23 August 2019/ sale_land_guide

A guide to securing planning permission for land development projects

Getting the inside track on the planning process can help you turn undeveloped land into a high value investment

Investing in and developing land can be one of the riskiest yet most rewarding endeavours in the commercial property space. If you get it right, land is one of the most lucrative commodities to be in. According to the Valuation Office, the average price of agricultural land in England is £21,000 per hectare. However, land with planning permission goes for around £6 million per hectare. So, the key to investment success is to transform land without planning permission into land that comes with it. Once land is changed from a field to a building plot, its value soars.

However, gaining planning permission is a process fraught with the potential for setbacks and even failure, all while significant money needs to be invested long before any revenue can potentially be earned. Given these risks, developers must be extra vigilant to try to identify, anticipate, understand, and plan for various problems that can occur throughout the process.

In this article, we’ll provide a broad overview of the planning permission process, look at the most common reasons planning is refused, what your options are if it is, and outline how to achieve planning permission success.

See commercial land for sale in your area on Realla

A quick guide to planning permission


There are two forms of planning permission – outline and detailed.

  • Outline planning permission: Also called outline consent, this is often applied for first to establish whether the proposed new development would be acceptable to the local planning authority. If outline permission is approved, a detailed proposal is then put forward. An outline permission tends to require fewer details being submitted and the application may suggest a simple or more modest house type to obtain the initial outline planning permission.

  • Detailed planning permission: (DPP) is the next stage in the planning process. A detailed consent means that you have permission to build the exact building shown in the plans (subject to any planning conditions agreed). A detailed planning application is more thorough and defines materials of the new building, proposing exactly how it will look once built.

How to apply for planning permission


This is the usual route:

  1. Pre-application advice: Local authorities offer a pre-application check of your plans to assess them against their planning policies. This process usually involves a site visit from the local authority planning officer who will produce a report. A positive response at this stage is not a guarantee of success as the advice is not binding – but it’s a good indicator as to the likelihood of success. The report will also advise on any additional reports or surveys that you might need – for example, a bat survey, or an ecological impact report. You’ll need to arrange these before you progress to the next stage. You can find out more via the Planning Portal website. 
  2. Formal Application: Your architect will gather the appropriately sized drawings, including location maps and site plans, and produce a Design & Access Statement. This will explain the context for the application and give the reasons behind the choices of design and materials.
  3. The decision process: The local authority will assign a case officer to your application who will then make a choice as to which of the two decision routes your application will navigate. If it’s a relatively uncontroversial scheme, within an area of existing housing, then in most cases the planning officer will decide themselves, assessing the scheme against the local planning policy and the response of consultees. If the scheme is more controversial – perhaps it is outside of the existing settlement, or the building style and type is very unusual, then they might decide to enact the second route, deferring the decision to the Planning Committee. In over 90% of cases, planning applications are decided within eight weeks of the application being received.
  4. Additional consultations: As part of the planning decision process, your neighbours, the Highways Agency, the Parish Council and other interested parties will be consulted. 

Risks and challenges

Common reasons that planning permission is denied include:

  • Your build overshadows a neighbour, causing loss of light
  • Your build overlooks other homes, causing loss of privacy
  • The appearance of your build is out of character with the existing property
  • Overdevelopment
  • It impacts on highway safety
  • Use of hazardous materials
  • Impact upon trees
  • Restriction of road access
  • Negative effect on nature conservation

You can’t be rejected for planning permission based on:

  • The time it’ll take to do the work
  • Your planning history – if you were rejected planning for a previous project this won’t affect your current application
  • A neighbour’s opinion, which is not supported by policy. For example, if they’re concerned over noise

What to do if planning is refused

If your planning permission is rejected, it doesn’t mean your project won’t happen, nor does it have to mean paying out extensive fees to get it overturned. Some planning officers may tell you in advance if your build will face rejection, particularly if it’s over a minor point. In this scenario, they might allow you to amend your designs so you can get planning approved.

If permission is denied outright, it could be worth employing a planning consultant to manage your appeal (see next section). If you take this route, you can also re-apply without paying a fee to the council. The redesign should take into consideration the reasons for refusal and look to counter these. The council offer a free resubmission service, as long as this is undertaken within 12 months of the decision of your first application.

How to make a successful planning permission application


The quality of your preparation, the accuracy of your designs and the relationships you develop with relevant parties can all play a part in achieving planning permission success.

  • Go for quality designs: Design is the most important aspect of the planning permission process. Good design should include appropriate scaling, a smart layout and should strive to protect and enhance the character of the surrounding environment. Consult a skilled architecture firm that specialises in obtaining planning permission.

  • Research relevant planning policies: Research the planning policies that directly affect your project. Local planning authorities (LPAs) may have multiple overlapping policies in their development plan. Be sure to determine which ones will influence the outcome of your application.

  • Build a relationship with your planning officer: It’s important to develop a positive relationship with your planning officer as this person will most likely be responsible for making the final determination on your application. For this reason, you might consider hiring a skilled architect and planning consultant, as they will have experience of working with planning authorities. A planning consultant can also monitor your application as it’s being processed and, if a problem arises, can liaise with the officer to help obtain a positive outcome.

  • Contact all relevant parties: A planning and architecture firm can also handle all technical issues that might arise during the planning application process. For example, your proposal may require flood risk assessments, tree surveys, archaeological investigations and any number of technical reviews. By contacting the appropriate organisations ahead of time, your architect can prevent technical issues from undermining your proposal. 
  • Hire a skilled professional: Many people decide not to hire planning consultants because they think not doing so will save them money. Hiring a consultant will come at a price, but it can be a worthwhile investment that actually saves money, time and effort. Look for a multidisciplinary architecture firm that focuses on planning permission.

Successfully navigating this planning permission process should, in most cases, substantially increase the value of the land without doing a single physical improvement. With risks and time associated with planning permission removed, the land is now ready for the project to commence.

Looking for commercial land to buy? Check out Realla and find your next commercial land for sale!

About the Author: 
Michael Belasco has a decade of real estate and construction experience. He currently works on large-scale, mixed-use development projects in San Francisco for Hines, a global real estate investment, development, and management firm with over $116 billion of assets under management.