Small Housebuilders Dilemmas

Rob Crolla

I was recently drawn to an article titled “Is this the end for little housebuilders?” [Sunday Times; April 7, 2019; Business and Money; Page 9].

The piece stated with the phrase “It has been three years since Katy Jordan’s planning nightmare began…”. This was not a piece about a neighbour’s extension application but a regional housebuilders exposure to the planning process – and implications for housing delivery. As the article blamed the lack of small builder engagement on the planning process, as a town planning professional I started thinking about the areas I would focus on if advising how small housebuilders could navigate the planning maze and reduce associated costs. Here are my suggestions…….

1. Engage Early

It is vitally important that developers engage early with officers. This can be done formally through the pre-application process and enables a relationship to be forged (hopefully positive) with the officers and council and the absolute requirements of any application to be agreed. Don’t take the pre-application response as gospel – it can be challenged and application requirements reduced. Early engagement can also involve the development plan process – do some of the work upfront (although it will take longer) but the planning application process will be more straightforward. Ask if it is possible to utilise the technical reports supporting the allocation to support the planning application – again reducing time and costs.

2. Explore Other Avenues

Planning applications are only one avenue to delivering a development. As well as allocations, investigate the Brownfield Register and associated Permission in Principle route. This was specifically introduced to assist smaller builders. Also is there any way that Permitted Development could facilitate as useful route to project delivery?

3. Challenge

Ultimately you are the person delivering the development – you have the knowledge and expertise in assessing the financial risk – planning can impact massively on this. Do no stay silent on viability. Developers need to be pushing back (with the correct technical support) to ensure that the development remains viable – this could focus on design matters, unreasonable planning conditions, S106 obligations or Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges. All of these can be challenged pre-application and pre-determination.

4. Choose Right Consultants

Each site is different and may be technically challenging – but the costs of overcoming challenges does not need to be extortionate. This is often the case where consultants do not understand the issue which needs addressing and produce overlying complicated and unfocused outputs. Make sure that a planning consultant is engaged to manage the process – this is not just the planning arguments but the management of technical inputs. It is no good getting a consent if it is the wrong consent!

At CODA Planning we have the expertise and experience to guide you through the planning process, and manage the external inputs, through a wide network of links to other technical experts. Give us a call if you have a hit a wall on a project or require some upfront strategy advice – always happy to help.

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Rob Crolla

Rob is Director of CODA Planning. He has a wealth of experience across a wide variety of land use sectors, and has worked in private and public sector roles, and on client-side and in consultancy roles over a 25 year planning career. Connect with Rob on LinkedIn >>

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