Newgate in Housebuilder magazine: The Perfect Application

The article below featured in the December edition of Housebuilder magazine.

Newgate associate partner David Scane observes a scene that might be familar to many developers as the vagaries of the planning process scupper “the perfect application”.

On a cold evening in September I sat in the public gallery of a local authority watching the planning committee in action. The committee comprised of half a dozen Councillors from across the political spectrum, of all ages and experiences.

The application they were considering was the result of several years’ hard work and had been designed with due care and professional expertise. The site had first been identified as an opportunity by a land agent, who had sought out a promoter to sell it to. The promoter had then employed a planning consultant, who had advised on the best scheme for the site. The planning consultant then sought an architect who used their 30 years’ experience to design the perfect building for the site. The architect was joined by a landscape consultant, highways consultant, ecology consultant, sustainability consultant, archaeologist, heritage and infrastructure consultant.

Together, the project team had put together a scheme that ticked the boxes of policy, design, sustainability, affordability, parking and provided protection for all creatures great and small.

The Council officers agreed, and all responded to the planning application with a chorus of ‘no objection’ giving the case officer no choice but to recommend the application for approval.

Three hours later and members of the committee had unanimously refused the scheme. They had ignored the case officers’ arguments that to turn down this application would fly in the face of their own planning policy. They had shut their ears to the legal officers’ warning that to refuse the application would likely lead to substantial costs being awarded against the Council. And they had even ignored the testimony of a neighbour, who had turned up to actually support the scheme.

Decision taken, the meeting moved on to consider the next item on the agenda. The interested parties spilled out into the cold night air, the project team on one side of the road seething at the decision, and a residents’ group on the other celebrating the victory.

I won’t tell you the name of this Council, but then again, I don’t need to. The lesson of that night has been replicated the length and breadth of the country and will be repeated many times in the future.

Planning isn’t just about numbers, and policy and technical details, it’s also about people, and all the emotion, frustrations and irrationality that comes with them. The planning process can get so focused on the ‘technical’ that it often ignores the ‘emotional’. Developers will forget this rule at their peril. No matter how perfect the scheme ‘the perfect application’ doesn’t exist.

Written by David Scane
Associate Partner
Newgate Communications

Read the entire December issue here

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