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Are you thinking about submitting a Planning Application but are concerned about the cost and risk? Would you prefer to have a ‘toe-in-the water’ alternative? Preliminary planning enquiries (known as ‘Pre-Apps’) are increasingly being recognised as an important, lower risk alternative route to property owners within the planning process, which can easily be undervalued and overlooked, in the rush to get an application in. 
The concept of preliminary planning enquiries has been around within the planning system for a long time now. Previously, it was possible to contact Planning Officers direct and get an immediate informal response over the telephone or by email as to the likelihood of securing planning permission for development, and what the main points of contention would be. Officers would sometimes even give their advice as to whether submitting a planning application was a worthwhile exercise or not. This ‘sounding out’ of Planning Officers was considered as a useful part and parcel of the planning process. 
Pre-application supporting statement
However, over the last decade or so, the entire preliminary planning process has become increasingly formalised – no doubt having spotted an opportunity to charge for the service! Local Planning Authorities now charge for providing preliminary planning advice to applicants and have for over a decade now. Fees typically start at £150 and rise according to the size and type of development (for comparison, a full planning application for a single house would be £560). The fees charged are less than the amount charged for a planning application. On the up-side, since they are now charging for the service, Councils also have an obligation to provide a decent, consistent level of service for that fee. Most enquiries should be submitted in writing, together with a Site Location Plan and as much information as possible to describe the proposals. The Council will set a timeframe in which to provide a complete response to the enquiry. The Council’s response is usually in the form of a detailed written letter, which can be used to help inform a future planning application. 
Unfortunately, it is acknowledged that there are several drawbacks with the Pre-App service. Firstly, there are several differences between how Pre-Apps and planning applications are assessed by Local Authority Planners. Any advice provided by each Council is given without prejudice and is not binding. The advice provided at the preliminary stage may not be consistent with the decision made by the Council to a subsequent planning application. As part of the process of a full planning application, elected local Councillors, relevant stakeholders, interest groups and neighbours will normally be consulted on the proposals and may raise objections to the proposed development. However, the Pre-App process is kept private and confidential – no other parties are involved in the preliminary enquiry process. This may mean that a Pre-App exploring the possibility of securing permission receives a positive response from the Planning Officer dealing with it, but objections raised by third parties during a subsequent planning application may hinder its chances of success. Moreover, despite the advice received from a Council Planning Officer at the preliminary stage, it is possible that a subsequent planning application will be determined by Planning Committee and not by delegated Officer powers. A referral of an application to Planning Committee adds a level of uncertainty to its outcome which cannot be foreseen at the preliminary planning stage. 
Planning Permission Bedfordshire
However, the potential benefits of the Pre-App regime far outweigh the drawbacks. It is a cost-effective way of managing the risk attached to preparing an application – both the level of investment required in a full application as well as the danger of going off half-cocked. A Pre-App can flush out, at an early stage of the development process, whether the broad overarching principle of development will be acceptable. A credible Pre-App response will also identify all the relevant technical issues and planning considerations which a subsequent application should seek to address or compensate for (such as impact on the natural environment or the historic environment for instance). A useful Pre-App response from a Council should also provide an indication of their costs for a development scheme, such as planning obligations and Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) costs. 
In preparing a Pre-App Landscope will ensure that the very best case is put across, from the outset. Using our detailed knowledge and experience of up-to-date planning policy and precedents, as well as considering the potential perspective of all potential stakeholders we can minimise the risk of a Pre-App getting a negative response or falsely guiding a subsequent application at the early stage. Furthermore, most of the work which goes into a Pre-App will mean less needs to be put into a subsequent application, saving cost on consultancy fees. By knowing up front exactly which reports will be required, we can also ensure that only essential technical reports are presented. A final advantage of submitting a Pre-App is that it avoids the criticism from a planning officer, when an application is submitted, that you did not engage with the council at an early enough stage (ie. the application has gone in ‘cold’). 
Ultimately, Pre-Apps are an extremely useful tool for property owners, in the planning process. As the planning system itself becomes increasingly complex, tools such as the preliminary planning service offered by most Councils are extremely useful in helping navigate the background planning framework. Landscope are highly skilled and experienced, to manage any Pre-App you wish to submit. We have a long-standing, excellent track record of developing development proposals from initial site appraisal to securing detailed planning permission for clients. Part of this process includes the key Pre-App stage. Please feel free to contact us for a no-obligation discussion about your potential Pre-App or Application and see how we can help you. 
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