Applicants as well as authorities need to raise their games, by Richard Garlick

Discussions about how to speed up the planning process usually seem to default to complaints about local planning authority performance, and what could be done to improve it.

But two conferences last week included sessions in which the tables were turned, and local authorities set out how applicants could smooth the planning process by raising their game.

Test Valley Borough Council head of planning Paul Jackson told delegates at the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants rural planning conference that a large proportion of the applications he received lacked the information needed for validation. He said many other authorities suffered the same problem, and that one at least had started to charge applicants for submitting invalid paperwork. In an environment in which planning authorities were desperate to find new sources of revenue, he said, charging for invalid applications could become more common.

To avoid problems with validation, applicants should follow planning authorities’ checklists carefully, he said. And to maximise their applications' chances of success, they should make sure they had read the relevant guidance, and understood the issues that officers and councillors would be balancing when making recommendations and decisions.

At Planning's own Planning for Housing event, Milton Keynes Council leader Peter Marland similarly advised applicants to "do their homework" ahead of committee meetings, engage early, familiarise themselves with community aspirations and get to know the "wants and needs" of planning committee members.

In a week in which we report that all but one of communities secretary Sajid Javid’s 14 reversals of inspectors’ recommendations to approve housing schemes have occurred in Tory constituencies, it is tempting to be cynical about the extent to which planning decision-making is driven by political objectives.

But, as our article suggests, the reasons why Javid’s interventions tend to take place in places represented by Tory MPs are probably not all to do with political expediency, although you would have to be very trusting to believe it played no role. Applicants have more control over their schemes’ destiny that they sometimes realise, and can maximise their chances of securing speedy permission by, in the words of Simon Neate of consultancy Indigo Planning, "presenting good arguments, backed by sound evidence", alongside the information requested by the local planning authority.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //

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