The Planning Process

The Planning Process – from an ex-planning officer turned planning consultant

At the time of writing this, you’ll no doubt be in the grips of the new series of ‘The Planners'; a ‘fly on the wall’ documentary looking at the life and times of Planning officers, and trying to lift the lid on how things are done.

The Planning system is undergoing a huge period of change and transition. There are so many more professionals involved in the planning process then I think was originally envisaged, due partly because so many more people have a vested interest in the decisions that Local Councils make on some planning applications.

For a Planning Officer considering any planning application, they may have to take some (or all) of the following considerations into account;

  • National Planning Policy Framework
  • Local Planning Policies
  • Core Strategy or Local Development Framework Policies
  • Unitary Development Plan
  • Supplementary Planning Documents
  • Urban Design Briefs
  • Conservation Area Appraisals
  • Landscape character assessments
  • Landscape and Biodiversity bodies
  • English Heritage
  • Natural England
  • Highways Agency
  • County Highways Officer • Neighbours / Parish Council views

This is to name but a few.

How does a Planning Officer assess my application?

In the case of a typical residential extension, for example, whether a neighbour likes the scheme or not, is not a reason to refuse the application. Whether there are 1 or 50 letters of objection, this is still not reason to refuse the application, and likewise for approval in the absence of objections. Ultimately, the Planner has to consider all aspects which are material planning considerations in reaching a recommendation. These could include;

  • Impact on visual amenity
  • Impact on residential amenity
  • Impact on trees / ecology
  • Impact on Highways
  • Any other relevant considerations, such as Conservation Areas, Listed Buildings, High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) etc

What are these terms?

Visual amenity is essentially how the design of the extension fits in with the house and wider area; does it dominate the ‘host’ dwelling? Does it fit in with the wider street scene? Are the materials used in the proposal going to fit in well? Does it close an important gap between two houses for example which might lead to a ‘cramped’ feel on the site?

Residential amenity is how it provides for the occupants of the proposed extension as well as how it affects neighbour properties; does it result in a loss of light or overshadow the neighbouring property? Does it provide windows such as bedroom windows that look straight down into the immediate parts of a neighbours’ rear garden? Are the windows big enough to provide adequate daylight to that room? Is the proposal of a scale and sited so close to the boundary that it might have an overbearing effect on the neighbours? These things are best discussed with your neighbours before you submit an application to the Council.

What does a Planning Consultant do?

My job has a number of facets to it. Essentially I am brought into projects where the Architect requires the benefit of a planner to advise and help get an application approved. There will be a number of policies which will be used to assess your proposal and my job is to work both with the client, and the architect to draw up a scheme that is more likely to gain approval than not.

I am also enlisted to advise clients on the likelihood of securing permission for commercial sites, replacement dwellings, adverts, farming developments, changes of use and a range of other developments that need permission. A Planning consultants’ job is to articulate what is drawn into a planning statement which accompanies the planning application upon submittal, and to argue your case in light of the relevant policies. Resubmissions and Appeals (which I am also approached to take on) can be expensive exercises with no guarantee of success, and so having a planner on board during your initial application is considered a sensible way forward.

There is also the benefit of pre-application advice which all Councils now offer. I am also tasked with preparing short submissions to send to the Council to gauge the likelihood of success should a full application be forthcoming. My job is to consider your scheme in light of all relevant policies and help you try and avoid any pitfalls which may arise once you’ve submitted the proposal to the Council.

Having had the benefit of being a Planning Officer for 7 years in Tunbridge Wells, I would like to think I have a good idea of whether a scheme is likely to run into trouble or not under the local authority. The cost of this advice early on in your project is very minimal compared to the potential situation of a refusal and / or Appeal.


KaLa Architecture works alongside SJM Planning and as such has an extremely high percentage of approved planning applications, even when asked to design and submit planning on projects which are notoriously difficult to obtain.

Simon McKay – SJM Planning

SJM Planning
Unit 2
39a Maidstone Road
Paddock Wood
TN12 6DG
Mobile 07974 274324 or 07842 945545 e-mail

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