Demand has sharply increased
Since the start of the pandemic, Britain has been hot on home improvement. From rear extensions to loft conversions, homeowners across the country have been eager to get more out of their properties, which has resulted in 2021 having some of the highest numbers of planning applications on record.
In June 2021 alone, the Planning Portal received 63,873 applications. This is a 17% increase when compared to June 2020.
This surge in demand came at a time when many local authorities were unable to run at full capacity, due to many staff working from home and having to juggle child care at the same time. Consequently, many planning departments are now dealing with a backlog of requests.
Many local authorities are lacking resources
Alongside the disruptions of the pandemic, many local authorities are lacking the resources to cope with the number of applications they receive. For many years, councils have endured several eye-watering budget cuts, and have therefore been unable to grow their teams as needed.
And because many councils are working with limited members of staff, when those team members need to take time off from work, either due to sick leave or holidays, the resources aren’t there to plug in the gaps. In our experience, it’s not uncommon for an application to be delayed by two weeks due to someone taking their annual leave.
The industry is changing and becoming more inaccessible
As councils try to manage these difficulties, some are looking for new processes to help reduce workloads. A common solution has been to limit communication channels. A couple of years ago it would have been possible for an architect to reach a planning department over the phone to discuss potential issues. However, our planning team has found that in recent months, many local authorities are no longer accepting phone calls and work primarily online.
While this may help limit the workload of their planning departments, it does raise a number of challenges for our team, who are now struggling to chase up feedback.
What does this mean for my planning application?
Typically, a planning application takes up to 8 weeks to receive a decision. However, due to the current situation, we would advise homeowners to prepare for an even longer waiting period of 10 weeks or more.
It is worth noting that one local authority in Cornwall has recently announced all their applications will face an additional 4 week extension to their waiting times, indicating that some councils are now formally addressing these issues and openly admitting they can’t meet the statutory requirement to review applications within 8 weeks.
Alongside longer waiting times, you or your architect may find it hard to have an open dialogue while your application is being assessed. Whereas in the past an architect could liaise with your planning officer and make small changes to the designs, this is now no longer possible in some areas.
Tips for keeping your project on track
While the current delays can slow your project down, they shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your application. There are a number of ways you can mitigate risk and make up time in other areas of your project.
Having an architect manage your planning application can ensure your project isn’t slowed down/rejected on the basis of bad paperwork or unrealistic designs.
If your planning department is strict and hard to start a dialogue with, you might want to explore using your permitted development rights. Rather than meeting subjective standards set by your council, permitted development projects simply have to check the right boxes in terms of design. However, not all homes will qualify for this scheme.
If you’re using your permitted development rights or you’re pursuing a low-risk planning application, you can make time savings by starting work on your building regulations while a decision is being made. At Resi, we offer this as a fast-track package and you can learn more about it by booking a call in with our team.