Eco Diary - Part 2


Richard and Sophie tackle the all-important planning process

Planning permission is the process that strikes fear into the heart of every self-builder; it’s when your carefully crafted dreams can be dashed thanks to the decisions of a bunch of strangers.

As an architect, however, I’ve had more experience of the planning process than your average self-builder, so I was optimistic that this would hold us in good stead. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that there’s no substitute for putting in plenty of legwork – the more you ask questions and listen to the advice you’re given, the less chance your plans will be rejected.

With that in mind, I carefully put together a pre-application enquiry: a 22-page document showing photos of the plot and detailing what we planned to build and where. Because we wanted to replace the existing bungalow with a two-storey house, I needed to reassure the planners that the new property wouldn’t further obstruct any views of the countryside.

As part of this process, I invited the planners to visit the site to get a better idea of our plans. It was all very informal – the planning officer spent a couple of hours with me, walking the various sight lines and looking at the drawings and scale models. By this time, I had already refined the design a number of times and was on my eighth model – I wasn’t leaving anything to chance!

We soon received an informal letter from the planning department stating that they were in favour of the scheme, in principle. The first of the hurdles had been cleared – now for the neighbours!

Above: This mock-up demonstrates just how radical Richard’s design is.

There’s no getting away from the fact that the people who live closest to your plot are bound to have an opinion on what you’re planning. We approached the two sets of neighbours who live next to our site and talked them through the plans, emphasising exactly what we’d done to minimise the impact on their properties. For example, on one elevation of our house there won’t 
be any windows, so when our neighbour looks out of his house over the surrounding landscape at night, he won’t be able to see any of the lights from our house.

The feedback we received from them was positive so we submitted the planning application in full. And then the problems started…

Other neighbours submitted objections to the plans; some of them were sceptical about what we were trying to achieve. I think they felt that we were jumping on the green bandwagon as a way to try and get our plans approved.

The neighbours weren’t the only ones to have differing opinions about our house. At the parish council opinions were split but the result was in favour of a refusal, meaning the scheme would have to go before a planning committee at the borough council if we were to 
get approval. Our project was fast turning into a Marmite house – 
you either loved or hated it.

So, I was due to have my three minutes of fame. This was my chance to stand up before the committee and wax lyrical about the wonderful house we hoped to build, all the time knowing that they could put an end to our plans in an instant. After I’d spoken, I had to sit and listen to the committee discussing our plans. And even if some of the things they were saying were inaccurate, I wasn’t allowed to speak up and put them right. Thankfully, I must have been convincing because, after a short while, they gave us permission there and then.

Above: Out with the old as the bungalow gets demolished and work can begin in earnest.

Cue huge sighs of relief all round. With our baby on the way, work on the site couldn’t begin soon enough. Seeing the original bungalow being demolished and the site being cleared made me realise that we’re well on the way to realising our dreams, even if there are a few more hurdles to clear before we cross 
that finishing line.

Words: Beth Myers Images: Richard Hawkes

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