The Solution to Your Planning Woes

Our planning system has many critics and is frequently seen as barrier to development, by both big business and private homeowners. It is blamed for adding costs, delays and even stopping development altogether. The press, politicians and businesses selling UPVC windows and solar panels like to perpetuate a myth that planning is a problem. If we just simplified, or got rid of planning restrictions, the world would be much better, and we could solve the climate crisis.


With a catchy title, “Retrofit Rebels”, the Sunday Time gave a platform to homeowners who call for a “common sense” approach, having been prevented from making changes to their property, blaming the planners for the cold and damp conditions of their properties. The Scottish Government is now consulting on the removal of planning constraints for historic and listed properties.

Are these complaints really justified?

There are many problems with these popular opinions.


Restoration of Fireplace


First, let us deal with the misconception that the planning system is designed to prevent homeowners making changes and alterations to historic and listed properties, or properties in conservation areas. This is simply not the case. These properties have been identified as having a special character that adds to the amenity, heritage and identity of a place. Changes to these properties impact on everybody, the neighbours, and the community. The planning process gives proposals that affect these properties additional consideration to ensure that any changes are justifiable and sensitive to the nature of these property. This should not be construed as a barrier or block on development.

You may be surprised to learn that planners really do understand that historic buildings have to evolve and change overtime, if they are to continue to survive. Yes, somethings will be restricted, or simply not acceptable, but a lot can still be done and there are often alternative solutions available that may be more appropriate and just as effective.

The planning policies that have been put in place have been consulted on and agreed by the public as a sensible approach, both at national and at a local level.


Where problems are encountered, it is most likely to be as a result of;

  1. A failure on the part of the applicant to understand the process.

  2. A failure to understand heritage values, and how these relate of the property, which consequently results in the development of proposal that have a negative impact on significant features of the property. The impacts are often unnecessary and avoidable.

  3. A failure to provide information that adequately describes the development so that the planners and others can see and understand what is intended.

The planning system is there to protect many things that are important to the wider community, not just heritage. Development can have also a negative impact on the natural environment.

The extra discharge from rainwater goods, could result in an increase in the flooding risk of an area. The contribution from one individual property may be small, but from many individual properties, it could be considerable.  The planners have to be fair to everybody.


MAAC Studio - Sketch of Balmacara Mill


Many historic properties provide nesting habitats for endangered species such as bats and owls. In these cases, property owners need understand what species will be affected and be careful when planning the work that will be carried out. Additional information will need to be prepared and submitted, but it is hardly an unreasonable request and should not be regarded as a block to any development.

Many of the obstacles that frustrate homeowners can be avoided if the proposals and carefully thought through and prepared properly. Here are our top tips;

  1. Understand your property; how it was built, what materials were used, how the property was designed to be used. If you understand the nature of the building fabric, you will understand how to look after it and create a warm comfortable home.

    Problems with cold and damp, are more likely to relate to a defect rather than the fact that the property is old.

  2. Understand the heritage of your property, or your conservation area. Understand why historic features are important and contribute to understanding the story and character of the place. Knowing this will help to ensure that any plans for changes to the property take this into account and do not have a negative impact.

    Working from the principle that anything done, should be reversible, allowing you to return the property back to its original state, is a great starting point.

  3. Be a good neighbour. Understand how any proposal may impact on others and on the environment and try to develop a solution that is considerate.

Adopting the right approach from the outset, can make the process a lot smoother and quicker.


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MAAC studio are accredited conservation architects, PAS 2035 Retrofit Co-ordinators and Principal Designers working with traditional buildings throughout Scotland. 

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