In the last 9 months, a number of London boroughs have introduced pre-application briefings to allow applicants the chance to present their schemes to the Planning Committee before the application is submitted. There are a number of benefits to the new system, as we have witnessed with schemes in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the London Borough of Havering.
By presenting the scheme to committee, clients have the opportunity to identify and address any key issues that members are concerned about. It also gives the applicant the chance to make their case where, for example, there are sometimes conflicts in terms of what has been requested from Council officers which contrasts with what committee members want to see come forward.
After presenting to committee in the first instant, applicants can have the opportunity to present to the planning committee again. This enables the project team to demonstrate how they have responded to the feedback received from councillors. Where changes have not been accommodated, it presents the opportunity to explain why. This can be reinforced by a briefing note, prepared by Cratus, which we can deliver to members ahead of the meeting.
Combined with Planning Performance Agreement, this can massively smooth the transition of an application, particularly where clients have the flexibility to make tweaks to a scheme. This may not work for others who have very strict parameters or where a scheme budget has already been maximised.
What it does do, is allow for a more positive relationship between developers and councillors, even before committee stage. Often, the only direct interaction between developers and councillors is at the committee hearing and this can be a negative experience, particularly on more controversial applications. When used well, it can build a rapport between the project team and the committee who can gain a better understanding of a scheme before they (often) see it for the first time at committee.
Where this Pre-Applications Briefing has become increasingly important is Havering. Their Strategic Planning Committee only hears applications that are recommended for approval, those that are recommended for refusal are refused under delegated powers. The briefing allow developers to work more closely with members and officers to achieve a scheme that is of benefit to the borough and, most importantly, recommended for approval.
The briefings allow the committee to put a ‘face’ to a developer. At a time when trust in developers at housebuilders is at an all-time low, this is an important step in enabling local representative and developer to work together to deliver much needed homes across the capital.