Planning Permission UK - Articles and Opinions

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


It is with regret that most Panning applications will receive neighbour complaints of one sort or another. It is simply a fact of life. If you are about to submit an application for Planning permission then you need to complete a risk assessment on the likely reactions from your neighbours.

In an ideal world, and a lot of current thinking would lead you to believe that having pre-application meetings with your affected neighbours will prevent neighbour objections and clear the path for an unfettered application. Regretfully, a lot of this nice 'touchy feeley' engaging experiences stuff with the neighbours simply results in a home goal for you that can leave you feeling simply gutted.

This is because most neighbours are emotional and have alternative agendas to prevent you from building your scheme. The psychology and understanding of all the possible neighbour motives for such events is a another topic in itself that I wont cover them here in this news letter. Our Planning Guide explains these issues and how to complete a neighbour impact risk assessment prior to designing and submitting your scheme for Planning permission.

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Therefore, we will assume that your application has now been submitted and you have received notification that your neighbour(s) have complained. What should you do next? Do you need to respond? Should you go and approach the neighbours for a meeting to try and resolve any issues? Should you do nothing and rely upon the Planning Officers judgment on the scheme? These are the typical responses that need to be addressed for each category of neighbour complaint.

Firstly, do not panic. The complaint letter can come as a complete surprise as most neighbours will not tell you face to face that they will be complaining on your home extension scheme for example. You will first hear about the complaint usually from your Planning Design Agent who may be tracking the application for you or you may be informed by the Planning Officer or even you may be tracking the application yourself via the internet.

You need to read the letter of complaint in order to assess what you should do next. Fortunately for the residential developer or building owner most neighbour compliant letters do not actually contain any relevant planning issues whatsoever which is great news. They seem to go off on a tangent querying the noise and disturbance the building works will cause them or how their view of a church spire some 4 miles away will be lost from the wc window. This type of letter needs no response from you at all. Simply ignore it as most certainly the Case Planning Officer will to in most cases.

If the neighbours complaint letter includes personal attack element (and many do by the way) then most neighbours have shot themselves in the foot straight away so the letter can again be ignored with no response from yourselves required.

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If the complaint letter contains some planning issues that you consider are potentially relevant but the neighbour has overstated their case, a simple telephone conversation with the Case Planning Officer can often determine the relevancy of such issues. Upon the Case Officers response, you can then determine whether or not you need to defend certain aspects of the development scheme.

Often the letter of complaint has been written by a well articulated neighbour and can often involve the services of another Planning Agent guiding them in the background. These types of Planning objection letters are potentially the most damaging to your home extension scheme.

This is because they know what relevant planning issues to focus on and normally target key phrases such as loss of light, overbearing impact, overlooking, out of scale, disproportionate etc.

Planning speak like this will normally adversely affect the outcome of a marginal scheme as the Planning Officer will not normally want to support an application that has any of these potentials. This type of complaint letter will usually need defending tackling each legitimate Planning item issue by issue in a very concise way. This is usually where the Specialist Planning Design Agent supervising your application comes in handy as they can use counter defence planning speak that you would normally be unfamiliar with.

Keeping to the legitimate Planning issues is vital. Any divergence will normally weaken your case.
Another form of neighbour complaint letter is the circular or the 'gang up' letters where a 'busybody' neighbour has been pro-active in motivating other neighbours to complain (every street normally has one) as well irrespective of whether or not those neighbours are affected by your development proposal. Normally these types of 'hate campaigns' are very transparent and not organised that well to be effective. Planning Officer or well versed and experienced in spotting these neighbour tactics due to photocopied letters, petitions, repeat paragraphs simply copied from one letter to another etc.

However, if they have been organised well and each neighbour has written a unique letter of complaint specific to their own legitimate Planning Issues then you are normally sunk without a good defence. Again each issue needs to be defended on a point for point basis but never labour anything.

Return to main Planning guide

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval. There are some reals do's and don't's that must be implemented.


In theory every Planning Application should be supported with a design statement. This is simply a written document that explains certain aspects of the design and why it is required including the clients needs.

