Fortunately, help is at hand in the form of something called permitted development rights (PDRs). The government decided some time ago that there were instances where requiring someone to apply for full planning permission would be overkill. An example of this includes building an extension to your house. Subject to several parameters and restrictions, you can extend your home without applying for planning permission. You can just go ahead and do it. The restrictions are there to ensure you don’t double the size of your house or intrude on your neighbours, etc., but otherwise, you have a green light under PDRs. The government also found that there were many unused commercial properties out there that could be repurposed, either as residential or perhaps as some other type of commercial use. So it decided to create some PDRs that would allow developers to change the use of these buildings without full planning permission. To ensure that it avoided some unwanted outcomes (e.g., you convert a building into flats that are surrounded by noisy heavy industry or that are liable to flooding), the government created a sign-off process called Prior Approval. You must apply to the council for approval for your PDR, but the number of criteria they can reject you on is minimal, unlike a full planning application. Also, the prior approval process should take a maximum of eight weeks, which speeds things up considerably. To be clear, if you’re talking new build, you will always need full planning permission. But to change the use of an existing commercial building to residential, very often you won’t.
Because there are lots of different types of commercial property types and scenarios out there, the government has created a lot of PDRs. And that is where the magic ingredient can be found. The best analogy I can give you is having a good tax advisor. We’ve all heard that large corporations and billionaires somehow pay less tax than ordinary folk. And that’s because they hire the best tax advisors to work out ways of working the system to their advantage. Regardless of what you may think of the morality of it, the point is that an in-depth knowledge of the highly complex tax rules allows people to pay less tax legitimately.
In the same way, having an in-depth understanding of the PDR rules allows you to make more profit as a developer. Bizarrely many experienced developers know diddly squat about PDRs; some because they can’t be bothered to learn the rules, and others because they don’t know what they don’t know. And their loss can certainly be your gain.
So, how do you get this knowledge? Am I advocating that you immerse yourself in planning law and become a planning nerd? Not quite. Luckily, help is at hand in the form of some wonderful people called Planning Consultants. They are already nerded up on the subject of planning, and they are the guns you need to hire to advise you. However, a word of caution. Not all planning consultants are created equal. Like accountants, some are more bread-and-butter types, while others can think outside the box. Then there’s a much smaller group who see it as their personal mission to get as much past the planners as possible. That’s the type you should be looking for, but even an outside-the-box thinker will still serve you well.
What exactly is possible when you’ve got a good planning consultant on board? Frankly, you’d be amazed. I’m lucky enough to work with one of the best consultants in the country, and between us, we’ve created projects using PDRs that you would have sworn would have required planning permission. Imagine turning a dilapidated old barn, with just four posts and a tin roof, into five detached luxury houses in an idyllic rural enclave. What about the tiny one-bed bungalow on a largeish plot that became a five-bed detached luxury house? Perhaps I could tempt you with the small empty shop with uppers that became seven luxury apartments? There’s a long list. But the point is this. Knowing how to do this stuff means you can pay more for the property than your competitors and make more money at the back end. Where everyone else can only see the ‘vanilla’ conversion, you’ll be able to see tutti frutti.
So, as a developer, is the phone number of a decent planning consultant all you need to know? Not quite. Ideally, you’ll want to know the art of the possible. You don’t need to know the technical details, but you do need to know which PDRs can do what. That’s because your planning consultant isn’t going to find deals for you – that’s your job. So, on the one hand, you need to know what type of building to look for. On the other, you need to know what tutti frutti solutions you could potentially deploy with any given building. That way, you can find great opportunities yourself and only pay your planning consultant when you’ve unearthed something that has true potential. Hopefully, with a little help, you can now find out what you don’t know and get a massive jump on the competition, whatever type of development you’re considering.
And as for the favourite quotes of my aforementioned dining companions, I’m afraid there were far too many to mention here. However, I shall leave you with one quote that I couldn’t help but notice had been attributed to each of Confucius, Albert Einstein, and Yogi Berra. And that is, “I never said half the things people said I did”. It may not be the best quote, but it might just be the most accurate.