Dealing with planning refusals and why perfect records are a myth
If a planning consultant or developer can boast of a 100% planning success rate, then they are probably lying, or I am doing something wrong.
Was it annoying? Very. Were there lessons? Most certainly
It would be a fallacy to think that planning rejections do not take place because most developers, small and large, have experienced it. I have experienced one planning rejection professionally whilst working for a housing association. On my side ventures (which is now dormant) I've had three planning rejections. Was it annoying? Very. Were there lessons? Most certainly. My first rejection sent me on a path of self-discovery, where I asked myself so many questions on why it happened.
To date, I have worked on eight personal projects through my now dormant consultancy. Five of the applications were successful at planning, and three were rejected. That is a 62.5% strike rate. Whereas the overall planning approval rate according to data released by the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government show an 87% approval rate within the UK between April and June 2020. Click here. I guess I have to increase my average approvals by 24.5% to track with the national statistics. I share these stats to show that even an 87% approval is outstanding, but it is not excellent (100%).
Why does everyone like painting a perfect picture
Being human means, we are inherently flawed, and this transcends to all part of our lives. Having a perfect record is like saying you can guarantee success on everything you work on. News flash: nothing in life is guaranteed, and perfection in its very definition is unattainable. In property development, wins and losses are part of the menu, and as seen with my above stats, I've had my fair share of losses both professionally and personally.
The more you lose, the more you learn
The more you lose, the more you learn, and that's my personal view, but in today's society, the person that loses is a failure when this is far from the case.
Anyone that knows me can attest to my love for the Rocky movies and my respect for Anthony Joshua. Anthony was on top of the world, destroying his opponents like a bulldozer breaking down a building. Then Ruiz happened, but then he fought again and regained his belts. He came back smarter, focused and more hungry and was able to snatch the win from Ruiz. A true champion but far from perfect. As Rocky said, "But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward". Re-writing this quote for a property development professional, it would say, Hey, it's not about how successful planning approval you get the first time. It's about how you deal with refusals and turn them around to approvals. For smaller development turning around impossible schemes is where they make their money.
When considering the icons that I respect like Reginald Lewis, Irvine Sellar, Bernard Garrett (The Banker), Alonzo Herndon and Anthony Joshua, these people experienced their fair share of failures but kept going. They likely cried due to their failures but kept learning, refined their focus and perusing their goals which led to their success.
How did my first planning rejection make me feel
I assisted a client with carrying out a drop curb planning application in south London. This application had transport implications due to the location of the property as it was near a busy junction. A drop curb would typically result in the local area losing a parking space that would typically be available to all residents.
The application was submitted, and the eight week determination period was in play. Unfortunately for the client and myself, the Council rejected the application for the reasons set out above. I was upset. The Council were concerned about the proximity to the junction and the loss in parking.
I was utterly devastated as this was my first personal planning rejection, and I wasn't entirely sure how to deal with it. I was coming off two seamless planning approvals, and to my dismay, my smallest planning application was not successful. I explained the reasons for refusal to the client, and it was understood. The Client preference was not to appeal nor submit another application.
I took this personally as I felt like I had let down the client, but in this game of planning permission, there is always a chance of refusal. A pre-application may save you much heartache so please make use of the service.
My first and only planning refusal professionally.
I mentioned in my post on my first foot into a career in property development that I worked for a housing association where a scheme for 30+ homes was recommended for approval by the planning officers but rejected by the planning committee. All significant development is determined by a planning committee who have elected members vote on an application following a technical recommendation from a planning officer. I would strongly recommend my readers to attend a planning committee in your local.
The design team, planning officers and the client team (my company) were shocked by the decision. I didn't get a chance to see the project to a sensible conclusion, but I later learned that my old employer appealed the decision and the planning inspectorate granted consent.
I feel that planning committee members have a challenging role in representing their constituents through the planning process. The hard part for them is to balance the known fact that London is in an acute housing crisis versus the legitimate concerns raised by members of the public. When a planning application is refused, the applicant has the opportunity to appeal the decision which takes the decision making power away from the planning committee and places it into the hands of the planning inspectorate who determines the application in accordance with local and national planning policy a determination. I see the appeal process as the final resort.
What were the successes and failures (side ventures only)
Garage conversion small studio- Approved
New build flat- Approved
S96a (Non-material amendment) application for a change to design- Approved
Drop curb- Refused
Change of use from C3 (dwelling) to C4 (HMO)- Approved
Change of use from B1 (Business) to D1 (place of worship) use- Approved
Change of use from C4 (HMO) to Sui generis (7 bed HMO) - Refused
Change of use from C3 (dwelling) to C4 (HMO)- Rejected
Perfect records are practically impossible, especially when planning officers interpret planning policy different to you. I guess this is why the planning appeal process is a glimmer of hope for so many people wanting to secure planning consent. As I have said in my previous posts, appealing a decision should be the last resort after all forms of reasonable dialogue with the Council have come to a halt.
The thing about planning permission is not to take knock backs personally as if you do; it is likely that you are likely to experience an emotionally rough time on every project. I have learnt through my many experiences that, be professional and be prepared to deal with successes and loses, that is what makes us professionals. As the famous saying goes, feedback is the breakfast for giants, so see every refusal as a palatable yet necessary loaf of feedback.
The main one is to ensure that you carry out a sensible pre-application process before any application is submitted. The pre-application process provided by the Council gives you the feedback you need to see if a scheme is acceptable or not. You would then have the chance to amend any areas of concern, submit the application or if the feedback is that bad, withhold from applying for planning permission altogether. For the larger schemes that I have worked on in my day job, I have entered into Planning Performance Agreement ("PPA") which is a formal agreement between the Council and the developer to explore many areas of a proposed scheme.
My second lesson is to be perceptive to the direction the Council wants to take through reading their policies. One of the HMO cases I worked one was within a council which already had an article four direction. This direction prohibited permitted development rights of converting dwelling houses to HMO, resulting in an applicant needing to submit a full planning application. In layman terms, an Article four direction means that the Council wants to control the amount of HMO's the area.
Manage the expectation of your clients. In all the cases that I have rejected planning permission, I had a suspicion that planning would be difficult due to the research I carried out. Below I would give a summary of my initial thoughts
Finally, try and attend a planning committee meeting in your local area. It is free, and you can learn a lot about how projects are presented and determined by the planning committee.
Have a read on all the other blog posts by clicking here