The advice of Planning Policy Guidance: General Policy and Principles (PPG1) is that all applicants should be able to demonstrate how they have taken account of the need for good design in their development proposals.

However, most small scale developments do not require a separate design statement to support a Planning Application as most issues and principals can be demonstrated on the actual drawings. Regretfully, Local Planning Authorities are under increasing pressure from Central Government to have this written support statement with applications and complicated or contentious schemes usually require a design statement in any case.

How will a Design Statement help?
It will help the Council, Councillors, neighbours, the public to: understand fully your proposals and the principles of the design; consider the proposals against design policies in the Local Plan; consider the proposal against design objectives in Planning Policy Guidance Note 1 from which the Design Statement requirement comes. There are three essential steps to producing a Design Statement and these are:

Step 1 - site analysis and evaluation.
This is a factual account, which should be essentially based upon drawings and sketches explaining the site within its context, e.g. urban, residential, conservation area, sloping, industrial, vegetation etc. It is important that this analysis has its basis in fact and reason rather than opinion and should include: building styles and sizes, street patterns the nature of spaces between buildings and their uses, the character of the area, proximity to Listed Buildings etc.
An explanation of the constraints and opportunities the site has in terms of its design, e.g. important views, features worthy of retention or protection, features which are detrimental and need to be addressed, and an explanation of the constraints and opportunities the site has in terms of its context, e.g. local building, changes of levels, physical features such as underground services, drainage systems, overhead powerlines, service trenches, trees, ecology and wildlife habitats etc.

Step 2 - Identifying the design principles
These should be the main criteria that the design needs to fulfil. These principles should be so important that they are not easily changed. They should not be a list of preferences but a clear list of what needs to be included in the design and should remain consistent irrespective of any approach taken.

These principles may also include critical constraints to the applicant such as minimum floor space to be achieved, the importance of signs to a commercial proposal, financial constraints, etc. It should also include principles that are a requirement of the Council as may be set down in Local Plans and Development Briefs or other Guidance Notes. It is important to understand that each site and proposal is unique and there is no right or wrong set of design principles.

The design principles should clearly relate to the site analysis and evaluation findings. The design principles will vary in number and complexity from proposal to proposal. For extensions or alterations to dwellings it is likely that there may be only one or two principles, e.g. the extension should be designed to be sympathetically related to the existing property and not to cause harm to the neighbour.

In more complex proposals, design principles may include the retention of important public views, mass and scale of buildings should be similar to those in the street or conversely a new building ought to be larger because of the relationship of the site to neighbouring buildings. Important trees may need to be kept or the buildings may need to face a particular way or be in specific positions to meet the needs of industrial activities etc.

Step 3 - Creating the design solution
The third stage is to produce the design solution. The important factor is that the design solution should incorporate the design principles, which in turn can be justified against the site analysis and evaluation.

So what will a Design Statement look like?
There are no set rules or ways of presenting a Design Statement. Much depends upon the scale and nature of the development proposed.
It should first comprise a detailed site analysis based upon drawings and sketches setting out the constraints, opportunities and design principles. Written statements alone may not be enough and photographs of the site and its surroundings can be helpful. The Statement should relate to the wider context of the site and not just to the site itself.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the design and planning issues on residential development and how to extend develope a property.


Many people purchasing a property for their main home actually look for a property with a view to extending it. This is a very common theme that I have come across time and time again. Their motivation for doing this is usually two fold.

1. - They cant afford what they actually require so they intend to extend on the assumption that it will be cheaper for them in the end.

2. They want the location but are unable to find the right property so remodelling and extending a smaller one will create their near perfect home.

The rights and wrongs of these two motivations are another news letter in themselves but we shall save this for another day.

However, by the time they call in the Building Designer or Planning Consultant a lot of their aspirations are dashed due to either selecting either the wrong property or wrong location.
Here we explain 10 of the most common tips to observe when looking for property to extend and hopefully you will avoid a costly mistake. Many of these planning tips have already been discussed in previous news letters and are covered in depth in our Maximum Build Planning Guide.

