It’s easy to see planning applications as a major hurdle on the path to getting your projects built. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Choosing a delivery partner with a proactive, collaborative approach can make all the difference, as our architectural technologist and planning expert, Kieran Roberts, explains in the first of two articles…
Hi Kieran, can you tell us about your planning experience?
I’m an architectural technologist, so I look after projects from feasibility right through to handover. Planning is a huge part of that and I’ve been involved in hundreds of applications for our clients.
Does every education project need planning permission?
No, but the majority do. Some small-scale extensions might fall under permitted development and go straight to the building regs stage, but with schools there’s a lot to consider. Planners aren’t just thinking about the way a building looks – they’re analysing its impact on everything from trees and playing fields to highways and local employment. Our job is to get ahead of those concerns.
Where should clients begin?
Planning isn’t something clients have to do alone. The right delivery partner will manage the whole process, so the best place to start is talking to them. When clients approach us, the first thing we look at is location – options within the site, boundary lines, neighbours and the surrounding area. We talk to the school about their preferences, draw on their local knowledge and tailor the application, and our design, around those things.
What are you looking for at this early stage?
It’s about building as much information on the site and the school’s needs as possible. Our contractors conduct surveys looking at the site’s ecology, topography, arboriculture, acoustics and below-ground services. If they find things like newts or asbestos, knowing about them early means we can put strategies in place, alleviating planning concerns.
What if the client wants to make an architectural statement?
A lot of the time, satisfying planners is about showing you’re minimising the impact of your build. But not always. We also build information on the positive effects it will have on the community, like bringing new families into the area and the sustainability of the design solution. If a client wants to do something bold, that’s ok as long as we make the benefits very clear.
How important is collaboration?
It’s everything. Collaborating with the client and the school enables us to design a building that delivers what they need. Collaborating with planners means we get to know local policies, pressing issues, and how they want the area to develop. The whole process works best when delivery partners work closely with planners to mitigate impact and add value.
If planning looks problematic, what’s the best way to tackle it?
When it comes to building schools, planners understand there’s a massive need for more school places. So, there’s already the will to work together to find a solution. But some projects will naturally be more involved than others. When we design a new school or a complex extension, we often get pre-application advice from the planners.
For a small extra cost, this can make a huge difference. It gives planners an overview of the project’s intent and the chance to highlight hidden issues like archaeological finds or ground gas. Again, it’s about getting ahead of problems so we can put in a more confident application.
How involved do clients get in the planning application process?
There’s a lot of upfront discussion, then once the application’s ready, we hold a detail meeting to make sure everyone’s happy. After an application goes in, we work continuously with the planners to provide any extra information they need. At the same time the main contractor will start planning the practicalities with the client.
Kieran’s top planning tips – Pt.1
Work together to find answers that satisfy everyone
Highlight the positive impacts your build will bring