#SQFT 6: Applying for and gaining the right planning permissions

Our Experience

Over the last 14 years, we have been involved in multiple development projects in Central London – predominantly in Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) and Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF). All developments have been relatively straight-forward with regard to planning permissions, so as to reduce risk wherever possible. Such alterations have included side returns, loft extensions / conversions, simple flips (bought and sold for profit), full mansard conversions and air-rights purchases, roof terraces, extensions, parking permits etc.

By far in a way, most experience has been gained from pre-application advice from the relevant local authority. Before entering fully into any project we will always obtain a pre-app – even if we know that our proposals are not controversial. Pre-apps are no guarantee of granting of plannnig but instead, the council’s view point on your proposal and how they would expect to respond to it. At the very least, this provides good due-diligence on behalf of your investors’ protection, but mostly – you receive a report noting the what the council’s expected response would be to such and application and, more importabtly, what they do not like or would not allow, and why. For a cost of £250 to £900 – this advice is priceless and will likley fast-track your planning application when and if it goes in. If a pre-app can be drafted to effecitvely do all of the research for precedents that a planner will do  – it will yield the best results for the developer.

Planning officers can be difficult to deal with as their role is not one of an authority. Their responsibility is to interpret a development’s impact visually and environmentally, according to guidelines which come in the form of about 3 massive books. Of course, their viewpoint is therefore open to interpretation so they do not have to see your perspective (and likely won’t) as gospel. Expect an planner to always err on the side of caution in anything controversial (why would they as an individual want to attract criticism for their decision?), and your plans will go considerably smoother.

We have had applications refused before – despite pre-application advice contradicting the reasoning, but have managed to always have a Plan B up our sleeves should such an instance happen. It is too tempting in the business of property development to rely on optimism instead of realism and downside protection. Yes, there is an argument that any unfair refusal can be taken to appeal (who will fairly consider both sides of the argument and decree what will be allowed), but this will likely take a minimum 5 months even for small projects – and if you are paying interest on your debt, this must be calculated against the upside of potentially gaining permission and the extra time to build.

It is too tempting in the business of property development to rely on optimism instead of realism and downside protection.

Past scenarios and challenges we have overcome

We had one such project that we had full pre-application advice on to split a large house into 4 separate units as the desirability for the latter was much greater and the price per square foot achievable, much higher. In general, our pre-application advice was very positive, and useful in terms of feedback – the relevant council were very keen on sub-division of large units as it went towards meeting their targets for new homes in the borough.

Our first application was refused, (which we half expected) so we allowed a long compltion period on the purchase to submit a “safer”, less contentios application. Our second application went in swiftly, addressing the concerns raised in the first application, as noted by our friendly planners. A week before our second application was due back however, we received comments from the planner (note – they very rarely call you to tell you there is a problem!), that the new application was due to be failed on a completely new point (they now did not like our proposed ground and lower ground floor duplexes – which we applied for because they do not like self-contained, lower ground floor flats!!) which had never been raised before and did not make sense given previous advice from the planners (it was down to an environmental concern on outlook and light). Ok – so the planners had contradicted themselves – we could get into a big argument but were due to complete in less than a week and without planning permission in place, we would not get our full development loan, so action was needed immediately. Given the reason for potentially rejecting our new application (light and outlook), we suggetsed then to the planner to revert to a previous scheme of lateral ground and seperate lower ground floor flats (that they had advised against due to environmental reasons!) – which they then accepted! Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to planners decisions as they are a body of individuals as opposed to an actual “authority”. Lessons were learned from this experience.

And I will be using that precedent for many years to come. Ha ha.

Top 3 tips for developers starting out

  1. ALWAYS get pre-application advice before submitting a planning application. Even if 20 immediate precedents exist that have been granted in the last 3 years on the same street, there may be the slightest detail of your scheme that could have been overlooked, but would be enough to fail your application. This is the minimum due-diligence that should always take place.
  2. Scan the immediate area (perhaps the subject terrace your property is on) for precedents granted within the last 5 years that support your application. Present these all to the planner at pre-application and make their job easier. It makes your life easier.
  3. Keep It Simple Stupid – complex schemes are a headache and very high risk of being refused. And planning decisions are unpredictable at best. If a scheme is complicated, it can add a year onto the planning process and considerable cost onto your debt interest.

This story is listed in: Investment, London Property market, Property development, Property Investment, Property Market, Uncategorised

Get More Content Like This By Email

Share with your network

Blog Categories

Leave a Comment


GDV to date


Average acquisition


Average GDV


Average Equity raise per deal


Average profit per deal


Average ROI on equity


Deals completed


Currently units in progress