No matter how much potential a site has its absolutely no good if its in Green Belt for example and already been extended. As a guide, 50% is the maximum additional development area you can have for extending in Green Belt and that's measured from when the property was first erected. AONB and Conservation Areas can also restrict development but the Council is usually more concerned with enhancing and preserving the local character rather than size.

Sloping sites can be both advantageous and detrimental to development. If the only location to ideally extend is on the lower side of the property then this can be assessed as being too overbearing by the amount of bulk necessary underneath for continuous floor levels for example.

Sometimes the siting or orientation of a neighbouring property can influence the size and siting of your own house extension. If your extension makes the adjoining neighbours property appear worse on a site or the extension is away from the main built up mass of the adjoining properties then there can be an argument for the extended dwelling to have an adverse overbearing influence upon the neighbour.

SIde windows to principal rooms often have a right of light and any extension that could affect this light. This can be a very complicated issue. Many Councils have created design guides on this issue. EVen front and rear facing neighbours windows can influence the size and design of your extension. It is important to know what windows will be affected and if they will impact upon your own design aspirations for the property.

Existing trees and screening hedges play an important part of the local character and are generally preserved by the Planners if they can. If your development scheme to extend a property involves removing or potentially affecting the life of an important tree or hedgerow then this can affect the outcome of the Planning Decision Notice.

Things have relaxed a little more regarding main sewers but this does often mean paying another fee to the Local Water Board and potentially very costly diversion or deep foundation works that could make your development scheme unviable. A combination of site inspections and checking the sewer maps at the Council or Local Water Board will normally suffice.

Many people expect to be able to build right up the the boundary line for a two storey side extension for example. Most Councils will not endorse this approach except for exceptional site specific circumstances. Adhering to the principal of the Councils design guides will help a smooth passage of you scheme through the Planning permission process but you need to ensure that these guides are applicable and can actually fit to your particular property. Often they are unworkable for a a property on a very small plot for example.

Believe it or not just because a property has the potential to be extended, not all extensions will improve the visual appearance or enhance the character of a property. Some extensions can actually detract from a properties appeal and value. Look around the street for other example that may give you clues as to what works and what doesn't. Some properties are actually just right as they are and should not be tinkered with externally.

Most newer dwellings especially those built on estates over the last 15 years have already been engineered for maximum development onto the site and have very little scope for further alterations or extensions that will provide more space that will be acceptable to the Planning Dept. It is usually the older 'ribbon' type of dwelling that offers most scope for residential development that are usually on wider and larger plots.

Having a second opinion by an experienced professional who will give an 'in principal' opinion on what can be achieved for the property is a real life saver. All too often clients call us in far too late and being the bearer of bad news is never pleasant. We charge a small one off fee for this service where others will come and view for free. Within a short look over the property we can often advise you what can be achieved for the property and very often come up with ideas and observations that you may have never considered as being an option or a good contingency option.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the design and planning issues on residential development and how to extend a house.


First of all, welcome to all new subscribers who have joined over the last month or two. We do hope that you will find our monthly news letters of value and of use in your development plans - remember our motto is "good luck is usually the result of good engineering of a situation based on sound knowledge".

Many successful business deals are the result of being a bit canny with the information that you already know - keeping a tight lip when needed and only letting the other side know just the bare minimum requirement of information and never laying all your cards onto the table. Successful negotiators use this tactic all the time. I expect all of us can remember a time when we have left a meeting wishing that 'I hadn't of said that!'

Well presenting a Planning Application can often involve the precise same tactics at times where you need to retain the advantage in your presentation or application scheme.
Many detailed or complex residential development projects often involve works that can often be implemented without formal Planning Permission - Many garage conversions are a prime example.

So, if your scheme is for a fairly large 2 storey side extension for example that you think is already near the limit for overdevelopment of the site, then why include the garage conversion as well on the Planning scheme if it can be converted under the sites Permitted development allowances. Including building works on a Planning scheme that would not ordinarily require Planning permission is very risky for your other works that do require the benefit of Planning.

