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How can I benefit from a Pre-app for listed building alterations?

Once upon a time, local and district authorities were happy to share their thoughts and discuss the possibilities of your listed building if you gave them a chance. Nowadays, planners and conservation officers are so saturated with work that they might only provide you with feedback if you request a Pre-application.

View of draft plans from heritage consultant London

What is a Pre-application or Pre-app? And how can it contribute to your project

A Pre-application is a formal process that allows the planning authorities to provide you with formal feedback on a particular scheme. Although a Pre-application won’t warrant a successful planning permission or listed building consent, it certainly gives you crucial information that will contribute to it.

When working towards a planning application or listed building consent, it is worth considering the possibility of a Pre-application. This is particularly relevant in the case of complex situations, high-risk proposals or if you are unsure how the authorities will receive the proposed alterations.

It is true that including a Pre-app in your programme will increase the timeframe for the project. But at the same time, the lessons learned in early discussions with the planning authorities could save time later and increase the chances of obtaining planning permission and listed building consent.

As part of the Pre-app, you can request a confirmation letter. The letter will cover all aspects covered in the discussion and valuable information on the requirements you need to cover for the planning application and listed building consent. Moreover, the letter will mention the planning policies that will be considered when judging your proposal once it’s been submitted. And in some cases, they might even include a list of documents the council expects for your planning submission.

Form for Pre-app example
Form for Pre-app example

How to apply for a Pre-app

Pre-application advice has been formalized by planning authorities in different manners. So, it is worth checking the particular requirements for your area. In some cases, like in Tower Hamlets, you require to set up an account on their website, to then submit the necessary documents and information through an online software on their website. In other cases, you will need to download a form, fill in and email it with the requested documents.

In general, a fee is required for Pre-app. Sometimes, this fee varies depending on if you request a meeting or a meeting with a confirmation letter. Check your council’s website and make sure you pay the right amount. There is usually a smaller fee concerning listed building households. A date won’t be arranged until the charge has been paid.

Receipt of payment for Preapp

Preparing a Pre-app meeting

It is crucial to ensure you prepare the right documents and queries before the pre-application meeting. In some cases, my clients want to be involved in the process. In that case, we will have a discussion before the Pre-app to discuss the best strategy and a debrief meeting following the Pre-app to address actions and next steps. In other cases, clients prefer to live it in my hands.

If the meeting is on-site, it is an excellent opportunity for the client to demonstrate how much they care about the building and for the officer to better understand the proposal. If the meeting is online, I will prepare a presentation that introduces the building and covers all the alterations proposed. If the meeting is face-to-face, I will provide hard copies of the documents: draft reports, photographs and drawings, for the officers to take away.


Dos and Don’ts to make the most of a Pre-app meeting:

  • Make sure you share sufficient information in advance of the meeting
  • Clarify with the assassinated officer if the meeting can be on-site. In some cases, this could be beneficial
  • If the meeting is not on site, have available photos of all areas affected by the proposal
  • Make sure that the conservation officer attends your discussion rather than just a planning officer
  • Make sure you discuss in detail any areas that the council is not happy with and how these aspects could be solved
  • Don’t avoid grey areas or queries. Maximise the information you get in the meeting
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about the probability of your proposal being approved
  • If missing certain information at the meeting, make sure to offer a follow-up email to cover up gaps
  • If you don’t hold a letter, take notes during or after the session and use them as a follow-up email to the attendees.
Example of Pre-app form
Example of Pre-app form
Example of diagram explaining the evolution of the historic fabric
Example of diagram for Pre-app presentation
Example of diagram explaining blocked views to a rooflight

Next steps after a Pre-app

Remember that it can also be helpful to consult neighbours and local amenity societies if your proposed alterations might affect others. It is better to confront possible issues as soon as possible and for the proposal to accommodate any necessary compromise. This will save your submission from later complications in the planning process.

A Pre-app letter will be a crucial document to prepare your planning application or listed building consent. Analyse every bit and incorporate that in your Design and Access Statement or other relevant reports. It is worth noting how the proposal has changed and adapted following the Pre-app feedback. You could even incorporate the letter in your application.

Example Tower Hamlets software for Pre-apps
Screenshot of Tower Hamlets' system for Pre-apps


Although some consider Pre-app to be a waste of time and money. A good Pre-app could enhance your design process, strengthen your planning proposal, and save you from delays in the validation process.

Pre-application discussions or confirmation letters are no warranty that your application will be approved. The local authority might reconsider their advice once the application has been submitted. Nevertheless, this is rare and usually relates to changes in regulations or the circumstances in which the proposal is presented.  

One-size-fits-all does not work with listed buildings, but previous experiences confirm that Historic Building Studio can maximise the results of a Pre-application for a listed building. Consider the level of risk of your proposal and if a Pre-app would be a positive contribution. If unsure, you could contact me or book for a 15min free consultation.