No surprises, please

Why due diligence will help you avoid planning and design pitfalls

How often have you been asked this question:

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

And what is your usual response?

It’s tempting to just ask for the good news, but nine times out of 10 this doesn’t get rid of the bad news, it just saves it for another day. And a bad surprise is never welcomed.

Is due diligence work the bad news or the good news?

We undertake a lot of due diligence work at Mohsin Cooper. And by this we mean the process of interrogating a site – or a set of plans – for red flags that could cause potential issues at a later stage of the planning, design or construction process.

Maybe it’s identifying that your site lies within a draft local plan allocation for local green space when you would like to build houses. Or maybe it’s flagging that the stairwell you’ve just achieved planning consent for won’t meet building regulations because of insufficient head height.

These things sound like bad news.

But, in fact, it’s always good news for our clients when we highlight issues we can fix in good time, before it becomes an expensive fix later down the line.

The magic of architecture and planning

The beauty of being an architecture and planning practice is that we have our eye on both aspects of the development consent process, meaning our due diligence process is a lot more effective.

An eye for detail at the planning stage

When carrying out a site appraisal we look at its planning history and its status in the adopted – and emerging – local plans. Our planning research helps us glean a full understanding of the broader planning issues at play like housing supply or if there’s a council-led regeneration proposal that impacts on your ambitions.

Armed with this knowledge, you can have a better idea of the planning prospects for residential, commercial – or whatever it is you’re hoping to build – before you over pay for a site that can’t achieve what you think it will.

Later down the line, we can spot onerous draft planning conditions that architecture-only firms might miss. We negotiate with the planning officer to remove or deal with details through the main application, saving you time and money at the delivery phase.

In Cambridge, we flagged up that our client’s outline planning permission was getting close to expiring, and advised on a quick reserved matters application to secure the valuable consent. And on another project, our planning strategy proposed phasing the development of two neighbouring sites to make sure our client wasn’t hit twice by a local affordable housing policy.

And we relish looking over a detailed design at the pre-planning stage to make sure it meets the building regulations it will eventually have to be built out in line with. Our experience of securing building control and working with contractors on site means we can spot anything that might cause problems during the build, and can look for ways to save money during the build or add extra value even when space is tight.

When reviewing a planning consent for 10 apartments on a recent project we picked up that the approved wall thicknesses were undersized across the whole development. Once built out to proper building control standards, the apartments wouldn’t have been able to meet space standards and, when it came to the crunch, the site would never have been able to deliver as many units as it had consent for. Because we picked this finer detail up (which sure sounded a lot like bad news at the time), our client was able to amend their scheme through planning and wasn’t hit with unexpected losses when it came to sell the units on.

The devil’s in the detail

Architects can sometimes be accused of getting carried away with a concept and forgetting the technical constraints that developers have to adhere to during a build.

That’s why we always advise our clients to undertake due diligence at the early stages of a construction project.

The devil really is in the detail, and it’s always good news to have a full set of facts about your site or building.

When there’s no surprises, you’re in the best place to make sound decisions and avoid the pitfalls that can so often happen during a construction project.

Get in touch if you’ve got a site that needs a closer look and we can carry out due diligence work that will strengthen your development prospects, whatever stage in the process you’re at.