Do you have a site or development proposal but don’t know where or how to start going about securing consent? Have you managed your own planning applications but experienced delays and frustrations with accessing the system, maybe stalling at registration over an apparently unreasonable Council request?

It’s often a painstaking and confusing process and no two applications are the same. But there are some basic steps in assembling a planning application which might just save you time and costs in the long run. Here’s a few pointers on getting to submission stage relatively stress-free:

1. Do your policy research

Identify the Local Planning Authority (LPA) for your site and establish the current planning policy context. Any planning application will be determined in the first instance against the current adopted Local Development Plan unless other material considerations (or national planning policy) indicate otherwise, so this has got to be first port of call. Consult the adopted proposals map and establish whether your site is allocated for any specific use, then run through the written policies to confirm whether there are any which specifically resist what you want to do. Identify any potential ‘show-stopper’ issues right from the outset and take a view on whether the risks of refusal are worth pursuing;

2. Check out your planning history

Find out what’s been permitted and refused for your site in the past and use this to inform your proposals. Understand if any precedents have been established and research any extant consents and take steps to keep them alive if helpful to your cause. Most relevant planning records are now available online, so interrogate the LPA website and be persistent if you need further details – this is public information which you are entitled to see;

3. Understand your site

Establish the basics about your site, what are the key constraints that will inform any design work from hereon? Is the land contaminated or susceptible to flooding or mining risk? Does it have an agricultural grade or feature a public right of way? Are there any protected trees or heritage assets (listed structures, archaeology)? Where are your service routes and do you have vehicular access to a public highway? The list goes on. This is all critical site information which you may well be aware of, and if not, you need to be – any one of these issues could scupper the viability of your proposals;

4. Engage your team…

Or at least a good architect. Depending on your site constraints, you may need specialists of various disciplines to advise on the develop-ability of your site and provide a base level of information, whether it’s a Topo drawing, first Phase Ecological survey or an Arboricultural constraints plan or access design. You may not need any of this expertise, but for almost any complexity of application you will need an architect, so get a good one on board early;

5. Devise your strategy

Decide on your game plan. Do you just want to establish the principle of development and bring the details forward in later phases, or do you want to go all out for a full permission from the outset? Weigh up the benefits of isolating the critical issues and consider the time and resource implications of submitting separate incremental applications – it may be that you’re happy with a long-haul approach if it manages the risks more prudently whilst still eventually delivering your proposals;

6. Pursue a pre-application enquiry

If it’s a major or contentious proposal, you are likely to save time and resources in the long run if you submit a pre-application enquiry. This can be based on the minimum of design work (although the more information provided, the more informed the LPA response) and enables you to engage early with the LPA and establish their position on the principles of development and the key planning issues likely to arise with a formal application. Pre-application advice given isn’t binding on the LPA, but should give some clarity on the issues, make the formal process smoother and help avoid unnecessary abortive costs. It’s usually around a 30 day turnaround on a written pre-application response and worth exploring if your programme permits it, certainly for higher-risk projects;

7. Identify your consent requirements

What type of application do you need? Depending on your strategy and how much initial outlay you’re prepared for, you may wish to opt for an outline planning application in the first instance and follow up with a series of ‘reserved matters’ submissions (access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale), or alternatively load it all into a full application. Your proposals may also require a number of other consents (listed building, demolition, works to protected trees), so make sure you identify these and wrap them up accordingly (various forms of application can be combined);

8. Front-load your application

Once you’ve chosen your application route, find out what information you should supply. There are national minimum requirements for documents necessary to support an application, and most LPA’s now also have their own local checklist with a further set of detailed specifications. Your submission is unlikely to be validated and registered without adhering to these requirements, onerous as they may seem, so in the interests of speed, it’s worth accepting them from the outset (although do challenge where they are patently inapplicable or unreasonable). As a general rule, it’s pretty much always worth front-loading your application – the more information you provide, the more informed the LPA and the smoother the whole decision-making process pans out, whatever the outcome;

9. Consult and involve

Identify who will be affected by your proposals and get them on board. Whatever the scale of the project, it’s almost always worth engaging with key stakeholders as early as possible, be they immediate neighbours, local amenity groups or ward Councillors. Tailor your consultations to suit (doorstop chat, letter-drop, evening presentation) and document the issues raised. Be transparent in your application, explain how you’ve responded to local concerns, and explain why not when you haven’t;

10. Prepare and submit

Finally, once the plans and all necessary documents are ready to go, sign up to the Planning Portal, and get your application uploaded and submitted (this is much easier than paper applications, which are still accepted). You’ll be directed towards the appropriate application form, guided through a standard set of questions and advised of the relevant LPA fee (again, these are set nationally). You’ll need to be prepared with various environmental data about your site (drainage, flooding, trees etc), make sure you get your ownership certificates right, and declare your floorspace figures for CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) purposes.

So, you’re there, submission. It’s unlikely to be plain sailing, but provided you’ve done your research, understand your site, satisfied the validation requirements and consulted your neighbours, you should be in a reasonably robust position to get your application underway. Be prepared for some niggles over registration, and brace yourself for the next step of the process…