What’s a planning consultant and do I need one?

Planning consultants offer a wide range of advice on all matters concerned with planning, development and environmental issues which surround a building project. They will deliver their expertise so as to make the planning as cost effective as possible, and to ensure that the planning and production of the project runs smoothly. Planning consultants can range from being actively involved with all stages of the planning, or merely be an outside expert who helps guide decisions.

The roles of a planning consultant

Planning consultants are involved in a number of different types of projects, for example town centre improvements, business parks, airports or smaller building works for companies. In all of these projects the planning consultants operates as the following roles:
  • Firstly, the planning consultant acts as a trainer, explaining what all parts of the process will entail.
  • Next, they act as a facilitator providing assistance as to how to proceed through the developments.
  • They also function as a instructor, providing guidance as to what are the best decisions and routes to make.
  • Another of their purposes is to be a strategist, laying out what approach should be taken.
  • Next, they act as a promoter, actively endorsing certain ideas.
  • Finally, they operate as a stakeholder as they have vested interests in what the outcome of the project will be.

What areas of planning does a consultant look after?

A planning consultant can be as involved as you need them to be, but typically the main areas which they would look after are:
  • The submission of planning applications, and if these planning applications are then refused they would then conduct the appeal against this. Therefore, the planning consultant will often need to have local knowledge as well as legal expertise.
  • If the project is large, then there will often be the need for a Local Plan Inquiry, or public examinations of the plan. The planning consultant will be responsible for organising these, and act as the representative at such meetings.
  • The planning consultant will perform market research into the feasibility of the development, which will range from planning applications to investigations into what land is available for sale.
  • The consultant is responsible for creating all development and design briefs, which will be given to all contractors and participants in the project. This will be written with the project designer based on their ideas.
  • The planning consultant has to research and assess what the impacts of the planned project would be on the environment. The results of this assessment will greatly sway whether or not the project will be able to be completed. The consultant also has to research policies that are held by the local government which may hinder the production process.
  • If the results of these are suitable and planning application is granted, then the consultant will start to draw up master plans of the project which will be used by the contractors.
  • Some consultants will stop here, whereas others will be involved throughout the building process to ensure that it is following the plans and that there are no technical hitches.

As the client, what steps do I need to take?

  • Firstly you need to identify what you need the planning consultant for. This will indicate how involved you want them to be and also highlight what you need their roles to be in the planning and building processes.
  • Next you may invite a number of planning consultants to look at the project and assess the nature and scale of the issues at stake so as to see which is best. This will also help to identify what the main problems which you will need to tackle will be.
  • When you have chosen a planning consultant, you need to initially discuss at the outset what the job will entail. This ensures that you both have an accurate picture of the project and have a mutual understanding of how the project will proceed.