Let me explain.......Planners are only human and many are guided by their local plan policy which can be very subjective at times and interpreted in many ways for each site making maximum development of a property a bit of a lottery at times. Therefore, showing all the required works on a Planning drawing can make your project look physically bigger and more extensive that will have a bearing on how the Case Planning Officer determine the suitability of your intended works.

Knowing where the line is for the straw that breaks the camels back for any development scheme is never easy so why not take advantage of excluding the works that can be constructed without Planning in any case. You can always add them to the upgraded Building Regulation and construction drawings later on.

The object is to always give yourself the advantage and for you to 'risk assess' every development project that you present for Planning. Taking unnecessary risks with the Planners assessment of your development scheme by also showing them the full detail of the Permitted Development works is foolish. Generally speaking, if Permitted development works are shown on a Planning application scheme then these works will also be roped into the Planners assessment of your scheme.

How many types of works are exempt form formal Planning approval?.........Lots and lots - far more than you would credit I can assure you which are published in our 'maximum Build' development guide.

I would suggest that 1 in 4 of the residential development schemes that we produce for clients wanting maximum development for their site will involve a good proportion of the works being exempt from formal Planning Permission.

The real trick to exploiting this technique is to be fully sure of your ground regarding what works are excluded from formal Planning Permission and this is where the Professional Building Design Agent has the advantage over the lay person.

The golden rule would be to also confirm in writing after approval of the main scheme that your interpretation of the permitted development works are in fact PD as assessed by the Planning Dept. Any written confirmation of Permitted Development works supplied by the Council can take several weeks to obtain and their letter is only 'informal' - in other words they can give wrong or rubbish advice and use a unique government approved 'get out of jail free card' to rescind their previous advice.

However, this is good enough for my purposes and the clients use when reselling the property later on.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval.


The quest for more living space these days means making more efficient use of the sites available space in which to extend or develop. This invariably means building right up to the properties boundary line in many cases.

This can have major pitfalls if it is not presented or handled correctly and not just at the Planning Application stage either. You wouldn't believe the number of on-site boundary disputes that arise during construction and it is usually the poor old builder who gets caught right in the middle of the crossfire.

Having been party to a few boundary disputes in my time there are a number of rules that I apply when extending or developing a property to ensure that the risk of a neighbour dispute is reduced or catered for when designing and building close to the properties boundary fence for example.

RULE NO. 1:- Though shall not encroach over the boundary line.Sounds a simple one doesn't it but you would be amazed at the number of times a site owner seems to think that it's OK to follow the line of the original party wall for example in order to avoid a 'kick in' for the new works. Even if the neighbour gives their consent it still leaves room for a later dispute not to mention the tricky questions that can be asked when selling either property later on. Even though the main wall main not encroach, it is vital to ensure that the foundations or eaves projections do not overhang the adjoining neighbour.

If pushed by the site owner I do agree to complete design works that overhang the boundary and this is easily covered during the Planning application process by serving the correct Notice and signing certificate 'B'. However, it is the during the build process that many verbal or written neighbour agreements fall apart so I ensure that that my advice not to encroach is recorded by the client in an acknowledged paper trail so that I can wash my hands of it later on - you can lead a horse to water but you cant make it drink.

RULE NO. 2:- Though shall never assume that the fence is the correct boundary line.Most of the time, the fence or other demarcation dividing properties is the correct location. However, people have a habit of taking advantage or lying about such things. I had case once where a site owner re-aligned his fence by 300mm when his neighbour died. His view was that he was just making the boundary correct to a straight line as denoted on the deeds. Over the years as fences are renewed, removed for access, replaced with hedges etc., the demarcation does tend to wander often to a point where it is near impossible to re-identify the correct boundary line. If a neighbour has had the benefit of an extra 300mm for the last 15 years due to a removed or unmarked boundary line he sure isn't going to give it up just because his new neighbour wants to reestablish a straight line to some moth eaten piece of barely legible piece of paper.
Another very common occurrence is when a rural site owner obtains an extra piece of land that is outside the residential curtilage and by encompassing with a new fence he seems to think that he now has a usable extended garden ripe for building in. Not only doesn't he have proper permission to use the land as a garden he could be asked to remove any building works when it is discovered (and most are).

