Living near a building site can be just as stress-inducing as running one, so spare a thought for those over the garden fence
As the residents of that cul-de-sac in Australia have been telling us for donkey’s years, ‘everybody needs good neighbours,’ and never more so than if you’re embarking on a self-build. Unless you’re constructing your pièce de résistance on a remote plot where you’ve only got the local wildlife to worry about, chances are dealing with your neighbours will become an integral part of the build process. And as many grand designers have discovered to their peril, get off on the wrong foot and trouble looms not far ahead.
So what can you do to ensure the road to future domestic harmony is as hassle-free as possible? As this is now part nine of the series, you’ll have gathered that the word ‘communication’ crops up regularly – and for good reason. ‘Never underestimate how important it is to simply talk to your neighbours,’ says David Hand, a regional account manager for the Planning Portal, the Government’s online planning and building regulations resource (planningportal.gov.uk). ‘Go and speak to your neighbours before you embark on any work – get them involved at a very early stage and there’s less chance of there being problems later on.’
And it’s not just about talking through your grand plans for the project, it’s taking on board concerns they may have, whether it be about access to the site, noise issues or the length of the project. It’s also a good idea to try and come to some sort of agreement about working hours – let them know when your contractors will be on site and if it will be necessary to do work at weekends or in the evenings. While it might be unavoidable to work outside normal hours to ensure the project comes in on time, put yourself in your neighbours’ shoes for a second – the prospect of returning home from a day’s work to be met with incessant drilling and banging while trying to put the kids to bed doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? And remember, what might seem like a small event in the grand scheme of your project, could have a massive impact on your neighbours – for example, a delivery truck blocking their drive in the morning and making them late for work does not equate to good relations.
Being on good terms could also be an essential requirement for completing the project. ‘You might require access to their land for some part of the build, to put up scaffolding for example,’ says David Hand. ‘A bad history between you could mean them refusing access, creating lengthy (and costly) delays for you. And if you do get permission to access their land, ensure you leave it in the state you found it, making good any damage you might have caused.’
One couple who worked harder than most at keeping the neighbours on side are Bill and Sarah Bradley, whose house in London featured on Grand Designs (ecoism.co.uk) and in the August 07 issue of GDM. Their plot, on the site of Bill’s former joinery workshop, is surrounded by no less than 16 houses. ‘We wanted to keep our neighbours informed of our plans throughout the whole process,’ explains Bill. ‘After all, we were going to be living in this house and didn’t want to alienate ourselves from the local residents.’ Their solution? A simple newsletter popped through everyone’s letterbox on a regular basis, keeping people up to date with the build schedule and when large deliveries were due. As the site had no access for vehicles, the lorries had to be off-loaded straight onto the kerb, which had a knock-on effect on parking and traffic. ‘It’s a very invasive process having something built at the bottom of your garden, the newsletter was our way of trying to demystify the situation,’ adds Bill. And for any neighbours who were still puzzled, Bill gladly walked them round the development to help allay any fears – a time-consuming process, but one which has paid dividends now they’re living in their house.
With increased pressure to regenerate densely populated brownfield sites such as Bill and Sarah’s, any future grand designers should work hard to establish a good neighbourly relationship. After all, who knows when you’ll need to pop next door for the Nescafé.
Top tips for living harmoniously
It’s interesting how human psychology is both quite simple and unchanging. The first thing to remember is that we are all tribal and feel threatened by the possible insurgence of individuals from an unknown distant tribe. We certainly don’t want their houses built next to ours.
So, if you’re moving to a new area to build a home, get to know the people and join in everyday life. Don’t volunteer to organise the fete just yet, but do shop locally and talk to people. Communication and flattery are everything.
Keep all your neighbours informed of what you’re doing: of the planning proposal you intend to put in, and, during construction, of what’s going to be happening, say, during the next two weeks. The best strategy is to post a newsletter through neighbour’s doors every fortnight, like Bill and Sarah did. That way, your intentions are in black and white. And despite the enormous stresses of the project, don’t forget to smile.
Words BETH MYERS