Planning - guide to pre-application discussions
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Guide to pre-application discussions


North Devon Council strongly encourages applicants and their agents to engage with the Planning and Development Service in pre-application discussions. This is particularly important for major applications or those likely to be of wider public interest, to help the planning authority, developer and community gain an early understanding of any requirements.

This guide has been produced in line with the Government’s planning policies (Planning Policy Statement 1) on delivering sustainable development. It is intended to be read alongside the council’s ‘Guide on major applications’ and ‘Guide to Section 106 Agreements’.

Pre-application discussions and negotiations

North Devon Council’s Planning and Development Service is keen to promote the availability of pre-application advice. The purpose of this is to guide applicants through the process and to ensure that they are aware of the information required as part of their applications. This is particularly useful for larger and more complex schemes and can help applicants by identifying the information and details that should be submitted with their applications.

The importance of these early discussions is highlighted in Planning Policy Statement 1 (PPS1), which sets out the benefits to both developers and local planning authorities, by ensuring a better mutual understanding of objectives and the constraints that exist.

Reflecting this, the Barker Review of Land Use Planning – Final Report (December 2006) stated “Pre-application discussions are widely recognised as enhancing the speed and quality of the planning system. By enabling early identification of relevant issues, applicants are provided with greater certainty of process and outcome.” (paragraph 5.16)

A number of authorities are already using standard forms which set out their requirements for a valid application at pre-application stage. This approach can help prevent delays in processing the application later, by identifying whether other consents or additional information may be required.

In response to requests from professional agents, it is hoped that prospective applicants and their agents will initiate pre-application discussions with the Planning and Development Service. If no such discussions are carried out, the application will be determined as submitted.

Planning Advisory Service

The Planning Advisory Service’s publication ‘Constructive talk: investing in pre-application discussions’ (May 2007) identifies a number of advantages in preparing what it calls a ‘protocol’ to encourage applicants and their agents, the local planning authority and statutory consultees to communicate.

The following information should help avoid incomplete applications and delays in registration, raise the quality and acceptability of submissions, help ensure consistency of advice throughout the process and improve determination times.

Responsibilities of the Planning and Development Service

  • Encourage pre-application discussions, particularly with ‘major’ or potentially contentious applications, to help identify key issues that need to be addressed as a priority and resolve problems in advance
  • Arrange meetings and provide information in a timely manner that recognises the needs of the applicant or developer
  • Provide a named officer with the authority to act as a point of contact and take timely decisions
  • Identify the contacts that need to be consulted and introduce these into discussions at the appropriate time
  • Identify the information required in connection with a proposed application, including any gaps in policy or data that will have to be addressed before it can be determined
  • Ensure that negotiations involve appropriate and adequately trained staff
  • Identify the decision-making process, including the timetable and arrangements for consultation and participation as soon as possible
  • Ensure the applicant or developer receives a co-ordinated view from all council officers in the development process throughout the determination period
  • Retain a written record of all discussions for the case file and computerised application database
  • If the proposal is major or particularly complex, the service will identify a Development Team to help with the delivery of the development.

A 'Development Team' brings together representatives from various council services, to offer co-ordinated advice at the pre-application stage (for example, a Housing Officer regarding affordable housing provision). This approach aims to save on costs by identifying potential problems at an early stage, reduce the possibility of conflicting advice, improve the quality of planning applications and reduce delays in the process.

Responsibilities of the developer

  • Allow sufficient time and resources for pre-application discussions and project development, and seek agreement on target dates for the submission and determination of any planning application
  • Ensure that representatives at meetings have the authority to negotiate effectively
  • Respond within mutually agreed timescales to requests for further information or amendments
  • Carry out appropriate pre-application consultation and advise community interests (for example, parish councils) to include public meetings and exhibitions
  • Attend meetings with council officers as and when required
  • Once all the necessary information has been prepared, to submit an application that reflects prevailing planning policy and the information requirements identified at pre-application meetings and listed in the council’s Validation Checklist
  • In the case of ‘major’ applications, to submit a draft Section 106 agreement based on the council’s templates, Heads of Terms and the calculation of contributions set out in the council’s adopted code of practice on developer contributions
  • Importantly, the formal application should demonstrate that pre-application discussions have been held and that it takes into account the advice provided, including all necessary plans, illustrative material and supporting statements.

