THE SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK AND THE BENEFITS OF A PRE PLANNING APPLICATION

Over the past 3 years we have been involved in over 100 applications ranging from Full Planning, Listed Building Consent and Pre Planning applications with the majority of these being within the South Downs National Park (SDNP)Almost every week I am asked, "What is the South Downs National Park?" "Are planning applications a lot harder to get through?" "Who actually reviews the application? The local authority or SDNP?" So I thought I would try and explain a bit about them and how they impact upon us as a practice.

BACKGROUND
The South Downs National Park is England's newest National Park, having become fully operational on 1st April 2011. The park, covering an area of 1,627 square kilometres (628 sq mi) in southern England, stretches for 140 kilometres (87 mi) from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east through the counties of Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex. The National Park covers not only the chalk ridge of the South Downs, with its celebrated chalk downland landscape that culminates in the iconic chalky white cliffs of Beachy Head, but also a substantial part of a separate physiographic region, the western Weald, with its heavily wooded sandstone and clay hills and vales. The South Downs Way spans the entire length of the park and is the only National Tail that lies wholly within national park.
The South Downs National Park authority is responsible for keeping the South Downs a special place, which can be summarised into two simple points

  • To conserve an enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area
  • To promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the park by the public

In other words, they are there to make sure the countryside stays as nature intended for everyone to enjoy for years to come.
The authority is a public body, funded by the government and run by a board of 27 members including, 7 National Members appointed by the Secretary of State, through an open recruitment process. 6 Parish Council representatives nominated by the Parish Council in the Park area. 14 Local Authority nominees.
There are three committees within the South Downs National Park Authority responsible for Planning, Governance and Policy & Programmed.  Pre Planning applications are dealt with by you Local Authority who are effectively working under the SDNP and where any application that has cause for concern can be pulled in directly by the SDNP to be reviewed independently

APPLICATION PROCESS
When it comes to their influence on the work we do, the role of the South Downs National Park as a Planning Authority is to control and influence the development of land and buildings within its boundaries. To do this effectively the SDNP has to balance the duties and purpose of the National Park, safeguarding the natural environment and existing built heritage, with the needs of individuals, the local population supporting rural communities and local businesses.
The process which we would take with any application within the SDNP is to firstly sit down with the client and establish a detailed brief and then look at the design styles, materials and history in the local area, seeing if and where we can incorporate anything to keep it inline with the SDNP requirements. Approaching applications in the way means you have two clients you need to please, the first being the client who pays the bills and the second being the SDNP.
Once a brief is in place and a design agreed, we would put together almost the same amount of information as is required for a full planing application including existing and proposed drawings, photographs and a detailed statement. Often we accompany this with a historic report if needed, tree surveys, bat surveys and highways assessment. Although this amount of work is not a compulsory requirement by the SDNP and might take longer to produce than a simple sketch, we have found that the more information you can submit at pre planning, the better response you will receive.
If the design has been well thought out from the start, your pre planning response would normally only require minor changes which we would always recommend are implemented. There have been occasions where the clients have changed their mind about the design whilst the pre planning application is being assessed and if these changes are more than just minor tweaks another pre planning application would need to be submitted.
The reason for going into this much detail over pre planning is to allow you to submit your final scheme at planning where by you can make reference to your case officer form pre planning and explain how the design is a reflection based on not only your clients' needs but also the SDNP suggestions. There is always the argument of ignoring the pre planning process and simply putting in your preferred design and fighting it to the end at appeal after a refusal. This process is not something we would ever recommend, not only because it takes much longer and is more expensive to the client but you have a much slimmer chance of gaining approval. Once the property has a refusal attached to its history, you not only need to provide a scheme that works but one that addresses all the issues raised in the initial refusal. An example of this is where a building is proposed where the client is trying to push the limits of what the site can take. You would get a refusal based on overdevelopment meaning any future proposal would have the issue of overdevelopment, not only with the council but you need to consider the impact this would have on the neighbours' views to any new development.
Although this may sound relatively straight forward, not all designs can be as flexible, for example Boher Architecture was involved with the new supermarket proposal in Midhurst last year where we were shortlisted to the final two designs losing out to the Waitrose scheme. Throughout this process we had three meetings with the SDNP to develop our scheme, which we were able to do but at the cost of our clients' requirements and potential revenue they would generate for a site of that size.
The design at the top of this page is one which was in a sensitive rural area where we worked for quite some time with the SDNP to get the design right. When the design was submitted at full planning it went through with no problems first time.