Is Pre-Application Planning Advice Worth It?

Planning Consultant - Chris Scott
Hi, I’m Chris,
I hold an MA in Planning and work as a Planning Consultant

So let’s presume you have a project in mind and you have been browsing the website of your local authority. You eventually come across a page which offers pre-application planning advice. In most cases, there is a charge for pre-application planning advice from the local planning department. Therefore many people question, ‘Is pre-application planning advice worth it?’. The reason being, you will already be paying a fee to the local authority to submit the application and discussions will take place during the determination process.

As with most things, there are times when the pre-application planning advice service can be beneficial. At other times it may provide little value in preparing the full planning application.

Free Pre-application Advice

While many local planning departments do charge to provide written feedback on pre-application planning advice, they often also offer free advice. This will be in the form of either a face to face 20-30 minute meeting with a planning case officer, or a phone conversation. Whether you decide to purchase written pre-application feedback from the local authority, this free advice can be useful for the reasons below.

Pre-Application Planning Meeting
Free face to face 20-30 meetings are offered by most local planning authorities.

Identifying Key Local Planning Policies

SMDC Local Plan
The Core Strategy (Local Plan) for Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (SMDC)

With any planning application, a planning consultant such as my self has to review the local plan for the applicable local authority. All local plans follow the same themes with regards to policies for design, transport, landscape protection etc. However, each local plan has been produced specifically for that area and is unique.

What pre-application planning advice can be useful for is to get an indication of how much ‘weight’ and emphasis will be placed on a specific policy. For instance, through the language/wording used you can often infer what the most significant planning issues are likely to be. A face to face meeting can also be beneficial if you observe the body language of the planning officer when you ask specific questions. You may notice a grimace for instance in response to certain questions. It is important not to read too much into such responses, however, it can help to guide and provide a strategy for a planning application.

Preparation Before Requesting Pre-Application Planning Advice

Before you request pre-application advice from the local planning authority to get the most out of it you should prepare beforehand. Going into the discussion knowing nothing about your sites planning history or local plan policies means your not going to be asking the best questions. With some pre-knowledge of the planning history of the site and relevant local policies, you can ask much more specific questions. Its the responses to these specific questions which can be of value to the preparation of a planning application.

Planning History Feedback 

Understanding the planning history of a site can be very useful to provide an indication of potential issues or opportunities for future planning applications. If the planning history of a site is reviewed before requesting pre-application feedback from the council you can ask better questions.

Those questions may be along the lines of have the permitted development rights for this site been removed?. You may already know the answer to that question after a review of the sites planning history. However, the response from the planning officer may be a different interpretation than your own perceptions. Therefore, it can assist with preparations of an application and reasoned responses to potential issues.

Making the Planning Process More Efficient

Pre-application planning advice from the local authority may actually speed up the planning process. For instance, you may require additional reports for your application, such as for ecology or flood risk. For ecology, in particular, site investigations can only be carried out at certain times of the year. Therefore, knowing what the local authority will require from you before you submit the application means you can get these reports in order as quickly as possible.

In some cases from reading local planning application validation lists, the reports required to determine an application will be obvious. However, in other circumstances, it will not be as clear. And you obviously do not want to be paying for reports which are not required.

Local Authority Pre-Application Planning Advice Charges

Below I’ve provided a summary (as of 2019) of the information and charges for the local authorities within my (on-site) service area:

Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (SMDC):

Advice on householder and small scale planning applications is free, and appointments can be made to discuss proposals with a planning officer at the Leek office on Wednesdays. Alternatively, a written response will be provided within 28 days. This is also applicable for High Peak Borough Council as the planning department is shared between these two authorities.

Peak District National Park:

Since 2014 the Peak District National Park has been charging for pre-application planning advice, however, it does include a feedback report. The exception is feedback on Listed Building Consent, which is free. For householder applications for instance for extensions, the charge is £100. This is also applicable to any application within a domestic curtilage, including outbuildings.

Cheshire East Council:

You can make an appointment to see the planning duty officer for free for a 15-minute meeting. This can take place in either the Macclesfield or Crewe offices. For written householder planning advice the charge is £100. For a replacement dwelling, the charge for advice is £335. They also offer a minor operations service for a charge of £200. Minor operations also include residential schemes of 1-5 units. Therefore the replacement dwelling pre-application planning advice does appear to be overcharged.

City of Stoke-on-Trent

Offer free 20 minute appointments for domestic planning applications. However, there is a charge for commercial applications. For minor applications, the charge for a meeting and written advice is £250. Followup meetings are charged at £125, and the charge for written advice only is £150.

Newcastle-Under-Lyme Borough Council

For a new single dwelling, the charge is £82. Discussions on extensions, the charge is either £21 or £31 depending on if the meeting is below or over 30 minutes. For other development such as a Change of Use the charge is £46. Finally, for other minor developments, the charge is £128. Whether the advice is just verbal communication or written feedback appears to depend on the individual enquiry.

East Staffordshire Borough Council

Unfortunately, at the time of writing this post their website was down, but if you click the link above you will be able to read details of their pre-application planning advice service.

Stafford Borough Council

Unusually, there appears to be no charges at all for pre-application planning advice, which includes a written response. The council can be contacted via post or email, and location/site plans are required. A confirmation of receipt will be provided within 5 days, and a response within 21 days.

Derbyshire Dales District Council

Since 2017 the council has introduced a charge for pre-application planning advice. Unusually, the Derbyshire Dales District Council will actually provide feedback for £25 if your proposals require planning permission. The response from most councils including those above is they will not tell you if you require planning permission. For instance, if you can complete development under Permitted Development Rights. For an extension, for instance, they invite you to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate to find out. Feedback on householder proposals includes a fee of £50 for just a letter and £100 to include a meeting.

If I can get Planning Advice from my Local Authority, why would I need a Planning Consultant?

The above is a valid question, however, there are several reasons why a planning consultant such as my self can still add value to a project. First, the pre-application planning advice provided by the local authority is not binding. So they will very rarely give you a ‘concrete’ response that your proposal will receive planning approval. Therefore a planning consultant managing an application and consulting with the authority still has to negotiate the details of the application to secure approval.

Furthermore, the pre-application planning advice the council provides is not always accurate. This may be a result of missing important aspects of planning history or a misinterpretation of local or national policy towards the proposal. However, in some cases inaccurate pre-application planning advice can still be of value to a planning consultant. It can help the planning consultant to prepare arguments in advance to issues the authority are likely to raise with the proposal.

Pre-Application Planning Advice

If you have a project which you need assistance with please send me details via the contact form. We can then discuss if requesting pre-application planning advice from your local authority will be of value to a future planning application :).