Chartered town planner John Seacome, of law firm Eversheds, lists the top 10 points retailers need to consider when applying for planning permission for their store.

When considering new premises it’s essential to check whether planning permission is required. If you employ a properly briefed and experienced agent it’ll save you a lot of time and effort in preparing and submitting the application. As you can imagine, talking to the local authority planners and demonstrating a positive approach can avoid costly and frustrating refusals.
Here are 10 tips to ease your way through the planning process.

1. BE CLEAR ON CHANGE OF USE
There is a distinction between pure change of use and physical works necessary to adapt a building to its new use. Nevertheless, change of use can be subject to policies as rigorous as those for new buildings. These policies should be in the adopted Development Plan or Supplementary Planning Guidance, both of which will be at the reception desk of the planning department.

2. CHECK THE HISTORY OF THE SITE
The planning history of the site needs to be checked. This includes checking onerous planning conditions which might prevent you from running the business as effectively as you would wish; what has been refused permission; or what may be operating in contravention of an enforcement notice.

3. WATCH THE DEADLINES
There is now a rigorously-enforced duty on planning officers to process applications within an eight-week period, and it is no longer possible to rely on ‘ironing out’ details by discussion and negotiation after the application has been submitted. In some cases, either the planning committee is unable to make a decision or the application fails to get to committee within a reasonable period. Eight weeks from the date of submission, an application is deemed refused.
Provided the applicant has not agreed to extend the period for consideration or, if they have agreed to an extension and that agreed period has passed, then they can appeal.

4. TRADE VERSUS RETAIL USE
Trade warehouses have often caused problems with planning officers who have seen them as a back-door method of obtaining permission for a retail warehouse.
Emphasising that the trade counter is just that, for bona fide tradespeople rather than members of the public who are trying to purchase items at wholesale prices, will reassure most suspicious planning officers and give the application a smoother ride. Furthermore, since April 21 2005, retail warehouse clubs have been in a class of their own and outside the Use Class for shops.

5. CHECK THE HERITAGE
Check both listed building and conservation area status in the local authority registers at the earliest stage of planning. Potential premises for your business may be listed as of special architectural or historic interest. There are very severe restrictions on what can be done to these buildings - not only to the exterior but also to the interior, which may itself be part of the listing description. Non-listed buildings in conservation areas are less severely affected.

6. DESIGN MATTERS
Design, materials, landscaping, shop front fascias and advertisements will need to be discussed. Planners tend to look for a higher standard of design and finish than, say, 20 years ago, so it’s not good tactics use surrounding buildings of poor quality as a precedent for your own scheme.

7. CHECK FOR CONDITIONS
Sometimes schemes are approved with a number of conditions which may at best be onerous and at worst make the scheme totally unviable. Common types of condition are those that seek to limit hours (and days) of opening and those that might restrict the type of goods sold or the floorspace area in retail outlets. If these are imposed, it’s usually best to appeal straight after the application has been refused rather than against the whole application, otherwise the inspector may well refuse the scheme as a whole.

8. LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR
Consult the neighbours before submission of the application. This may be essential to head off wide-scale opposition or at least reduce the level of hostility. Frequently, basically sound applications are refused at committee as issues which have been raised by the public have been used to form reasons for refusal. However well-presented an application may be in terms of compliance with policy and pre-application consultation, if the local public raise concerns directly or through ward members, the application may receive a poor reception at committee.

9. MAINTAIN THE DIALOGUE WITH YOUR PLANNING OFFICER
If a scheme is ‘nearly there but not quite’ it’s sometimes possible to resubmit a single application free of charge within 12 calendar months, provided it has been revised to take account of objections to the first application. A word with the planning officer may indicate whether this is a good course of action. If so, then it’ll save a lot of time and expense over an appeal. The practice of ‘twin-tracking’ or submitting a duplicate application while the previous application is still current is likely to be outlawed shortly.

10. STUDY THE REASONS
If the appeal route is followed, in most cases an appointed inspector, reporter or planning commissioner will hear the appeal or read the written representations as appropriate, and come to a decision which may or may not allow the appeal. This must be done within six calendar months of the date of refusal stamped on the refusal notice. The reasons for refusal need to be studied very carefully and a copy of the committee report or recommendations is needed to find out whether the officer’s views are reflected in the refusal. Going by informal hearing or inquiry is likely to involve considerable delays of up to a year, and the written representations procedure is much quicker, though not necessarily more satisfactory in achieving a positive result.

It is not currently unlawful to operate or build without permission, but unless the situation is regularised by a retrospective grant of permission, which cannot be guaranteed, enforcement proceedings will probably follow with additional expense and delay. To contravene an enforcement notice which has taken effect is unlawful, resulting in a fine or even imprisonment.

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