to engage are so angry and frustrated with a process that is absolutely useless.
    If there were some way to introduce an element of competition, by part-privatising planning, as with Building Control, I guarantee that within months the whole system would miraculously change for the better.

  7. Franco Scimeca permalink

    Last year we completed a new build dwelling in the land adjacent to an exsting dwelling in the west midlands. The approved plans had a new access to serve the existing dwelling and the ex.access to serve the new dwelling. There were more than the normal number of condtions to be discharged. Spent few weeks dealing with all the items which gained approval but one officer then requested a new application because the client did not provide a second access as he found another way of gaining access which came under permitted development as advised by a planning consultant. A letter was received from an enforcing officer threatning the client to take him to court if he does not make another application to show the amended site plan. All the amnded drawings were offcourse done and given to the planners and were approved.
    The client carried out less development than it was approveded in the original approval notice. Why another application should be neccesarry ?.

    We finally made an application after about 8 months , the project was approved but it came back with about 15 standard conditions on a building that was completed and the client moved in with Building Control Completion Certificate. This is madness, because the application was forced unceessarily to my client and now has a new house completed with 15 conditions and if he tried to sell it he will not be able to with all these conditions on it. Has the planning system gone mad.
    The client now wants to take legal action.

  8. Chris Woodman permalink

    I suspect that there is a huge variation in performance between planning authorities. Can developers confirm this? Perhaps what is needed is some way to log problems so that the incompetent ones stand out. I don’t much like league tables, but something is needed to shame the worst – and not just whether they achieve turnround times on run-of-the-mill applications.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I do understand the frustration but would counter it by saying that there are very many LPAs who are trying hard to improve things.

      Our ethos at the Portal, and my personal view on the blog, is to try and shine a light on good practice and to help poor performers wherever we can.

      By all means keep the critique coming but if you see or hear of positive stories don’t be shy either.

  9. Toby permalink

    In response to Jen’s comment that; ‘there is the right of appeal against planning conditions and if an application to discharge a condition is not dealt with within 12 weeks (and the LPA hasn’t contacted you to explain the delay) then they are obliged to refund the fee.’

    I think this just sums up the problem. You are supposed to wait 12 weeks (3 months) and then have to lodge an expensive and timely appeal.

    The system has to change.

  10. The pre app in my view is a waste of time and money since we get told the Policies( that we know about already) and any letter of advice is covered by so may caveats(publicity response, members concerns, consultees)as to not be worth the effort.

    At least a proper application has to have a proper determination.

    Documentation: in spite of producing endless submission reports I still get asked a question that I have already dealt with in those documents: are the read?

    Too much information being sought of non planning status (to what end?) even before the application is validated. No choice but to comply as no right of appeal against the Councils requirements at that stage.

    A check of some Councils validation documents is horrendous

  11. Andy Ashworth permalink

    prior to the 8 week rule i could proudly tell clients i had not had a refusal in 10 yrs. all it’s doing is pushing the LAs into refusing apps. because they haven’t got time to deal with them properly- completely defeating the object of speeding up the process, and meaning a resubmission takes another 8 weeks. i propose dropping the 8 week rule and giving the LAs more control over how they prioritise their workload. some LAs are also adding their own detail to validation docs (up to 56 pages) resulting in a ridiculous amount of paperwork-

  12. Jeff Clarke permalink

    A request for a Rainwater Management Statement for a new dormer within an existing roof !!!
    Why ??? A lack of common sense ??? Or did they not look at the drawings before making the comment.
    Pre app advice that states ‘this will not be binding on the council’ What a waste of time and money.

  13. Gareth permalink

    Anybody who regularly deals with LPA’s will know that there are some LPA’s who are not interested in improving their performance and do not care in any way about customer experience. Similarly the above is true of different officers within departments. This is not to say that there are no good LPA’s or officers, I’m sure there are many decent people running forward thinking departments, who should be identified and praised as an ideal for others to aspire to. But, by the same token, we should not have to put up with deliberate obstruction, bad attitudes and diabolical customer service from departments and individuals who have lost touch with the fact that they are public servants. Further, if we cannot highlight individuals and departments who are failing to discharge their public duty things will never change. I appreciate that this is not the place to do this, but a place must be provided, and the findings must be reported upon; the only other alternative is that we carry on as we are now, and frankly, we must make it clear to the government and their agents that this is simply not acceptable.

  14. gordon dixon permalink

    Would very much agree and compliment with Gareths above comments , this does happen , perhaps more often than it should .

    Gordon Dixon

  15. Having prepared specifications, plans and section drawings I was then required to submit a
    Design & ACCESS statement for a French drain diverting storm water away from a nearby railway line.

    Most requests aren’t so ridiculous and I do understand the need for D&A statements but their usefulness in far too many small projects is very questionable.

    • Just a reminder that the Government is currently consulting on measures to streamline planning applications.

      From our news story (I’ve added the emphasis):

      “Other proposals would remove the requirement to provide design and access statements with most minor applications where, the department has argued, statements add little value to the design process but add significantly to the cost and complexity of preparing an application.”

      The full news story is available here:

      The consultation is open until 4th March here:

      Apologies if you’ve already seen this but there’s so much going on at the moment you’d be forgiven for missing it!


    • Andy Ashworth permalink

      i can beat that- i was asked for elevations of a domestic stable timber muck heap app. 1.2 high!

