At the outset of a project, when things are being discussed in a general way and nothing too specific has been nailed down yet, it can often happen that the question of planning comes up. Usually this takes the form of me suggesting that some things are possible without applying for permission, but that other things (very often better solutions) are possible, but only with an application being made. And I’m not sure why this is, but I find that the general impression out there is that getting planning takes eight weeks. In one sense that is correct, but it’s only half the story…
To help to clarify this I’m setting down a more comprehensive look at the timeline involved, because you can’t build after eight weeks, so it doesn’t really count for anything. And because nothing is ever as simple as it should be, there are several scenarios that have to be covered. So:
There is the straightforward version, where nothing goes wrong, which looks like this:
- make your application (obviously it takes time to get your design to this point, and you may well have done some pre-planning consultation with the local authority as well.)
- at that point you get what’s called a “Notification of Decision to Grant Permission”, which is what the council intend to grant permission for, unless an appeal comes in to stop them doing so.
- assuming that the decision is a straightforward decision to grant, and that there are no appeals, then the grant of permission document will issue about 5 weeks after the decision was issued (it’s supposed to be 4 weeks, but the councils tend to hang around for a week to make sure that no appeals are in the system before handing over the permission document itself – the “Notification of Grant of Permission”.)
- finally, once you have the final grant of permission in your hands, you then have to lodge a commencement notice containing the final grant number and wait another two weeks until you can start building properly (there is often some work that can be done outside of what this notice covers, but not usually that much)
So the best case scenario is about 15 weeks, or three and a half months between lodging the application and starting to build it. In my experience it is almost always the case that I’m talking to people who have two months in their minds.
But of course that is assuming that nothing goes wrong.
In reality, there are five things that can go wrong with your planning application:
- Invalidation of the original application on a technicality
- A request for additional information from the council
- An appeal against the decision by a third party, to An Bord Pleanala
- A grant that has conditions attached that means you don’t have permission for what you wanted
- A refusal of permission (or a split decision that refuses one aspect and grants another)
Each of these has the potential to push out the timeline, even assuming that you get a grant that you are happy with at the end:
- Invalidation might add a couple of weeks.
- Additional information adds a minimum of 4 weeks, but that doesn’t allow time to draw up the additional information being looked for.
- An appeal doesn’t have a set timeline for being dealt with, so the delay can vary a lot. At the moment it adds around 3-4 months for a domestic application.
- A grant that conditions the guts out of what you want might end up with you appealing the decision yourself, or else making a new application addressing the reasons given for the refused portions.
- A refusal of course means heading back to the drawing board and either reapplying or redesigining something that is exempt from planning in the first place.
There are some things you can do to mitigate the risk of the timeline being pushed out in this way:
- One is to consult prior to lodgement with the planning authority, and get a sense from them of any issues that they are likely to have with your proposal. This process can itself take time however, so I tend to think of it as something to do when what you are applying for is not straightforward or is unusual, and the result you are looking for is a (limited) sense of comfort on how the council might view the application. It is limited because the person you consult with might not be the one who assesses the application (they usually aren’t), and because a third party submission might colour the planning authority’s view of the application as well. Architects will usually write up notes of their record of the pre-planning consultation and submit them with the application (or beforehand) to make sure that what was discussed gets put into the planning file.
- The second thing is to communicate with your neighbours. Even in cases where the council is minded to grant the application, any third party has the right to appeal it, and add that delay regardless of whether their grounds are seen as valid or not in the end. You can’t control what other people do but it does help if you let them know what’s going on.
- The third thing is stating the obvious, but it is to apply for something that you are fairly confident that you can get. Our planning system doesn’t specify in any great detail what is acceptable and what isn’t – it’s all dealt with on a case by case basis. So if time is sensitive (for example if you want to move into a new house but need to get and implement a planning application first) then it can make sense to be cautious. But then there are also times where what you want is something unusual or unprecedented, and in cases like that you just have to accept that it might have to be taken to the farthest end of the planning process, and prepare yourself.