Planning Permission UK - Articles and Opinions

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


It is with regret that most Panning applications will receive neighbour complaints of one sort or another. It is simply a fact of life. If you are about to submit an application for Planning permission then you need to complete a risk assessment on the likely reactions from your neighbours.

In an ideal world, and a lot of current thinking would lead you to believe that having pre-application meetings with your affected neighbours will prevent neighbour objections and clear the path for an unfettered application. Regretfully, a lot of this nice 'touchy feeley' engaging experiences stuff with the neighbours simply results in a home goal for you that can leave you feeling simply gutted.

This is because most neighbours are emotional and have alternative agendas to prevent you from building your scheme. The psychology and understanding of all the possible neighbour motives for such events is a another topic in itself that I wont cover them here in this news letter. Our Planning Guide explains these issues and how to complete a neighbour impact risk assessment prior to designing and submitting your scheme for Planning permission.

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Therefore, we will assume that your application has now been submitted and you have received notification that your neighbour(s) have complained. What should you do next? Do you need to respond? Should you go and approach the neighbours for a meeting to try and resolve any issues? Should you do nothing and rely upon the Planning Officers judgment on the scheme? These are the typical responses that need to be addressed for each category of neighbour complaint.

Firstly, do not panic. The complaint letter can come as a complete surprise as most neighbours will not tell you face to face that they will be complaining on your home extension scheme for example. You will first hear about the complaint usually from your Planning Design Agent who may be tracking the application for you or you may be informed by the Planning Officer or even you may be tracking the application yourself via the internet.

You need to read the letter of complaint in order to assess what you should do next. Fortunately for the residential developer or building owner most neighbour compliant letters do not actually contain any relevant planning issues whatsoever which is great news. They seem to go off on a tangent querying the noise and disturbance the building works will cause them or how their view of a church spire some 4 miles away will be lost from the wc window. This type of letter needs no response from you at all. Simply ignore it as most certainly the Case Planning Officer will to in most cases.

If the neighbours complaint letter includes personal attack element (and many do by the way) then most neighbours have shot themselves in the foot straight away so the letter can again be ignored with no response from yourselves required.

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If the complaint letter contains some planning issues that you consider are potentially relevant but the neighbour has overstated their case, a simple telephone conversation with the Case Planning Officer can often determine the relevancy of such issues. Upon the Case Officers response, you can then determine whether or not you need to defend certain aspects of the development scheme.

Often the letter of complaint has been written by a well articulated neighbour and can often involve the services of another Planning Agent guiding them in the background. These types of Planning objection letters are potentially the most damaging to your home extension scheme.

This is because they know what relevant planning issues to focus on and normally target key phrases such as loss of light, overbearing impact, overlooking, out of scale, disproportionate etc.

Planning speak like this will normally adversely affect the outcome of a marginal scheme as the Planning Officer will not normally want to support an application that has any of these potentials. This type of complaint letter will usually need defending tackling each legitimate Planning item issue by issue in a very concise way. This is usually where the Specialist Planning Design Agent supervising your application comes in handy as they can use counter defence planning speak that you would normally be unfamiliar with.

Keeping to the legitimate Planning issues is vital. Any divergence will normally weaken your case.
Another form of neighbour complaint letter is the circular or the 'gang up' letters where a 'busybody' neighbour has been pro-active in motivating other neighbours to complain (every street normally has one) as well irrespective of whether or not those neighbours are affected by your development proposal. Normally these types of 'hate campaigns' are very transparent and not organised that well to be effective. Planning Officer or well versed and experienced in spotting these neighbour tactics due to photocopied letters, petitions, repeat paragraphs simply copied from one letter to another etc.

However, if they have been organised well and each neighbour has written a unique letter of complaint specific to their own legitimate Planning Issues then you are normally sunk without a good defence. Again each issue needs to be defended on a point for point basis but never labour anything.

Return to main Planning guide

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval. There are some reals do's and don't's that must be implemented.


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