    • Andy Ashworth permalink

      you only got 3 conditions!!!- see my previous comment about the time take to clear (about 6 months)- this again is a result of the 8 wk. fiasco-if the LAs had time (and staff) to deal with applications properly we could get back to a civilised situation and negotiate on a professional basis.

  16. Gerry Binmore permalink

    Mad conditions …………..I have today received planning permission with three conditions – firstly to start within 3 years, secondly to build what’s on the drawings, and thirdly to adhere to the details of the bat survey, which I commissioned and sent the planners in the first place. Mad. I received with the planning permission a sheet advising me that I need to apply to have the conditions discharged , as the permission is only conditional. This will cost money and they say could take up to 8 weeks.
    What nonsense. These requirements can be covered by a statement on the permission rather than conditions. The requirement for conditions gives the LPA an added bite of the cherry in case they missed something in the first 8 weeks. Its not right. Its bonkers.
    I have no objection to certain conditions, but if they refer to information which is clearly shown in the application documentation then there is no need for them.

  17. boyd permalink

    why is the LA using PPS7 Annex A now – when it is effectively silent in the NPPF?
    Can LA’S refer back and use abandoned legislation incurrent matters?

  18. In the light of the above comments and my own experiences I wonder whether some form of third party independant right of challenge to a Councils requirements could be introduced. Without wishing to add to the admin process a Council would get say 14 days to justify its request to an independant arbitrator in a similar way to the Party Wall Act. As it stands we have no choice but to comply with whatever spurious information is requested ( at client cost) otherwise the application will not be validated.

    • Excellent suggestion, if it can be made to work sensibly. Further to our first comment on this thread we went back to the LPA and asked them to justify their request for an ecology survey and refered to previous similar applications in the two months prior where it wasn’t needed. Interestingly they backed down…. Just goes to show, you should always ask for justification if you feel the LPA are being unreasonable in their demands.

  19. andt bowman permalink

    I the perfect world the ideal planning permission would only have one condition on it which would be the time period for commencement because all the other information would have been submitted as part of the application. I have dealt with cases where I have wanted to reach this ideal but the agents are unwilling to supply the information up front and have asked for conditions requiring the submission of furhter information at a later stage. The puprose of pre app was to guide agents in the information which should be submitted with the application. If this is not submitted delays occur and the length of time for determination is exceeded. As with all discussions there are two sides to the story. Are some agents givng thier clients unrealistic timelines and then blaming the planners.

  20. It strikes me that we have a system of “Reject” first because planning officers apparently do not live in the current and clearly long time future times, This country is on its knees and the planning “process” puts a large number of potential employment opportunities in the bin.
    I think it would be a very different story if full time job for life officers where ELECTED every 5 years.
    The logic being that would bring a new outlook as officers would move around or new ones would come in.

  21. Firstly, the Planning Portal is very clunky to use, and whilst it saves a lot of paper and different forms in different authorities, it replaces what was a 2 side form (with 2 extra sides you completed only for non-domestic applications) with a 7 side form. Having to enter data regarding materials, which you have already talked about in a design and access statement and probably shown on the drawings is completely unnecessary.
    It should have drop-down tabs if you need to add data on hazardous substances, etc- how many applications are ever submitted for these, to us architects, obscure and random requests?

    • Hi Russ,
      thanks for the feedback.
      I have to agree that the service is not as sleek as we’d like, but we do what we can with the resources at our disposal.
      Regarding the questions though, I’m afraid they are set by legislation and we must present them as they are.

  22. Secondly, I agree with many of the comments made so far regarding the complex planning application process that has evolved in the last 5-10 years.
    The government have announced that they are simplifying planning but the opposite is now true and as a further stifling of building and construction employment my Local Authority have recently announced that they will be imposing a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). This is to replace section 106 agreements but will be much more expensive and varies from town to town- more complexity- and in two of our more “desirable” coastal towns the CIL for a planning approval for a modest sized house could be £20-25,000!!

  23. Thirdly, as to inconsistency and unnecessary and complex demands for information I’d like to compare the following two recent successful approvals for which I was the agent
    1. A detailed approval for 24 new flats. This had 9 conditions, mostly standard, and none regarding approval of materials, one of the most visible parts of any design. Neither my client or I minded as, for a change, I was free to specify what I visualised what I had in mind in the design process.
    2. An outline approval for a dwelling in the garden of an existing house. It is in an area zoned for new development and neighbouring properties had been granted approval for development in their gardens or on their land, so there was no argument that it feel within policy.
    Despite it being outline, however, the planning officer insisted on sections showing levels through the site, the scale of the “proposed” building, and the height of the ridge.
    He also required a garden silver birch to be avoided by the plan and required a protected species survey of my client’s domestic garage which he regularly uses as a noisy workshop in conection with his work,as this is being removed as part of the proposal.
    After I had submitted the section of the dwelling he asked for it to be redrawn to show the ridge the same height as my client’s house. When challenged he agreed that no such request had been made of the neighbouring applicant, who had already been granted approval.
    I acceded, in my client’s interest as we invariable do, and was interested to note that the “outline” approval was issued with 10 conditions!
    Proportionality needs to be used and officers should understand that “outline” means outline. They always have the power at detailed approval stage to reject a design or ask for it to be modified

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