Top Architectural Planning Tips
1. If you are doing something out of the ordinary, always seek pre-application advice.
Occasionally, as councils are understaffed, they tend to deal with new planning applications just before the decision deadline. Therefore, they don’t have enough time to assess them thoroughly, and if something doesn’t look familiar or looks as though it could be dubious in planning terms, the officers are quick to refuse it, if they haven’t considered it in a pre-application.
On a previous occasion, we had the planning application for a small house declined, we discussed the scheme with the officer that refused it, had a meeting, then resubmitted the same design with some additional material, and it was granted. At this point, we realised that the pre-application service makes sense.
A small house, in a conservation Article 4 area, not visible from the street that also did not allow for regular window openings with a proper outlook. With intelligent design and strategically placed openings, we managed to create a very bright interior which was fully compliant with the Lifetime Homes scheme. However, the officers could not properly assess it within their allocated time, and as they had not seen it in a pre-application session, they felt uncomfortable granting permission. After we had discussed it with them further and resubmitted, the same scheme and permission were granted.
2. Design everything in 3D, even the smallest extensions.
This way we can quickly demonstrate to the officers that our scheme does not hurt the amenities, by producing very quick views from the neighbouring windows, and sunlight studies. For larger planning applications, we always go with our 3D model and meet with the officers where we navigate through the 3D model with them and address any concerns they might have.
A 3D model also allows us to quickly show the existing Vs the proposed, side by side so that the officers can assess the impact of the alterations.
Overlaying the proposed, over the existing can give the officers a good sense of the scale of the proposed scheme and the improvement of the conditions in general.
3. Officers are not on the opposite side
We try to think of the officers as consultants contributing to our scheme, and not as a checking authority. The person designing should have an excellent understanding of the Local Development Frameworks and the policies involved. We provide interpretations of the council’s policies and do not wait for the officers to provide theirs, which would be against our scheme and have wrong assumptions from the beginning.
4. Don’t be overwhelmed by negative responses and reviews.
People can object, and officers can dislike a design; this tends to happen when the design has a more contemporary direction. If your design/extension complies with all policies, then it should be accepted.
We have had an officer come by on a site visit and say ‘you know what? I don’t like this extension you have designed’ – The officer does not have to like the design. They have to check that it complies – Our application got granted anyway, and the client was happy.
The officer preferred traditional type of conservatory-like extensions
5. What the officers say isn’t always what they mean
Try to interpret negative comments cleverly. We had officers telling us the scheme is too big and if we could push back the rear projection by 3m, when it was already sitting comfortably within the site, and complied with all policies. They just felt it was too big for no specific reason (at least visible to us) We pushed only 1m back, widened it a bit, changed some materials and window dimensions to readjust all proportions, and we ended up with an acceptable outcome, no loss of floor space and no fight with the officers.
Massing exercises in collaboration with the officers and help from the 3D models
6. Engage with the Council
Don’t wait for the deadlines to pass. Two to Four weeks before the decision date and as the consultation period expires, call the officers and ask if they have any concerns and try to help them to fully understand your scheme by providing additional visuals and diagrams addressing those issues. Similarly, check any objections posted online and if they are valid to try to address them.
Study to show the new extension does not hurt the sunlight received by the neighbour’s windows. (December 10 am)
7. Check for planning history
Precedents and similar schemes in the nearby context area will provide all the necessary information for the validity of your scheme. If a neighbour has tried to get permission many times unsuccessfully, find out the reasons why and try to avoid making the same mistakes. Reference their refused schemes and point out the differences in your scheme and how you have addressed their previous concerns.
8. Valid scheme
Make sure what you propose, actually makes sense and does not hurt anyone or the character of the area – even if it is bigger than normal. Don’t try to hide things hoping they will not be picked up. Permitted development schemes allow for things that would not have usually been accepted in a planning application, and for good reasons. Don’t go overboard with extensions just because you can (full-width L-shaped dormers for example), If you would like to apply for something additional later on, the whole site might feel overdeveloped, and it would need extra effort to have the officers on board.
On behalf of Scenario Architecture,
RIBA Chartered Architect