For some time, the rules on planning have been difficult to interpret, particularly for homeowners planning one off building extensions for extra accommodation or new kitchens. It has led to confusion and, in some cases, added cost for homeowners as many home improvements, such as kitchen extensions and loft conversions, do not need full planning permission. Lack of clear information has seen invalid applications submitted for what are called ‘permitted developments’ rejected with the subsequent wasting of time and money.
In response, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government has developed two new apps, which are currently being tested in three areas. The first one is designed to help guide homeowners, while the second will also help developers and architects by speeding up and simplifying the application process. In addition, it will help council planning officials manage permitted development applications – tracking progress and putting the information they need to make decisions in a user-friendly format. It puts the focus on data rather than documents, helping planners make decisions much more quickly and efficiently.
The new app for homeowners uses simple language and diagrams to help navigate the system. It asks a series of questions and determines whether the plans meet local and national requirements. Users can then apply within the app for the certificate they need to show their plans are permitted development, allowing building to go ahead.
According to the Ministry, it is a first step towards replacing the current, outdated, paper based system with a fully digital process, which does away with 100 page PDFs and having to find information manually.
Assuming the trials are successful, apps will (presumably) then be made available for all smartphone operating systems.
For the many people who have been put off by the complexities of form filling as well of those who have lost money in fruitless attempts to apply, these new apps could hold the key to a simpler, stress free method of planning application.