The benefits of using a planning consultant
The process of getting planning permission comes with an indelible reputation for bureaucracy, endless hoop jumping and fickle planning officers who will approve or reject seemingly arbitrarily. Before you embark on the process, this can feel daunting with a minefield of policy, tick-boxes, application forms and neighbour approval standing between you and your dream log home. And while it is possible to negotiate this process yourself, there are benefits to using a professional planning consultant who will take the guesswork out of the process, ensure things proceed smoothly and could well end up actually saving you money in the long run.
We spoke to Lyndsey Fisher, Planning Technician and Richard Corbett, Partner, both at Roger Parry & Partners - a local planning consultants we have worked with on several projects in the past, to get an insider’s take on what the planning process is really like.
Please note, British Log Cabins and Roger Parry & Partners are in no way associated other than via a number of past projects for mutual clients. We have also successfully worked with other planning consultants so this article is intended for information purposes only and is not a direct recommendation of or on behalf of Roger Parry & Partners. There are many other professional planning consultants up and down the country and we always recommend doing your own personal & local research before engaging any professional person or organisation, or parting with any money.
Lyndsey, Richard - what are your professional backgrounds and how did you get into planning?
Richard - I have been working in planning for over 15 years, specialising in Rural Diversification and the associated planning consents. As a partner at the company, I run the team here and like to think of myself as something of a specialist in problem solving! I love finding solutions to helping clients achieve what they would like on their land.
Lyndsey - I have always loved the countryside and rural affairs, particularly rural tourism. This led me to move into rural planning around three years ago. I have successfully gained planning for tourism sites all over the country including log cabins, hobbit houses, farm shops and glamping sites. I love being able to combine my two passions of tourism and the countryside and no two projects are ever the same, which I find fascinating.
Together we have numerous years of experience in the rural tourism sector and between us a large number of successful planning applications. One of our major USPs is that we are not afraid to say no to projects that we know have a very low chance of success - we are not here to waste your time or money or give you false hope.
What are the common pitfalls people encounter when they try to go it alone?
We appreciate that the world of planning permission is quite alien to most but many people stumble at the highest levels as they often just don’t understand what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of planning applications. And we’ve had people come to us having spent thousands of pounds on applications that we could see in an instant wouldn’t have been approved simply because of local policy restrictions. There may also be additional stipulations above and beyond the overarching policy that may mean ecological surveys are required for example and these can only be carried out at certain times of year.
What are the trickiest parts of a typical planning application?
Once we know that a planning application conforms with policy there are a few hurdles that might still stand in the way and without experience, these could all prove tricky. Perhaps the most common of these arise from the visual impact of a proposed development and this is where the experience of knowing how to present this information to planning officers is invaluable. Similarly, highways and access can trip people up as there are strict rules around visibility at entrances and exits, speeds of local roads and contributions to local traffic flow must all be taken into account. And then we get into things such as Tree Protection Orders, hedgerow and habitat protection and water run-off considerations.
With this level of detail to consider and without expertise in these fields, many projects fail at the first attempt simply because they lack the correct information, not because the projects themselves are inherently flawed. A good planning consultant will help ensure you collate all the required information and ensure you don’t miss anything in your submission.
However, to answer the question, perhaps the trickiest part for clients is often local objections, if there are any, as it is often difficult not to take this sort of thing personally. There is a lot of nimbyism out there but again, a knowledgeable local consultant can help you navigate this as well.
Do you have access to information that ‘ordinary’ people don’t?
Although planning policies are available on council websites, they are long, detailed and can be overwhelmingly complicated for the uninitiated and many people don’t have the time or expertise to be able to complete all requirements single handedly. And certainly not more than once if they get it wrong the first time. This is particularly true if you are looking to build in a part of the country that you may be less familiar with. So although we don’t have access to anything ‘secret’ per se, we do have years of successful experience under our belts which cannot be matched by anything downloadable from the internet.
Describe how the process works between you and a client
When a client approaches us we will have an initial conversation with them to discuss what they are looking for, what they are planning and any sites they have in mind. We can also point people in the direction of the type of site that is likely to get approval for their proposed development if they do not have a location identified. Once we are broadly happy that a project is likely to be viable we may conduct a detailed site assessment report and start looking at highways, access, utilities and establish whether an ecological survey is required.
From there it’s a matter of working with the client to collate all the information required to meet the given local planning criteria around the project, location and likely impacts on the landscape, traffic and environment. As mentioned above, ecological surveys can only happen at certain times of the year so we may have to wait for these, but there is plenty to do in the meantime.
Once we’re happy that we have all the material we need and have addressed those criteria, we’ll present that in a structured fashion, knowing the format that local planning officers appreciate based on past experience, and pass it over to the client for submission. Of course we are then here to support the client should any questions or objections arise or if any revisions are required, although we do have a very high first-time success rate.
What do your fees include?
Our fees include our consultation time with the client, planning officers if required, and any other consultees we may have to engage with as part of the project. We also include architectural drawings if needed and of course the final planning statement - the document that is ultimately submitted for consideration.
Can you give us a guideline on what a typical project costs?
Although all projects are different, we would say around £1,000+VAT per log cabin on a multi-cabin site, or £3,000+VAT for a single, larger log home. We charge clients an interim fee payable on submission with the full amount only becoming due when the application is approved. This way clients know we are backing their project every step of the way as there is an incentive for everyone to achieve successful consent. We’re very much in it with them and getting that seal of approval feels like a joint success for all of us.
In your own words, why would you recommend people use a professional planning consultant?
Planning is a specialist subject and like all these things, knowledge is key. We have an excellent success rate and are able to advise clients from the outset whether their project or chosen site is going to be acceptable. A good planning consultant will also have excellent working relationships with planning officers and their systems and processes - remember, a well considered project that meets all the local requirements and complements a local authority’s development aims is a positive thing for the local area.
The planning arena is highly regulated and technically demanding, but one that can provide the opportunity for significant capital enhancement when done correctly. A good planning team will stay fully abreast of all complex rules and requirements relating to planning policy and associated regulation as well as any national or local changes that may be introduced ensuring your project always meets all of these.
As a business, we have in-house knowledge and expertise on the commercial market meaning we can help clients maximise the future value of their assets from the outset. We have an enviable reputation for sound local knowledge, helping our team work closely with clients to develop a brief that will deliver on design, functionality, budget and timing.
There are few things more disheartening than having the application for your dream project declined especially if you have spent time and hard graft trying to navigate the process yourself. A trusted planning consultant is your friend and partner in this process helping you increase your chances of success at the first attempt, saving you money, time, heartache and a lot of confusion in the process!
Thank you to Lyndsey and Richard from Roger Parry & Partners Planning Consultants for their insight.
If you have a log cabin project in mind and would like help in preparing for planning approval, get in touch with us on email@example.com or 01694 781 399 and we will be more than happy to point you in the right direction.