Alli Gay of CHI Homes reveals the planning challenges facing small developers.
We face very different planning challenges to the national house builders. Indeed, more than half of small builders think the planning system is a constraint to output, according to the Federation of Master Builders’ (FMB) House Builders’ Survey 2018.
In order to increase the likelihood of gaining planning permission there are a number of ‘small developer’ fundamentals that we have adopted.
Appoint a good team
We always invest in the professional services of planning consultants and architects to speak on our behalf to councils and local planning authorities during our planning applications. Concerns are much easier to handle, and objections minimised, when we have a good team engaging stakeholders such as neighbours and councillors.
Our latest development faced two hurdles. Firstly, a councillor lived directly opposite our site and was very concerned about disruption. Secondly, the stakeholders were particularly unhappy about construction in the area because a national house builder had built 285 houses within 500 metres of our proposed development. Allegedly, the large developer had not been considerate to those living near the site. All in all, it quickly became apparent that it was a ‘sensitive site’.
Our tactic was to face this head on with the council. We employed a planning consultant with specialist knowledge in transport and collected testimonials from the site neighbours of our previous developments regarding our site management.
A project could be perfect technically but if the chair of the local planning committee has a particular concern, it needs to be tackled head on. Having a good team of people behind you, with the right expertise, will make all the difference.
Undertake a thorough planning assessment/feasibility study before purchasing your site
We approached the council to present our plans, assessment of housing need and feasibility for building four new homes on a site where one home existed currently. Present at the first meeting were a number of neighbours who expressed reservations about a ‘large’ development and raised concerns about disruption.
At the meeting, our architect shared our development plans and our transport specialist presented our own draft Construction Management Plan with particular focus on dust and vibration mitigation, hours of work, vehicle frequency and pedestrian access.
We then invited all stakeholders to site to get their feedback on what was important to them, including privacy and fencing issues. At our second meeting, we then presented our final three-page Construction Management Plan.
Following our conversations with the neighbours, the architect incorporated low-level fencing bordering the footpath, and a reshaping of the boundary, into our proposed plans. The concerns about feasibility and a ‘large’ site seemed to be the least of their worries.
By involving the neighbours and the council in the design process, and incorporating a resolution to the neighbourhood problems, they were less likely to object to planning and be more understanding during the build.
The result was that the council supported our application and for the best part of our development, we have received support from the neighbours. By engaging stakeholders, our route to achieving planning permission was, we believe, less of a challenge.
Self-educate on planning
All developments are tested against relevant development plan policies. There are lots of resources online, like planningportal.gov.uk, which you can benefit from. Familiarise yourself with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and your local plan, if you have one.
Attend planning committee meetings and appeal hearings, as it will provide you with useful insights regarding the type of decisions being made in your area. We like to carry out due diligence on any site we are thinking of purchasing and ensure any critical land use issues or flood zone or green belt areas are not missed. We also ensure onsite density restrictions, conservation or heritage areas are checked. Lastly, we check out the planning history on our site or neighbouring sites.
Each council size is different, and sometimes the size of the proposal and the amount of objections will determine the delegation powers given to planning officers. The decision on applications will be determined either directly or via a recommendation from the planning committee, so it is wise to identify the unique stakeholders for each development.
As a small local builder, having a good reputation in the eyes of the council, local planning authority and wider community is important if we are to walk a smoother path to achieving planning permission.