Planning Permission UK - Articles and Opinions

Sunday, November 06, 2005

HOW TO OBTAIN FREE DESIGN ADVICE - IS THERE SUCH A THING AND IS IT OF VALUE?

Yes I know February's come and gone but try telling that to my 'free time' management system. Isn't it funny how people shelve projects for the new year - perhaps the new year feels like a fresh canvas or something - I don't know. Many potential clients I saw in Q4 of last year our now coming through as confirmed commissions - it's a funny old world with no rhyme or reason........

Providing advice to these potential clients is always a dilemma. On the one hand you want to be helpful and prove your metal in order to gain their trust but on the other hand you are also giving away the family silver without any prior commitment from them that they will actually be engaging your services. Ideas and suggestions on how to achieve a clients building objective is often all we have to offer. Sure there is the technical and craftsmanship element of your service but that's often taken for granted. The creative element is often the bit that actually makes a good development work.

Fortunately, residential development isn't exactly within the realms of Richard Rogers stature especially when developing an existing dwelling with well needed extensions.
So, where does the ordinary householder obtain good independent advice when they are considering an extension to their home? And, is this advice worthy when offered for free? Finally, who do they select as their final design Agent if they lack the necessary skills in producing the design onto paper?

Firstly, There are loads of ways to obtain design free advice. The first step is to consider worked examples already constructed within your street or local area. Be critical and analytical. Decide what works and is pleasing on the eye and what doesn't. Decide what details can you transfer over to your own scheme.

Secondly, go to your council or research a few other councils web sites and download their readily available design guides especially if your property is within a conservation or sensitive rural area. Most councils now have quite good design guides amongst their simplistic do's and don't's pamphlets. Read these design guides and do take on board their messages.
Thirdly (and after completing steps 1 and 2 above) invite a few professionals to come and take a look at your property with a view to perhaps engaging one of them.

These 'professionals' range in terms from Chartered Architects, Architectural Technicians, Surveyors and other Designers of various stature and background. I wont promote any one over another but a lot will depend upon what type of overall service you may be looking for and how much of your potential build budget you are happy to hive off in fees.

However, as a guide, the one to stay well away from is your 'kitchen table top' designer - you know the sort, pencil tracings at the weekends while he works for the Gas Board during the day. Bargain basement prices they may be but they will have little interest in ensuring a pleasing design is accomplished at the end.

Most professional building designers still don't charge for their time at the initial site visit which is a shame in my view as this tends to instantly sort out the serious from the tire kickers. Invite 2 or 3 round for their opinions and gauge their reactions and comments. You will be amazed at the varying attitudes you will encounter. Hopefully all of your invited professionals will have been sourced from recommendations. If not then you have a little research to do.

In order to get the best advice out of these people it is important that you are clear on your objectives. It has been my experience that most homeowners do actually know what they want from their homes. Temper that with a degree of flexibility and an enquiring mind that will allow the building designer to input some of his/her own thoughts from their initial first impressions of what they see. As with everything else in life, there are always options to be explored - the obvious well trodden path through a wood main not be the prettiest.

Now test the designers metal by throwing in an obvious 'no-no'. For example....talk about your idea for an extensive flat roof or an obvious overlooking side window. If he/she simply panders to your thoughts on these points then you know the advice is dubious. Conversely, if the Building Designer is not listening to your principal requirements and shooting off all manner of other design concepts or projects then you also know that you wont end up with a building that satisfies your main needs or budget.

Somewhere between the two is what you are seeking. Someone who can clearly latch on to achieving your space requirements but who is not afraid to question or challenge your preferred siting, materials or layout in order to gain a better overall external appearance and internal design solution.

You will probably discover that you will actually need a building designer to carefully present your scheme through Planning and for the detailed design and specification build up later on so the exercise was worthwhile. For those with rudimentary drawing skills and a passion for 'doing it themselves' they will also find the exercise worth while.

No matter which route you take, time invested in these three simple but often time consuming steps stated above is usually an invaluable part of obtaining a well considered final design for your residential development. Those that 'crash in' without seeking prior advice or without completing a little research will often have regrets either in an awkward looking development that they are having trouble selling or incurring abortive fees from having the scheme refused at Planning.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when developing a property.

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