I have a simple piece of advice for anyone looking to submit a planning application - buy half-a-dozen first class stamps.
Why? Because it will save you a huge amount of money in the long run. Here’s how.
In the planning process, most components can be neatly controlled: for example, transport, sustainability, ecology, and archaeology. The one part that sits in the middle of this process, like a giant ticking time bomb, is the Planning Committee. Here local councillors are seldom more powerful, but unfortunately, often not as informed as they might be.
The merest whisper of a planning application in the local pub on a Friday evening is often enough to see a new “action group” spring into life, petitions launched, Facebook groups formed and letters sent to the local newspaper.
By the time an application is formally submitted, the local community has made its voice heard and councillors, nervous of their prospects at the ballot box, will be primed to object to an application that causes too much of a stir in their own back yards.
Which brings me back to the stamps. (By the way, with the average age of a councillor in the UK at 56, Twitter - which has its place - may not be the best way to reach them.)
So your half-a-dozen stamps may be used to send a simple letter, immediately upon acquiring a site, to: the ward councillors; the chair of the Parish Council or Residents’ Association; the chair of Planning; the chief executive; and the chief planning officer. And give your mobile number - you will not be inundated.
As the economist C. Northcote Parkinson put it: “The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel and misrepresentation.”
Change, especially when it comes to that most precious area you call home, is rarely welcomed without some explanation as to why it is a good idea. So it’s vital to communicate, even if some will always object.
And planning is often the one issue that will politicise local people like no other - which is why the developer who wants a straightforward application will always communicate.
After all it will cost less than a fiver.
Engagement done well can save a fortune, demystify the smoke and mirrors of local politics and provide early warning on pitfalls that lie ahead and all for the price of a couple of stamps.
Any investment in community and political relations will pay itself back handsomely with more rapid decisions, fewer appeals and an enhanced reputation.
Tom Curtin is the founder and chief executive of Curtin & Co.