Planners are wrong more often than you might expect. The planning inspectorate found that 36 percent of household occupations were successful in 2021-22. The odds are even greater in some areas: 35 councils in England lost more than half of the appeals they contested and 10 lost at least two-thirds. Homeowners in these areas will most likely get their proposals on appeal.
Despite this one-in-three chance, only 5,500 objections were lodged in England and Wales in 2021-22, representing just one-fifth of rejected building applications. When they receive a denial, most homeowners revise or abandon their plans, unaware of their right to appeal, deterred by the process, or convinced that challenging the local planners has little chance of success.
If they had all appealed, and based on the average success rate, 8,000 additional renewals would have been approved last year.
Why do planners get it wrong almost as often as they get it right? Planning decisions are subjective – one person’s exemplary contemporary design is another’s thorn in the side. In addition, planners are rushed and overworked, generally don’t do site visits (a hangover from the pandemic), and can be overzealous when applying their scheduling policies. Too many have a rigid, check-off mentality; if your proposal is unusual or ambitious, they are more likely to be cautious.
Even the most prominent projects are not safe from bad decision making. In December, the Royal Institute of British Architects chose as its “home of the year” an extended farmhouse that had first been denied permission by the planners and only granted permission after appeal.
The architect had designed a striking contemporary addition to House on the Hill, a handsome Georgian building overlooking the Wye Valley. But the planners thought it was too daring, arguing that it was too big and did not respect the environment. The appeals inspector ruled against the municipality, which embraced the modern design.
Win or lose, the right of appeal is a vital check on the city’s planning powers and the only way for the humble homeowner to hold accountable the planners who have surprising power over what you can do with your own land. to call. Don’t rush to appeal – get your application right first and work with the planners whenever possible. But if you put your best foot forward and still got hit back, don’t get mad, but appeal.
Martin Gaine is a chartered city planner and author of ‘How to Get Planning Permission: An Insider’s Secrets’ (Spinlove Books, £13.99)