Pre-application advice – Is it worth it?

While working on a project in Surrey we were shocked to see that Mole Valley District Council were charging £300 to £720 per hour for pre-application advice! Our client politely declined the offer.

But they are not the only ones, with many South East councils charging eye watering fees. For instance, the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames is charging from £480 to £4,800 per project for initial advice.

The recently published National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) encourages Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to provide an option for early engagement, noting that there is: “significant potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning application system for all parties. Good quality pre-application discussion enables better coordination between public and private resources and improved outcomes for the community”.

We agree with the theoretical benefits of the pre-application process, but are LPA’s providing good quality advice or do they view it as just another option to maximise revenue?

The key elements to any advice are reliability, willingness and consistency when putting forward an opinion. With Local Planning authorities constantly under staffed and over worked, in far too many situations pre-application discussions become so laborious and without a perceptible benefit, many choose to simply go to the application stage.

Common complaints are:

  1. It takes too long to get advice back (presumably because staff are working on formal planning applications);
  2. Advice given by junior officers who are hesitant to offer a firm opinion on a proposal, given the potential for more senior planning officers or members to come to a different view of the acting case officer;
  3. Advice is inaccurate or too brief to add any real value.

Such problems are possibly excusable when advice was free, but with LPAs now charging fees (some way in excess of comparative professional fees) the service should offer value for money or applicants will be put off.

At Plainview Planning we understand the need for free unbiased initial advice. If you are looking for prompt, confident and clear advice on your planning issue then feel free to contact one of the team for an informal discussion.