What is the most popular reason for a planning application being declined? What can a borrower do to try and avoid this?
There is no single most common reason for refusal; circumstances and issues vary from one site to the next, depending on local political objectives and aspirations, site designations and the quality of a development proposal. It is essential, therefore, that any borrower really understands the site pre-acquisition, including matters such as relevant planning history, local housing need, the political landscape, employment land availability and specific, restrictive site designations. Obtaining professional planning advice that identifies these key planning challenges and how they can be addressed is of paramount importance. Once that advice has been obtained, an architect should prepare a feasibility scheme to establish that the site can deliver the scale of development that is required to make the scheme viable.
What are two of the biggest Brexit driven challenges and how can a developer mitigate this?
It is difficult to pinpoint two specific Brexit-driven challenges, but what abundantly clear is that Brexit has created uncertainty in the market and there is a clear difference between vendor aspirations regards land value and the amount a developer can afford to pay while delivering a form of development which a Council is likely to support, including the delivery of affordable housing.
Developers have to rely on agents managing vendor aspirations or hope that when dealing with off-market opportunities, the site owner has realistic expectations. Beyond this, it is important that developers engage at an early stage (during pre-application discussions) with viability advisors and case officers at local authorities. This is to establish a clear understanding of a development’s viability position; including GDVs citing extensive comparable development examples.
Will the planning landscape be easier to navigate once there is some certainty post Brexit?
Brexit is not having a significant impact on planning certainty. The starting point for the consideration of planning applications is the development plan. I think this will continue to be the case in any post-Brexit world. We anticipate that post-Brexit, once the market has adjusted, there will be an increase in sites coming forward for development. This is because there continues to be a shortage of housing across the country. Additionally, there will be a need for the development of modern employment and industrial space.
A continued lack of domestic political cohesion will inherently create some uncertainty at the local level. It is only through strong leadership both in Government and in Local Authorities and an avoidance of the temptation for political one-upmanship that the planning process will become more transparent, easier to navigate and we can start to deliver the homes and jobs which are in such acute need.
What is the biggest challenge you see developers facing? Is this driven by economic/political factors or has this always been the case? What can developers do to help mitigate this?
Political and economic uncertainty will always present some of the greatest challenges to developers. Through good planning and viability advice early on, there could be the mitigation of economic uncertainty. But beyond that, there will always be a risk that the market will not behave as anticipated. Speeding up the process is, therefore, commonly high up a developer’s priority list. The best way to achieve this is to ensure engagement with Councillors and other stakeholders throughout the process. This is to make local political imperatives understood (i.e. around the delivery of affordable housing).
Driven by a lack of trust that the public sector does not understand or care about the commercial realities of development, developers have historically been reluctant to engage fully. But my overall experience is that proper engagement with mutual respect delivers swift and positive outcomes. This in turn builds trust and has a positive impact on future discussions. An overly aggressive and adversarial approach rarely delivers a quick result. It instead widens the divide between developers and the public sector. Also, it adds pressure to an already overstretched appeals system which only adds to project delays, increased costs, and reduced profitability.
Contributor: Mark Batchelor, Director, Boyer Planning
Boyer Planning URL: https://www.boyerplanning.co.uk
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