RULE NO. 3:- Though shall put the onus on the client to identify and agree boundary lines with the neighbour on site BEFORE he starts work on the project.This is the best piece of 'bottom shielding' you can have. Why should I take the rap for a neighbours venom or the clients demands 'to sort it out' due to his unwillingness to grasp the nettle. By clearly demonstrating that your have already exercised a high degree of 'duty care' with precise written advise on how they were to avoid boundary disputes with their neighbour, you can at least rest easy at night or charge a good fee for sorting out their mess.

Seems a bit hard faced I know but if ever there was a re-occurring potential nightmare in residential development then this is it. It should remembered that previous case studies have shown that neighbours will go to war over two inches of land and donate thousands of pounds to solicitors fees in the process - guess who ends up really winning!

These are 3 simple rules that will help provide your own development project with unhindered progress to a great conclusion.

RULE NO.4:- Though shall inform the client of his duties under the Party Wall Act 1996.Generally speaking, if the building owner uses the Party Wall Agreement system which is usually administered by a specialist Party Wall Surveyor then this would encompass most of the other rules above.

Having the client nursed through the Party Wall Act by someone else that knows what their doing is of great benefit to both the designer and building owner and very rarely leaves any problems in their wake.

I wont explain here when and why the client needs to obtain Party Wall Agreements with his neighbour as the legislation is quite complicated but generally only applies when the building owner is excavating within 3 meters of a neighbours wall or party fence/wall or completing works that would affect a party wall or party fence.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when extending or developing a property and what areas can be exploited for developing land or a site for residential use. How to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Have you noticed how everything looks great during spring and early summer - in the garden and parks I mean. Everything seems in bloom, full of colour and life. This is a great time of year for biking as well but that's another story.

Can you remember last years new development along your street that now seems a little more integrated into the landscape or street scene?

Planting....Its all about planting and using plants and trees to soften new buildings into their environment. In the seventies and eighties this was a very low priority for residential development schemes and even today, poorly landscaped developments look just that unless their new owners have had a sympathetic hand.

Landscaping normally falls into two distinct categories - hard and soft. The hard stuff is the walling, paving, steps and edges for example and the soft is the planting from mixed shrubs to exotic trees.

It is the interrelationship between these two elements that can often make or break a scheme especially at the Planning application stage. You see most Planning Authorities are now wising up to how important this aspect of urban design is and how it can have an effect on people's future living and environment.

Look though any councils empire list of departments (Planners are the worst for this) and you are guaranteed to find terms like 'urban design team' for example. The old terms of parks and trees department has now virtually disappeared with all this new rebranding jargon from the States...somebody please tell me how on earth we let the good ol'e 'personnel dept' be reinvented for 'human resources'? New fangled 'management speak' has a lot to answer for in my opinion.

Anyway, these newly invented departments are now having greater influence on what is finally approved so don't treat them lightly. Some are even teamed up with the local crime prevention who also advice on the best type of spiky bush to grow under windows to prevent Mr. swag from entering your property.

As a guide, most residential extension schemes may not require any additional planting or landscaping to be indicated on the scheme plans to ensure approval unless you have a potentially dominant or overbearing wall due to the ground slope for example that would have its impact reduced and softened by some clever planting or adjustment to the surrounding ground levels.

Speculative residential development will most certainly benefit from a bit of thought put into a separate landscaping scheme at the Planning application stage - it also helps the drawings to look very 'pretty' as well. The degree of detail will vary from council to council and from scheme to scheme. Fortunately, most Planners will accept an 'illustrative' scheme without too much reference to exact species or surface materials as this can be reserved or conditioned for later approval.

However, many will indicate that you may wish to engage further supplementary experts to get involved such as 'landscape architects' even for an outline application but this really isn't necessary unless the scheme is in a very sensitive landscaped area. Once you have your planning permission it doesn't seem that hard to part with some extra money for these extra 'expert?' fees but until then just try and indicate what you feel looks nice and will enhance the drawings with the aim of softening the building into the natural environment.

