A very very long and difficult history to our self-build that we will compact into as short a space as possible to save readers much of the grief we have been through.
We have always lived in (and renovated) old, cold, draughty and character-full houses, and our last house (a Victorian vicarage) had lots of glass and double aspect rooms and was full of light. We wanted to downsize but couldn’t find anything with similar light and space, and some of the new build ones we looked at were really poor quality. So we decided to self-build and started to look for land – and as some of you already know it’s not an easy task. Then we came across a tired 60’s bungalow on a 1/3rd acre plot about 2 miles from where we were living – perfect location. All the other bungalows on our side of the street had been developed to reasonably dense new build developments with a real mix of styles and sizes, and outside the conservation area – perfect for knock down and rebuild. Piece of cake we thought – how hard could it be to get Planning (little did we know!!!! and if only we had known then what we know now ....). So after a small round of bidding, that was won; not on the highest bid, but with our throw away line ‘offer not subject to anything’. We won the day, we were the proud owners of a somewhat tired bungalow, and then the fun started!
First problem was selling the Victorian vicarage in a downturning market which took about 3 years. So finally sold, and knowing how much cash we had, we moved in and started on the long winding road to PP and self-build nirvana. We started with the German kit houses – fantastic quality and build process, and after a few trips to Germany we decided we really liked the modern sharp style that typifies much of new European houses today (or, rather, doesn’t in the UK). As a tip if you want to see literally dozens of show homes visit one (or more) of the (19) Fertighauswelt (think this translates approximately to “ready built house world”) sites in Germany (https://www.fertighauswelt.de/ ) – the best 5 Euros you can spend if you want to look for design ideas. Sadly over time and a Pound sinking against the Euro the German kit house was never going to work. And also working with the site and the budget it really started to make sense to build two houses and sell one to subsidise the one we wanted to live in.
Unknowingly we had just created the perfect anti-PP scenario:- cutting edge modern design in a street of pastiche estate type houses; being greedy enough to want to want to build two; and being the last bungalow standing and surrounded by FD&H NIMBY neighbours. Rather than taking you through the gruesome blow by blow story here are the statistics:-
- Total time from first App to final Appeal decision:- 4yrs and 10months
- 1 Pre-App – which was a total waste of time and money
- 7 Planning Applications (inc 3 CofL/ PD apps) - 2 Approved
- 6 (or perhaps 7) different Planning Officers
- 3 Committee decisions:- 2 Refuse & 1 Approve, all with prior Officer Approval
- 2 Appeals:- 1 Refuse & 1 Approve (sadly we didn’t win costs)
- 105 letters of objection & 1 of support (from a London Architect who loved the design – bless him for that ray of sunshine
It was a dreadful process and the main reason for the time and grief we suffered seems to be that we are surrounded by vile neighbours who have friends in high places. The public comments generally had very little planning relevance but included phrases like ‘peeping toms’, ‘covert surveillance’ and even likening our design to ‘Grenfell Tower’. We were stoic and kept turning the other cheek but we sent this last one back to the Chief Planning Officer as ‘offensive and defamatory’ – he said it was perfectly acceptable (to quote Joe Walsh ‘You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind’)!
If we thought the public comments (sometimes called ‘solicited hate mail’) phase was bad then let’s say the Committee phase was much worse. Firstly it seems that the decision is made before you even walk into the room, and that nothing you say will make any difference, or even be listened to. Then the Committee infringed our copyright, accused us of greed and telling lies, and told us that they didn’t care at all that we were planning to build low energy houses. If we had any faith in local democracy and politics we have much less than none now. We are certain that the only reason we got one through the Committee is that one of the esteemed Councillors really upset/insulted the Chair (we decided we really shouldn’t print the exact comment); at which point the discussion divided on party lines and incidentally we won!
As mentioned the Pre App Advice was a complete waste of time and money (for us). We offered the Officer 3 options and he agreed what he thought the ‘best’. He also gave us a lot of ‘advice’ which we incorporated to the letter in the Application. He then proceeded to keep changing his mind and we did 3 major re-designs over 12 months until he ‘approved’. It finally went to Committee and was refused.
The subsequent Appeal which we lost was true goldmine as it contained real data on what was acceptable and what wasn’t. We then built the subsequent Apps on this and the Officer(s) really couldn’t disagree with the previous Appeal comments. Also in the second Appeal we seriously questioned some of the proposed Conditions and the Appeal Officer took out most of them. A real win and we saved our Planning Consultants fee in having a really onerous Design and Methods condition removed. Certainly worth a shot if you ever go to Appeal.
If any of you have been through this sort of process then you will know how personally depressing and demoralising it can be – and we have heard worse war stories! We had great and very patient designers and a superb planning consultant and some amazingly supportive friends and family. Also after the initial setbacks we did have a very focused plan on how to get to where we wanted to be in incremental steps, with a workable Plan B. However our advice would be: only ever buy a plot that has PP for something you want to build (unless you have lots of time, very deep pockets and skin much much thicker than a rhino).
So finally we won at Appeal, and we are staring to build two really interesting low energy houses – more in future posts. We will try and keep up a Blog as best we can, and having got that backstory out of the way everything should be easy from now on!!!!!!