Please note that Alistair’s business circumstances may have changed substantially since this article was written.

This month, our intrepid reporter visits a gamekeeper turned poacher.  There, he’s taught the trade secrets of get-quite-rich-quite-quickly scheme.  This can make you a fortune at the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.

If I could show you a way of buying property that requires little or no cash left in the deal, you’d be eager to know more, right?  If that property then made you a monthly profit, you’d be even more interested, I assume.  What if I could then show you a way of making tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds profit on top?  Now I’m thinking you’ll be really keen.  Let me explain how the techniques in ‘The Planning Game’ run by Alistair Cooper could let you do this kind of deal.

Anyone who reads my articles regularly will be well aware of the profound contempt I have for all things public sector.  I hate the expense, bureaucracy and incompetence. Policemen doing paperwork instead of policing, education that doesn’t educate kids for the real world and transport that doesn’t transport you properly. In this whole public sector mess, there’s nothing I loathe more than the planning and building control system.  It’s apparently conceived to protect the environment and the character of our towns and countryside, whilst ensuring that communities get the buildings they need.  In practice, this is about as far from the truth as it could possibly be.  We don’t have the right type of buildings for today’s uses, they’re not green enough and you have to drive everywhere because nothing’s built near decent public transport.

So, faced with such a mess, what can you do?  Well, you could join a pressure group like CPRE, Friends of the Earth or Shelter, and try and make the world a better place.  Or you could learn all the tips and wrinkles in the planning system, and use it to make pots of cash.  As you’re reading Property Auction News rather than New Internationalist, I’m guessing that the making money option is going to appeal more to you.  And who better to teach you exactly how to make money from planning than someone who used to be on the inside?  Alistair Cooper is your man.  He used to be the chair of the development control committee in St. Albans (the planning committee, in layman’s terms).  Obviously, this isn’t enough on its own.  There are plenty of ex-public sector people knocking about.  What makes him different is that he quit being a gamekeeper and started work as a poacher.  He’s unravelled himself from the council’s machinery and is now a millionaire property entrepreneur, whose particular expertise is making money in development through planning permission – or by knowing when it’s not needed!

Alistair’s strategy is different from some other planning courses and systems I’ve covered in this column.  Instead of looking to buy plots (or option them) and then sell with planning permission, he takes a long view.  He buys up properties and then actually does the developments himself, which means he can deal with sites that need multi-stage planning permissions.  This might sound like a load of jargon, but let’s look at a typical example to see how he’d work.  Imagine a house on a big corner plot.  You could knock it down and build a block of flats, but the planners probably won’t let you because they’re a nuisance and will take any excuse to stop you making money.  So, you break the project down into stages.  Firstly, you look at extending the house, so it’s as big as you can possibly get on the site.  Then you’d get permission to split the large house into two separate houses.  Then you can look at getting permission to convert each into flats.  After that, you could even look at applying to knock the whole thing down and start again from scratch, if that’s easier and cheaper than extending and converting.  You can sell out of this process at any stage and get rid of the project for a fast buck.  What’s more, if you don’t feel comfortable with the complexities of managing the build, or the risks inherent with buying the property, you can always source this kind of planning deal for your investors.  Alternatively, you can team up with people who have more money or experience than you to joint venture.  The bottom line is that regardless of whether you’ve got the patience, cash and the guts to go through the planning and then the development process, or whether you just want to find plots for a fee, this course can help.  It will teach you a whole bunch of strategies, tips and techniques that will help turn the nonsense of the British planning system into cold, hard cash.

Alistair is not your conventional planning committee member.  He’s not a port-faced old gent, nor is he a hand-wringing liberal do-gooder.  He’s a highly energetic entrepreneur, which makes him a knowledgeable and engaging trainer.  He’s also learned his trade the hard way.  In common with many of the best and brightest entrepreneurs, he fell flat on his face at one point.  This gives him the quite remarkable accolade of having been one of the youngest people to have gone into an IVA.  He’s grown up in the real world and he’s got the bruises to prove it.  As a consequence, on this course you’ll learn all the secrets you need to make money.  You’ll learn the ‘proper way’ and you’ll also learn the way that works.  As a result, you will leave the course with a big bag of tricks that will help you defy the planning system.  Having been badly burned myself by doing things the proper way, I’m pleased to learn the ways you can get round planning officers and their stupid, illogical awkwardness.

Would I recommend this course?  Broadly speaking, yes.  I’d suggest it for three specific groups of people.  I think the course is ideal for beginners.  If you’re completely new to the planning game, this course is an excellent introduction to the topic.  It will set you up in just the right way to make things work.  It’s a practical method from a trainer who’s got personal experience, both in the business and in regulating it.  Secondly, I’d recommend the course for people who are very actively involved in the planning game.  You won’t learn anything like as much if you’re already experienced, as in many ways it’s quite a basic course.  However, Alistair has got a very valuable perspective.  If you’re doing this kind of activity on a regular basis, you will only need to learn one or two little tips and techniques to make the whole thing worth your while.  Thirdly, I’d recommend the course for portfolio landlords who are looking for ideas to wring extra value out of their properties.  If you’ve got twenty properties, I’d be surprised if you can’t find extra value out of at least one of them.

