What is a pre-app and do I need one?

By Christophe

All new build projects, and most extensions, require planning permission from the local authority. For some projects this can seem like a leap into the unknown. If the plot or house is in a sensitive area or presents a new style to a neighbourhood, for example, it can be impossible to guess whether permission will be granted.

In these cases, one option is to open a conversation with the local authority by submitting a pre-application, a ‘pre-app’. We’ve detailed what this is and when it might be appropriate.

What is a pre-app?

A pre-app is essentially a request for planning advice from planning officers. Once the planning officer responds with a report, the advice contained can be used by the applicant to amend an application. The aim is to reduce the chance of a planning application being refused.

The creation and submission of a pre-app will normally be led by your architect, and planning consultant if you are using one. They should know when a pre-app might be appropriate and the right questions to ask.

A pre-app is submitted for a fee which will vary dependent on the scale of the project.

When do I need a pre-app?

Submitting a pre-app can often save time and money during the planning process. It can avoid having to redesign a scheme following refusal of planning permission, which can be more costly. At no point is a pre-app obligatory – but sometimes, it is a sensible route to take.

As well as for new projects, a pre-app is often used where a site or project has previously been denied planning permission. It can be a way to explore what alternative options might be considered appropriate.

What does a pre-app contain?

This can vary considerably. Sometimes a pre-app is a way to ask ‘can I build a house here?’ or it may be asking a more detailed question such as ‘will my design be considered appropriate for the neighbourhood?’

It therefore needs to contain an overview of the project, including sketches, site plans and material choices where appropriate. It will also include planning history and any relevant planning policies. Some councils do now have minimum requirements for pre-applications.

While it might be tempting to include absolutely all details, it is best to focus the submission on the main question you have in your mind. For example, you could focus on the size of the proposal, rather than the specific design if that’s where doubt lies.

How long does the pre-app process take?

Getting a pre-app ready to submit is down to your architect and planning consultant. Once submitted, each local authority has its own timeframe for delivering a report. For some projects, a planning officer might want to make a site visit.

Overall, it usually takes planning officers two to eight weeks to reply to a pre-app submission. However, there is no statutory timeframe, unlike for a planning application.

What will the planning officer’s report say?

The response is unlikely to say either a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’. It should contain outline advice that indicates the likelihood of approval being given. For example, it might say that an application is unlikely to be approved if a window is in a certain place, or if an extension reaches out to a certain distance. It might suggest an alternative size that could be more acceptable.

Anything else I need to know?

Keep in mind that a planning officer’s response to a pre-app does not guarantee planning permission will be granted. It is the advice of that officer, and although a positive report is encouraging it doesn’t mean the project is sure to be successful.

Whilst freedom of information requests can be applied for, a pre-app is normally, and in the first instance, confidential. It won’t be published on a planning portal for the public to see. This makes it a good way to test the water for a project that might be sensitive, without running the risk of gaining feedback from the wider world.

Some councils are particularly encouraging and proactive of pre-application processes and the process tends to be more collaborative by nature. Others are perhaps less so!

If you’d like to know more about the pre-app process or discuss your project, do get in touch.

Tags: Architectural process, Planning

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