In 2018, the government brought in a new option for getting planning permission: permission in principle. Because everyone is always complaining that the planning system has too much uncertainty in it, the idea was to create a route for which the first step was more stripped down than outline planning applications, so you could get a quick answer (just five weeks!) to the basic question of: is what I want to do possible here? And unlike when you ask the council for pre-application advice, with permission in principle you end up with an official decision from the council saying yes or no.
But after five years, permission in principle remains fairly obscure. One possible reason for this is that if you put in an application as minimal as suggested by the government when they brought in this option, either the council will look for a reason to refuse it because they have nothing substantial to make a decision on, or it’s relatively easy for them to say yes to the permission in principle and then no at the follow-up technical details consent stage.
Our clients had a site in the busy Thameside town of Grays, Essex - it was greenfield, but sitting between a classic suburban development and an industrial area. It’s in the borough of Thurrock, which is nowhere near meeting its housing targets. Could permission in principle be a good first step towards building on the plot?
Permission in principle is only available for schemes of up to nine homes. Our scheme was for nine flats, with a mixture of two and three bedrooms. Because we were aware of the risks of a skeletal application, we supplied more information than the rules insist on. We provided the same level of architectural drawings as we would for a standard planning application, making sure these would be comfortable, good-to-live-in flats and that the building as a whole would sit well in the landscape.
The application also included a preliminary ecology assessment and transport statement, covering the two issues that we anticipated the council might have with the site.
Thurrock Council granted the permission in principle, agreeing that the basic idea of nine homes was the right one. And having put in serious design work already and thought carefully about how the flats will work, we are in a good position as we continue on to the next stage of the process, applying for technical design consent. We will keep you posted.
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