The success of the garage conversion inspired me, as it was my first solo planning application. I didn’t want to do a part-time business out of submitting planning applications yet so just focused on my day job.
It was 2015, and out of the blue, someone got in touch with me to assist them with another planning application for the creation of a new apartment in Ealing. The site was previously refused planning twice with one of the decisions being appealed but not allowed by the planning inspectorate. In the Client’s words, it was a “failed scheme”.
I pondered on how I was going to resolve the reasons for refusal raised by the planning department and the planning inspector at the appeal stage.
I settled to think that what in life is easy except for failure
Before taking on the instruction, I read the refusal notices in detail to see whether I could resolve the issues raised. I was initially reluctant as this project was far more significant than the garage conversion that I had worked on previously. I settled to think that what in life is easy except for failure and with my creative problem-solving skills, I should be able to get this over the line one way or another.
Conversation with the Client
I was initially reluctant to take on the instruction, but the Client thought that my background and skillset would lend itself well to turning around the fortunes of this scheme. He had observed that I was optimistic, charismatic, collaborative and clearly understood property development. I have found that soft skills are often overlooked by many, but this Client saw its benefits.
The existing site
The site was within a parade of shops in a popular area in Ealing. The site has a mixture of
residential and retail with an abundance of green spaces.
The proposal was to create a one-bedroom two-person flat to be split over two floors whilst retaining the current ground-floor retail. The gross internal area of the apartment was to be 58m2.
Another man’s waste is another’s treasure.
The Client believed in me, and I found myself again, utilising my cad skills and planning knowledge. I visited the site in west London and explored the planning constraints.
I critically analysed the refusal notices to come up with design responses. I had to re-draw the floor plans and elevations. I applied for planning in December 2015 with a decision expected in February 2016. The case planner revised the applications and stated that he was recommending the scheme for refusal. He gave us two options, to receive a refusal notice or withdraw the application.
I advised the Client to withdraw the application, obtain feedback from the Council and go again with a better application. The withdrawal deflated me, but I was far from defeated. Irrespective of the Council's feedback, I was still convinced that there was treasure within the project for my Client, and I would be the person to help my Client find it.
Lick your wounds but not for too long
Town planning is a people’s business with planning law/ policies acting as the foundations. As property development professionals, we can not overlook that our end product is usually a building or structure. However, a primary part behind the success or failures of schemes relates to how we treat "people". Realising this fact, I advised the Client to instigate pre-application discussions to resolve all issues raised by the planning officer.
In preparation for the pre-application discussions, I took time to review the planning refusals, appeal discussion and the informal comments from planners on the withdrawn application. I was confident following a pre-application conversation with a planner; this scheme could get over the line. Following an extensive review and drawing exercise, I produced a comprehensive revised scheme which I presented to the Council for comment at the pre-app stage. Their words were supportive of the scheme, and I resubmitted the scheme again.
Anything worth having involves a lot of resistance.
The application was in, but there was still a chance the Council reject the proposal again. for my second submission, the Council assigned a new planning officer for the new application. My strategy was simple, make contact and seek to resolve any queries that arise as soon as possible.
There were times during the determination process that I had to revise drawings and provide further explanation for specific design elements of the scheme. I came up with creative solutions relating to cycle storage as the scheme was to be car-free. As mentioned earlier, I think town planning is a people’s business, so working positively with a planning department may have an impact on whether a scheme is approved or not. Also noting that all schemes must meet the minimum space standard and adhere to the specific Council planning policy. I am a firm believer that it is people that make the world go round.
The Council were satisfied with my responses but required an extension of time to determine the application. The Client, of course, agreed to this as I advised that we should work with the Council and not against them.
A bit of an explanation for those not familiar with some of the points raised
Most substantial changes to existing properties or the creation of new homes require planning permission from the local authority. There may be circumstances where permitted development will be applicable.
The Council can reject a planning application as well as grant consent. If refused, you as the applicant are allowed to appeal the decision via the planning inspectorate. I always feel it is better to work with the Council and only appeal as a last resort.
On the extension of time, the statutory allowable time to determine an application of this type is eight weeks, and the timescales can take longer for larger schemes. The Local planning authority, in this case, needed more time, so requested an extension of time which was at the discretion of the applicant. My Client agreed to the extension of time. However, if an applicant decides not to grant an extension of time, then they could appeal on ground relating to non-determination of the application.
Following the extension of time granted to the Council, I was not in a position to call what the decision would be, but then I was asked to make some minor changes to the drawings again.
After a 13 week determination period, I received the decision which was to GRANT planning permission. Another win, another example that with patience, diligence, a hint of flexibility and persistence anything is possible. The Client was happy as he had experienced the full spectrum of emotions as a result of his journey towards securing planning permission. Again, I was glad to be part of this journey with the Client.
On this occasion, Community Infrastructure Levy (“CIL”) was payable as the application was creating new floor space. CIL is calculated by multiplying the gross internal area (GIA) by the Borough CIL rate (Index-linked) and also multiplying the additional GIA by the Mayoral CIL rate. Please click here to see the CIL rates for your local authority.
Try not to be dismayed by things that do not look good. Spend time trying to find the value as I did by turning two rejections and one withdrawal into a consented scheme. I used my skillset to add value for the benefit of my Client. I also utilised my softer skills which can disarm a fortified bunker.
Work collaboratively with the Council and remain positive even when you have every reason to be upset. You could be the most intelligent person but without an adequate level of people skills, how far can you go in an industry like property development where it is all about people. Property development's core purpose is to serve the inhabitants of this planet, and that will never change.
Remember that patience is a virtue. All of our parents said it to us but who knew that it does not only have positive implications in our personal lives but is equally important in our business lives.
Finally, do not overlook the importance of having a good rapport with the local planning authority. This balance of managing the rapport between the stakeholders ultimately led to me receiving planning consent, therefore turning a failed scheme into a viable venture.
Next week I will share the amazing chain of events that happened next following this success.