5 planning pitfalls to avoid

All too often when we get carried away on a wave of enthusiasm for a new development but there are lots of traps for the unwary seeking a planning permission for their property.

These five common pitfalls are all too easy to fall into, especially when you are concentrating on running a business that earns the money to pay for your proposal. Planning is largely procedural with an equal amount of changeable opinion thrown in but be prepared to commit time and resources if intend to succeed. No two proposals are ever the same but the pleasure given by a positive decision always feels fabulous.

1. Don't delay, speak to the planning department early
Planners get a bad press, but it isn't always deserved. Most local authorities will support their planning departments getting involved in pre-consultation for schemes because it saves time later. The trouble is that planners receive lots of calls about ideas that go nowhere, impossible or improbable uses and people who just want a letter to increase the value of their land.

You need to present yourself credibly to the planner. Find out who is dealing with your area and importantly make sure that you speak to the right officer for your project. Some officers have particular specialities, briefs or interests and finding the right one can make your dealings a pleasure. The wrong officer can lead to a whole world of heartache.

Most will welcome a call and a meeting so be prepared to have a meaningful dialogue that you both benefit from.

3. Don't do it all yourself
This goes without saying for most people but you would be amazed at the number of times that somebody turns up at the planning department without a clue about what they are doing.

Being a captain of the widget industry doesn't help when plotting a route through the complexities of creating buildings that meet the myriad laws. policies, occupier requirements... and let's be honest - opinion! Get yourself an architect, planning consultant, project manager or development consultant and let them deal with it.

3. Don't assume that planning policy is what it seems
Planning policy - it's a minefield. Laws are handed down from central government which are then interpreted and implemented by local authorities after interminable consultations, councillor meetings, votes and very occasionally catering for public opinion.

But even when it is published in the local plan / framework / policy it can change for seemingly bizarre reasons. It's important to keep yourself up to speed with changes and again it's back to speaking to the planning officials. Just be sure that you are speaking to the right ones because all too often in local authorities the right hand doesn't know what the left is up to.

4. Don't forget to speak to the natives
When we're tied up in negotiations with officials it's all too easy to forget that your development will affect somebody. It might be one neighbour or it might be the entire district but it's guaranteed that somebody will be interested and the supporters rarely make themselves known so you might well have to face the wrath of the locals.

Consider holding a public meeting on neutral territory, be open about what you are doing. It's difficult to pull the wool over peoples eyes when you are erecting a building. By engaging you have the opportunity to demonstrate that your scheme isn't a blight and that it can bring real benefits to the area. Supporters are as rare as hens teeth but if you have some invite them along too.

Letters to neighbours or maybe a phone call to explain will give you great PR. Even if they don't agree with your plans they can't say that they didn't know or get a chance to have their say. This kind of open consultation does make a difference when presenting your case to the planning committee.

You will probably be pleasantly surprised at the outcome of local consultations because most people are just worried about the unknown. By presenting the scheme properly and professionally you will probably allay many fears that would otherwise have turned into objections.

Councillors and MP's can be helpful but don't forget that they have an eye on the next election and they can change their mind right up to the time of the vote in the chamber. MP's tend to go with the flow but take care, if you do decide to speak to councillors as you might find that they declare an interest and abstain from voting. That abstention might have been the casting vote in your favour.

5. Don't underestimate the impact of delays
8 weeks -that's the government's stipulated period for determining planning applications. You might get lucky but if your project is of any size it's probable that they will extend that period with your grudging permission.

That might not be the last of it though because it is quite possible that your application might take a year or more to determine so have a close look at what the effect will be in terms of time, money and the knock on problems caused by extended or unexpected delays.

Some planning departments are better than others but don't underestimate their potential to make life a misery while you are going through the process. The costs of delays could affect your entire business and the bank might not hold open a finance offer.