The course starts slowly, running through the basics of the planning system.  Beginners will find this invaluable to help them get to grips with the whole idea of the planning system.  The day then pans out with lots of case studies and practical games.  This helps demystify a strange and esoteric system, and it also helps keep everyone awake.  If I was forced to find a criticism of the teaching, I’d say that Alistair needs to make better use of the visuals.  He uses PowerPoint for his slides, but many of the drawings are only in the printed notes.  They’re not numbered and it can be hard to work out what drawing you’re supposed to be looking at. Furthermore, there is no narrative on them so it’s difficult to review your notes and remind yourself of the reasons why each has been included.  Additionally, some of the financial worked examples are done on a whiteboard, and it can be hard to read Alistair’s writing.  These are easy things to changes and I hope Alistair sorts them out for future courses.  As long as you concentrate enough to keep on the right page, and you take your own drawing notes, it shouldn’t affect your learning.

As part of the package, you also be entitled to an hour of one-on-one training with Alistair.  This personal help is invaluable when you start looking at individual deals and projects.  You also get a monthly conference call, which is specific to the group you’re training with, to keep it small.  This ongoing support is essential in my view, as this is a business model that involves considerable skill, and can potentially involve more risk than other methods of investing in property. The course is useful and it’s a great introduction to the subject, but don’t underestimate the challenges you’ll face.  The follow up support will help you make the best – and safest – use of what you’ve learned.  You will almost certainly not leave the course feeling that you’re ready to do a project from start to finish on your own, so the follow-up package bundled with the course will probably be essential to you if you’re looking to go out and find plots when you leave.

Additionally, one of the main benefits of the course is the networking opportunity.  There were around twenty delegates on the course, and that’s twenty people who can find you plots and potentially co-operate with you on deals.  This is perhaps more of an asset in this kind of course than in others, where ideas and joint ventures may not be as central to your success.  At this point, it’s well worth looking at Alistair’s business model.  There’s really no point going on a course unless you know how the trainer is making money.  Although this sounds totally counter-intuitive, it’s essential.  For example, if you’re paying for training on buying property from a person who only makes decent money when they sell you a property, their advice is hardly going to be impartial, is it?  You need have no such fears here.  A significant reason Alistair offers this course is to build for himself a network of property finders who will scramble to the far corners of the nation to ensure he’s got a steady flow of deals coming in.  You can take the knowledge you’re gaining on the course and use it yourself, but you’ll find it natural to work with experienced backers, of which Alistair is clearly a good example.  It’s a win-win situation.  You can do his running, and he helps you get the deal done.  This isn’t an explicit offer made in the sale of the course, but it’s clearly a major advantage if you’re able to make such a relationship work.

The course is £494, if you mention Property Auction News when you book.  This is towards the higher end for a one day course.  The venue is the Holiday Inn at M4 junction 4, which is relatively close to Heathrow, but a complete pig to get to by train.  Catering is provided, including morning snacks, lunch and drinks.  Depending on when you take the course, there may also be a networking event in the evening.

So how do you know if this course is for you?  You’ll learn three main strategies, so see if any or all appeal to you:

Firstly, you’ll learn from Alistair and his students how to do highly profitable deals which require planning knowledge.  Broadly speaking, this approach will favour people who are driven by creativity and a passion for the doing a few highly profitable deals.  The way Alistair teaches this, it requires a substantial cash investment – but you can of course team up with investors if you don’t have the money yourself.  If you want to get seriously cash-rich in the space of a few years, there’s very little that compares.  If you’re saving up for a Ferrari, this approach could get you in it soon– if you’re good enough!

Secondly, you’ll learn various methods for vastly increasing the rental income from any properties you do have.  This can rocket your rental business into the financial stratosphere, with very little risk.

Thirdly, you’ll learn how Alistair makes his regular income by doing reliably profitable small developments.  These involve extending or re-configuring properties in a way that doesn’t need planning permission.  So as a bonus, not only are you learning ‘The Planning Game’, you’re also learning ‘The Planning Not Required Game’.  This course will teach you both, so take your pick!

When I went on the course, I felt to a large extent that I had ‘heard it all before’.  I have a reasonable amount of experience in the planning system, but to my constant frustration I’ve never made any money out of doing planning jobs.  It was only after I’d thought for a couple of days about the course that the significance of what I’d been taught really hit me.  Sure, you’ll learn all sorts about the detail of the planning system and the way you play it.  However, for me the most important lesson wasn’t anything to do with how you make money in planning – that’s the easy bit.  What is much more significant, and something I’ve never truly appreciated before, is the techniques you need to use to avoid losing money in planning.  Broadly speaking, Alistair’s strategy is never to pay a price for ‘hope value’.  He will always buy at a price that makes sense even without planning permission.  That way, he’s got an investment that works anyhow, or at least allows him to break even. This leaves him with all the time needed to go through the often torturously slow and difficult process of getting permission.  My failure to appreciate the importance of setting myself up right from the start has been my downfall.  I only wish I’d learned Alistair’s lessons years ago.

I got my fingers burned a few years ago by doing a planning job badly.  I paid too much money for a property that I couldn’t get the expected permission on.  I had to pull out of the deal and I took a massive hit when I did.  Had I done this course before going in, and had I had the opportunity to have Alistair look over it for me before I signed, then it’s almost certain I wouldn’t have done the deal or would have negotiated it differently.  So for less than £500, I could have avoided a proper financial kicking.  What will you achieve from your £500?  You could make or save an awful lot of money.

To find out more, check out theplanninggame.com.  Alistair runs free taster courses, which will help you work out whether the course is for you.