How to remove a key barrier to development for the SME builder


A recent report titled ‘Small is beautiful, Delivering more homes through small sites’, published by the Federation of Master Builders and the Local Government Information Unit looks at some of the barriers to enabling small scale development and how these might be overcome.

The report draws together evidence from surveys of local authorities and SME builders; roundtable discussions involving both parties; and a series of interviews with planning officers.

Overview of the survey outcomes:

The results were interesting and suggest a real tension over how the planning system is applied to small sites.  

Barriers to development identified in the report included:

  • 64% of SME builders feel that planning departments need more resources;
  • 79% of SME builders feel that the planning system is too heavy handed and that the uncertainty and delays involved can make small sites disproportionately difficult;
  • In contrast 55% of councils said that the main barrier to approvals for self build is that “the quality of the applications is often poor” and that the planning process is often hampered by an inadequate understanding of planning requirements by some small developers.

Communication and the quality of the application:

There is clearly a disconnect between what local authorities expect from applications and what is submitted, which only serves to delay the application process further.

Another aspect to this problem was also raised by the local authority survey which saw around a fifth of respondents agreeing that “Developers are unaware of the opportunities that exist in the SHLAA.” The SHLAA is a key part of the evidence for a Local Plan and identifies land and buildings with the potential for new housing.    

Both SME developers and the local authorities also identified problems during the planning application process when there is a breakdown in the link between the initial pre-application stage and the actual approval process itself.

The key problem seems to lie in a lack of continuity, clarity and communication on both sides.  And this is precisely where getting a planning consultant on board to help manage your planning application can make all the difference.

How we can help:

We understand that SME builders require a reliable turnaround on applications to maintain cash flow. The usual statutory 12 weeks for a decision can end up rolling into many more months if your application is missing key reports or CIL and S106 agreements aren’t anticipated and proactively dealt with.

We have worked productively with many small to medium sized developers and we have also worked with hundreds of councils. We understand the frustrations, time constraints and needs of both sides and work hard to communicate clearly and negotiate positively during the application process to help secure a steady passage to a decision.  

We provide a tailor-made response to your planning needs and examples of the services we offer which can add value to your application process include:

  • Site appraisal and strategy: Forewarned is forearmed. Once you have identified a potential site for your scheme, it is wise to assess its feasibility for development. Our site appraisals will provide you with a thorough analysis of the positives and pitfalls of your site, relevant planning history and policy, recommended development options, next steps and can help to ensure you are pursuing the best planning strategy for your aims.   
  • Pre-application support: We have written before about whether pre-application is worth the fee many councils charge.  Essentially it all comes down to preparation as your pre-application discussion is only as good as the ideas you present and the engagement you encourage.  If handled correctly the process can provide you with a useful indication of how the council will respond to your application and which areas require amendments.
  • Making the case: One of our key services is the preparation and provision of a planning statement to support the scheme in planning terms. We will also advise you on what third party reports will be required for a robust planning submission and often find that we naturally take the role of lead consultant, formulating a strong team, reviewing and collating the reports and submitting the planning application in a timely manner.  
  • Negotiation and engagement: But obviously engagement doesn’t stop with submission.  One of the most crucial roles a planning consultant plays is forming a relationship with the case officer to ensure that concerns are dealt with fairly and swiftly, and to help present the application in the best light right up to a decision.

Whilst the issues raised by the survey suggest that long term changes are required in order to tackle the barriers to development for SME builders, what can be actioned immediately is improved communication and the quality of applications.

Of those that took part in the survey, 55% of local authorities cited poor quality applications as a barrier to SME development, whilst 80% of SME builders felt that local authorities do not proactively engage with them.

Using a planning consultant to prepare and submit your planning application removes some of the uncertainty from the planning process and helps to provide:

  • clarity;
  • assurance that a comprehensive planning strategy is being adhered to;
  • positive engagement with both the council and statutory consultees;
  • and reassurance that the application submission is of high quality and meets the necessary requirements.

If your scheme would benefit from professional planning consultant input or you would like to understand more about how we can add value to your development aims, contact our planning consultants via or 01242 501003.