Guest Blog: How Rob Hughes Maximises Your Chance for Planning Permission

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In my career I’ve seen the planning process from every side and every angle as its gradually evolved from a comparatively straightforward process predicated by applied common sense into a growing checklist of national, local and site specific requirements that each demand detailed evidence from an ever increasing array of consultants.

I started my professional career in 1997, graduating with a Master of Town and Country Planning degree from the University of Manchester, and since then I’ve never left the world of planning. I first worked through various government roles, eventually becoming a Planning Officer for Nottingham City Council before being hired by a private planning consultancy firm.

In 2011, I struck out with my wife to start Hughes Planning LLP and have been offering specialist planning consultancy services to the public and private sector ever since.

As scrutiny of planning applications has increased, so has the financial risk. A planning application often has to go above and beyond the normal requirements to stand a realistic chance of gaining approval, with ecologists, arboriculturists and even archaeologists being required to work alongside architects and ourselves to formulate a planning proposal that ticks all the right boxes while also thinking outside of them.

When a client approaches me with a proposal, the first step is determining the likelihood of its success by weighing up what they want to achieve against my experience of development and the planning system. As a proportion of our overall fee is only payable upon planning approval, it’s in both our interest and, more importantly, the interest of the client for us to be entirely transparent about the chances of success from the off.

To achieve permission, it needs to be the right development, on the right site in the right location. If any one of these important factors is missing, then its time to go back to the drawing board.

If I’m confident there’s a good chance of success, the next step is formulating a strategy that maximises the odds. Because of my early experience as a planning officer at a local authority, I am able to view a planning application from the Council’s perspective.

This includes both the proposal itself, how the case is made to support a proposal, the evidence that is needed to inform and accompany a planning application and the quality of the presentation material that is submitted. Trust me: they can easily spot an amateur.

Once I understand what needs to be done, I assemble and manage a team of expert consultants to make it happen. Because Hughes Planning LLP is a small business and I am the Principal Partner, I’m able to tailor make a development team who can drive an application through the twists and turns of the planning process.

Using the expertise of a hand picked team of consultants, architectural drawings and my insight of the planning process, I’ll create a planning application that clearly and eloquently explains why the proposed development – whether it’s domestic or commercial, urban or rural – deserves its spot in the townscape or landscape. In the vast majority of cases, our attention to detail combined with a great scheme will achieve planning permission.

But everything’s turned upside down when it comes to my specialism: “Paragraph 55” houses, one of the most difficult forms of development to achieve in the country. These are homes that, despite being in the countryside where residential development is normally resisted, are able to secure planning permission where they are of exceptional quality or innovative in their nature of design.

Unlike much of planning policy, Paragraph 55 of the National Planning Policy Framework doesn’t limit what form a building has to take, so I need to create a proposal that meets the high bar set by Paragraph 55 and then formulate a case to convince the local planning authority that the house will represent the highest standards in modern day architecture, whilst respecting the countryside landscape that it sits in.

Due to the financial risk, expense and skill involved in achieving permission for Paragraph 55 houses, most planning consultants would consider themselves fortunate to work on one in their lifetime. So far, I’ve been involved with six Paragraph 55 houses, all of which have approval. As of today, the company is currently involved in a further five houses across the country.

Regardless of whether I’m overseeing an urban or rural application, one of the most important aspects of a proposal is the quality of the design. Quite honestly, most developments that pass through a planning officer’s desk are uninspired, conventional, normal.  So there’s nothing they enjoy more than seeing something truly exceptional.

Differences of opinion still happen, of course – such as introducing contemporary design in an historic environment – but by involving an architect who is innovative and uncompromising in quality, I can give my client the very best chance of success.

Every time I’ve helped John and his team at DGA, I’ve firmly believed in the vision and quality of their designs and have had confidence in us gaining planning approval. When our collaboration wins appeals for projects such as their stunning ultra-contemporary new house in Inverness Terrace, the results truly do speak for themselves.

To learn more about the work I do, please visit I’m always happy to answer questions about the planning process, so feel free to get in touch if you want to give your next planning project its very best chance of becoming a reality.

By Rob Hughes