Q1 : What’s going on with Hackney Council, specifically within the planning department?
Q2 : What are the new policies in planning within Hackney ?
Q3 : Is it worth going for a Pre-app with Hackney?
Q1: What’s going on with Hackney Council in general and specifically within the planning department?
Q2: What are the new policies in planning within Hackney that came into effect recently?
Q3: Is it worth going for a Pre-app with Hackney?
A1: Hackney had a major cyber-attack a few months back, in which months of their data was deleted. They have still not managed to recover the lost data, for example, for the past few months no changes to housing benefit have been possible. Another major issue was when ordering local searches (when you buy a property, you need local searches, for mortgage purposes) the process was taking much longer than normal, and in some cases they were unable to provide the information. As a result of this, some people have lost their deposits on properties they were buying and could not complete with a mortgage.
In the planning department the Council have lost all data from 25/06/2020 to 30/09/2020 and Sam Planning as agents had to resubmit all applications that were submitted during that time period. This was around 150 applications, not only at a huge cost to us, with no offer of compensation from the Local Planning Authority (LPA) for the countless extra hours our planning consultants needed to spend doing this, but furthermore the untold amount of days, weeks and months of delays caused to the clients who were patiently waiting for answers in regards to their applications and the ongoing delays.
A2: Regarding the planning policies that changed, the ones that matter the most to the community are as follows:
LP55 — Full planning applications (householder applications) need an Energy Statement, to show that we are reducing the use of energy and helping to save the planet. However, if you pay the council £1000 per flat, then this mitigates the requirement for an Energy Statement (in some cases I actually advise to just to pay the £1,000 and be done with it).
LP13 — Affordable housing. Whenever you create an additional unit you are already liable to assist with social housing in form of a payment of £50,000 per unit, unless you can demonstrate that it’s not viable to subdivide, then you don’t have to pay the social housing aspect. However, to achieve this, you will have to pay for a Viability Assessment. The price of this is around £3,500. On top of this the council will take their company to look over the Viability report and they will charge you a further £4,200 for the privilege! This means that planning for subdividing a house into flats just became around £15,000 more expensive before you start!
Hackney is trying to become a greener borough. This means that they are adding on numerous reports and assessments to applications. For example, all basements in the area will need suitability drainage systems; new developments will have to be car free developments, meaning that the people living in the building, will not be allowed to own a car, and this has to be agreed with a solicitor through a Section 106; each one adds more and more costs… Before you even start any of these applications you need to spend a small fortune and even when you jump through every hoop and comply with every request planning permission can still be refused and all the money spent has gone down the drain.
If you are prepared to pay the £50,000 per flat, the application still does not go through planning quickly, as it will take around six months for the council’s solicitors to draw up all the contracts and fees etc.
So sadly, since the new policies have been put in place, we are the only ones in Hackney who still have live applications for subdivision of flats, and most developers have just decided to move on or do it without planning.
As you can see policy LP33 was supposed to provide more housing, but instead it seems to have backfired badly.
However, there is going to be an internal review of these policies, during this very week. I have had a long discussion with the Head of Planning, and although at the time of writing I don’t yet know the outcome, I am hopeful that, iy”H, there will be changes, which I will update readers about in a subsequent article.
Now let’s discuss a simple householder application, which would normally fly through planning easily. Currently all the planning officers are working from home with what seems to be minimal communication between them. This makes it very difficult to know the outcome of an application until the last minute, and “like for like” applications (where you submit the same application that was approved for one address in a street for a different address on the same street, which is normally approved straight away as there is a precedent) does not seem to apply in Hackney any more. Every planning officer and manager decides on their own how to interpret the policy and there is no blanket rule across the borough.
We have built up working relationships with the officers and in some cases through this the officer may agree to accept last minute amendments. However, the council keeps on changing officers, and then we need to build up the relationships again, which obviously takes time. Until then we are in limbo. Also, there are some cases where the officers recommend the application for approval, but a manager can overturn their decision, without the officer that was dealing with the case even knowing that the application has now been refused, as communication between officers and managers seems to be poor to non-existent.
As I once said in a meeting with the Head of Hackney Planning, that the Covid restrictions have really highlighted the difference between Hackney Council and Haringey Council. Although the boroughs could not be closer, Haringey is very stable in their decisions and communications, whereas in Hackney mixed messages are a daily issue.
A3: Now regarding your question, is it worth going for Pre-app in Hackney? The answer is NO.
The council have a 15-day and a 30-day Pre-app option. However, the LPA do not always keep to the timeframes. It’s also not like a regular Pre-app offered by other LPA’s where you have a discussion with the officer and go through the case prior to the Pre-app report being issued. Instead, it’s more like a regular planning application, however, you pay a few times the price (as planning fees are regulated by the government, but not Pre-app fees) and get nothing more in return than what you would receive if a planning application is refused and you get the reasons for refusal to work with and mitigate. It’s actually less informative than a refusal, as the Pre-app is non-binding, meaning that even if you do as the Pre-app reports says, it’s not guaranteed that it will be approved!
On the other hand, with a refused planning application, the reasons for refusal are binding, so if you mitigate all the reasons for refusal the council has to grant you the planning.
I would use the Pre-app service in the following two circumstances:
For an enforcement case:
For a large application or a change of use for schools or synagogues, where we want to get the initial feedback from the council before we start ordering reports and work on the drawings etc.
The enforcement team in Hackney are second to none. They will research and try to dig up enforcement cases from 10 years ago, as well fully investigating any reported breach, so if you by any chance get a letter from the Planning enforcement DO NOT ignore it, but deal with it as a matter of urgency.
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