May 3, 2019
One of the more taxing aspects of any building project is the process of securing planning consent. You might not think it applicable to garden design at first, but garden designers must secure planning permission to build or move garages, garden rooms and retaining walls, or any invasive structure that goes into the development of a garden. At Dewlands Garden Design we have successfully steered through 30 applications in the last six years covering a whole range of structures. Here’s how our applications have been so successful.
A tactful approach to securing planning permission
We have always had good success with securing planning permissions, particularly in rural settings where applications by others have failed in the past. Eugene Hill, the founder of Dewlands Garden Design explains why: “The tack which I take that I think works best is to be non-confrontational with the planners. You’ll often see a planning permission strategy where a planning consultant has been engaged and you’ll see a long report that says, ‘Relating to article 6.7.5, sub clause 2.7.1 which states so-and-so…. you therefore have to pass our application’. Imagine that you belong to the planning authority, you’ve gone to university to get a qualification and have been a planner for over ten years, and with all that experience you get this 50-page document telling you how to do your job. I know how I would react, I’d make it as difficult as possible for you to get what you want because you’re treating me like an idiot!
“I personally think it’s better to engage with the planners yourself. Often there will be a pre-planning process where anything that is straight forward is put to the planning authority – it’s an important step because you can flush out the things you absolutely can’t do and then you can arm yourself for the inevitable struggle. I’ll always then respond by saying, ‘Okay, I appreciate we can’t do that, but what can we do to enable us to achieve what we’re trying to do? Instead of treating the planner as an obstacle, chip into their expertise and use them as a resource. Sometimes we don’t have the time, but if you can, have a polite, civil dialogue and you’ll be surprised by what you can achieve. It means you’re on the same side and not fighting one another.”
Planning permission secured
“I had a client once who had been wanting to build a garden room, they had been through two or three applications and they had all been a solid ‘No’. We went with an initial outline scheme which was also turned down, so we persisted to try and understand what we couldn’t do and what might have been achievable; in the end – with a bit of massaging – we got what we wanted.
“In another project in Chailey, the garden was ancillary to the main dwelling and not in curtilage to it – in English, it was effectively an old piece of agricultural land that had been used as a garden for many years. In this situation, most planners would reject a development, but we went through pre-planning and told the planners what we were trying to achieve and why. We asked them what would be reasonable and at one stage we thought we’d fail because they demanded that the development be built much closer to the house. We were able to argue that by doing that, we’d have to build new access and take down established trees and that our route had a much lower impact. By having that dialogue with the planners, they felt comfortable that we weren’t fighting them and we were able to get the planning approved.”
One tactic that many developers might use is purposely to include aspects of the design that will be rejected to give the planners an easy win with the hope that they will let the real plans through. But Dewlands Garden Design don’t do that: “Going through the pre-planning step means that we flush out all the objections beforehand. Pre-planning can really help with that kind of thing; of course it depends upon the complexity of the project and it’s an additional charge, but it means you can iron out the details before submitting your plans and can help you avoid going through multiple rounds of applications and appeals, which ultimately would cost a lot more.”
Things to look out for
Some developments can be completed without the need to go through planning permission; this is called permitted development. But Eugene urges caution, even when you think a development is permissible: “For example, areas of outstanding natural beauty are usually a no-go unless we get a certificate of permitted development because anyone can come along and report the development and in that case we’d have to go through a retrospective planning permission application.”
Local authorities publish helpful guides as to what requires planning permission and what doesn’t, but if you are in any doubt, it makes sense to get expert help. The last thing you want is to go to all the expense of designing and building your ideal garden room or moving your garage to make your outdoor space more usable, only to be told you have to take it down or put everything back as it was.
To have the best chance of securing planning permission for your garden development, the take-home message is to be as reasonable as possible, look to build rapport with planners and compromise where necessary. Instead of looking at problems, look for solutions and try to work on the same side as the planning authority.