In the world of property management and in particular planning a lot of what we do takes time, a lot of time. The question is why and how can we change this?

When dealing with day to day property matters it is similar to any other management process. You need to get things done, communicate with people (oral or written), send documents, read and review papers/reports, visit the property and deal with the task in hand. This all takes time and on reflection maybe not that different from pre the electronic era. Yes email and electronic communications help but they can also hinder and we all have more distractions. However that topic alone is for another day. What is important that for the majority of the time you remain in control of that process so to a large degree you can dictate the workflow and timeframe.

I have been fortunate to have recently project managed of behalf of a client the development of 9 new commercial/industrial buildings. The main contractor is Vinci and they had a tight timeframe to build these units and it has all been completed in about 16 weeks. Working with the Vinci team you really do appreciate the amount of work that goes into planning and project management and the importance of clear communications. The whole scheme has run like clockwork, much time was spent before construction started, there weren't any surprises. We had a weekly site meeting and whenever an issue arose we spoke to each other, met and found a solution. Key drivers underlying this project are real world commercial reality. We want 9 of these for £x by this date, can you deliver?

During the project one issue arose, the power supply. With the split between the power/grid providers and power suppliers it is no longer a simple process. In the old days you rang say East Midlands Electricity Board and they dealt with the whole process. We now have to negotiate separate contracts for the power supply and with it the installation of meters. In this case we had a short timeframe between finalising the power specification and installation. The companies we dealt with were all excellent and helped us achieve the goal from agreeing the contracts to installing meters in two weeks whereas the norm is 4 to 6 weeks. When you ask why there wasn't a clear answer. It is a case of the process and the workflow of checks and approvals and there are a lot. You are then advised that the whole process is computerised although clearly at various points someone has to tick a box before the process continues. When you ask after completion if you can do it in 2 weeks why is it usually 4 to 6? Answer - it's the way it works.

Turning to planning I was engaged for many years in the minerals sector. If you think planning takes a long time try dealing with a mineral or waste application. We generally started planning 6/8 years before the site needed to be online. The application itself could take upto 2 years to determine, sometimes longer. This is ludicrous and how can you manage a business with these uncertain parameters. The answer is you start early. During the near on 20 years I worked there we had over a 97% success rate. When dealing with a relatively simple application it can still take the minimum 8 weeks, better than 2 years, but again why?

I have spoken to various planning officers and if you analyse a simple application for say a house extension the actual time spent by the local planning authority might only be a couple of days work. That time may well be spread over a number of weeks with lots of short periods "communicating" with all stakeholders, statutory consultees etc. In many cases the planning officers spends a lot of time chasing responses, that isn't productive time and if you have a lot of applications running that alone can fill their day. Once all of the information is returned the feeling I get is that many applications can be reviewed and a decision reached within a few hours. Once again if you try and ascertain why does it take so long there is no clear answer. I think it is simply how most people work. Whether you receive a letter or an email you need to action it to make progress and move things forward. Every minute/hour/day it stays in your in tray the process doesn't advance. Add to this all the people and organisations involved this can have a dramatic culminative affect.

So why does it take so long? Well it's the way it is, it is the way the majority of people work and in many cases it is because that is the way their organisation has always worked. Many people I have come across in all manner of roles in property and planning management haven't had any training in time or project management. I have always had an interest in "Getting Things Done" and productivity and one of the key things is breaking down projects or tasks to the what needs to done to move matters forward - "What is the next Action". So instead of having on your ToDo list - "Get Planning Permission for House Extension" break it right down to what you need to do today to move that project forward. In this case it may be "Print off Planning Application Forms" or "Call Jeremy re planning application".

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