The expectation is that the certain planning issues will have, to a large extent, be resolved prior to major applications being formally submitted. It will also be expected that any required legal agreements, including infrastructure requirements, will have been identified and then finalised within the 13 week target timetable for major applications.

Should a Section 106 agreement not be signed within this period due to insufficient preparation, then the application may be determined on the basis that no legal agreement is in place.

Suggested arrangements

  1. At pre-submission stage, the developer or agent should initiate informal ‘without prejudice’ discussions with the local planning authority and key consultees (for example, Devon County Council Highways and Transport, Environment Agency, Natural England, English Heritage, parish councils)
  2. To assist the process, applicants may initially contact the Planning and Development Service requesting advice as to who the key consultees are likely to be
  3. Any consultee should respond directly to the developer or agent with a copy of any written advice to the Planning and Development Service. (Before this, they may also, on a discretionary basis, decide to discuss the proposal with the service)
  4. The developer or agent may then amend the submission in response to the consultee comments, prior to formally submitting the application
  5. In some cases (for example, with major applications) the developer or agent will wish to meet with the Planning and Development Service and key technical consultees at the pre-application stage
  6. Following any reasonable request, the Planning and Development Service will provide a case officer, invite a representative from key technical consultees as well as internal colleagues to any pre-application meetings (including site visits) as part of a Development Team approach, identify key issues and all required information (including any missing information), identify arrangements for engaging the community (including Ward and adjoining Ward Members and parish councils), set out a timetable and produce a written record of all discussions for the case file
  7. In cases where a proposal raises, or is likely to raise, significant design quality and access issues, the case officer will consider consulting the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) and/or South West Design Review Panel to obtain an independent expert view early on in the process
  8. The case officer will discuss their pre-application advice with the relevant Lead Planning Officer and Development Control Manager, prior to providing a written informal view to the developer or agent
  9. In cases of major or contentious applications, the case officer will involve Ward and adjoining Ward Members and/or the Chair and Vice Chair of Planning Committee, although care will be taken to ensure that any concerns over pre-determination are avoided
  10. The case officer will subsequently provide a written response to pre-application enquiries within 28 days, and will include clear reasons why a proposal may be unacceptable, indicate problem areas that may need addressing, and identify Heads of Terms of any required Section 106 agreement, based on the council’s adopted 'Validation Checklist'
  11. The case officer will also prepare briefing notes for councillors on the outcome of pre-application and subsequent post-submission discussions
  12. The pre-application response, although informal, will be treated as a ‘material consideration’ and carry weight in the determination of any formal planning application
  13. Depending on early engagement with consultees, the response will also identify any corporate requirements for community infrastructure, such as transportation measures, education contributions, affordable housing and public open space
  14. The advice will set out general planning guidance on the acceptability of the proposed scheme and, where appropriate, suggest how a proposal may be made more acceptable
  15. For particularly complex proposals, a formal project management approach may be appropriate, with officers from this authority having undertaken project management training
  16. All pre-application enquiries will be given a reference number on the Planning and Development Service’s FastPlanning database (including copies of all correspondence and file notes). On receipt of a formal application, the two records will be linked to ensure continuity of advice and to enable the pre-application information to be accessed by the application case officer.

There is no fee for the above service.


The advice set out in this guide will be monitored and our procedures reviewed regularly. This will be based on comments and suggestions from those involved in the process, including the council’s professional planning agents who attend the Agents’ Forum, set up by the Planning and Development Service.

This information was updated in April 2009

Contact information

For planning enquiries, contact the Customer Service Centre:

Telephone: 01271 388288
For Typetalk: precede with 18001
Text: 07624 804042
Fax: 01271 388451

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