Often, many councils will actually work with you and make suggestions for landscaping especially if you are Joe public rather than an Agent. For us Design Agents it can be very frustrating having to consider Planting at an early stage of the design especially if the scheme is speculative and who wants to spend time and money deciding what trees to plant for a site when there are far more important 'first principal' design issues to consider such as siting, scale, roof lines, window orientation and distances etc. of the main building.

In my opinion, Landscaping is very much the 'chicken' for most developments when the 'egg' is to get right the basic design of of the built structure first. Most councils urban design teams with their new army 'jobsworth' strips on their shoulders from the rebranding exercise from the Parks Dept. would see things differently and this is to be expected. So if you encounter this with your scheme do not be resistant and try to include for such hard and soft landscaping elements where you can otherwise the scheme may not be supported by the Councils Planning Officer.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues on landscaping and trees and how they can affect development approval.


Many times throughout the year we are called in to assist people who have got into trouble by completing building works without Council permission. This can be either Planning or Building Regulations - often both. Guess when this 'illegal' building works is usually exposed - Right at the time when the home owner is under the most pressure and exposure to other abortive fees - you guessed it - WHEN THEY ARE ABOUT TO MOVE HOME!

I am amazed at the blinkered approach most homeowners have to completing building works without the required council consent. They just bury their heads in the sand and think that it will not be exposed - HOW WRONG MOST HOMEOWNERS ARE.

They seem to forget that most purchasers surveyors just love it when they are able to expose any illegal building works that may assist the purchaser in pulling out of the sale (strange I here you say) - you see they get paid for their survey report irrespective of the homes condition and by exposing illegal building works they obtain a 'get out of jail free card' - in other words, the purchaser is likely to pull out of the sale and not rely on the contents of the survey and thereby the surveyor reduces their exposure to negligent claims from the purchaser when some other form of defect may be discovered later on.

Not only this, but illegal building works also exposes the homeowner to clever purchasers who then use this aspect to literally blackmail the homeowner into accepting a vastly reduced offer price. If you have already invested in reciprocal professional fees, moving costs and other commitments you suddenly become what the trade calls a 'motivated purchaser' and likely to accept a far lower offer due to your personal commitments and desires.

You are then faced with a panic - to resolve the situation by applying for retrospective consents which will have a financial cost and loss of time implication thereby at high risk of losing your current purchaser.

HOWEVER, all that said - we do need to place a little perspective on the situation for some balance. Firstly it is perhaps a bit unfair to call the works 'illegal'. A better term would be 'un-approved' - remember this is not criminal legislation we are dealing with.

Also, there is a time element that affects the seriousness of the breach of control. Generally speaking, if the works have been completed for 4 years or longer then the Planning Department cannot normally insist on a retrospective permission or require the works to be removed. Building Control on the other hand have a shorter period for compliance which is normally two years. After this time (and provided the works are not an obvious risk to health and safety) they can only normally make a note within your property file. They are normally unable to insist that the works are retrospectively approved after this time.

As a guide, if you fall into this category, the longer the un-approved works have been in place, the easier it is for surveyors and purchasers to accept the works 'as is' without too much detriment to the properties value. The reason for this is clear - someone has to take a view that the works are not going to be removed or fall apart after a period of time.

Most people are surprised to find that both the Planning Department and the Building Control Department have formal applications to regularise the un-approved building works. The risk for the homeowner is how much more works are required to the property to make it comply. Often building works have to be demolished and reinstalled to the approved standard.

Therefore, any homeowner fully aware that they have completed un-approved building works and soon to move home should now put into action a 'regularisation plan' to avoid the 'eleventh hour' panic described above. Seeking early professional advice and guidance from a professional Building Designer or surveyor should be your first port of call rather than approaching the council direct.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when installing un-approved building works.


Sorry for the delay in getting the first News letter of 2005 out to you but its the time of year when the mountains call for a cheap late ski deal. Don't you just love the design of some of these alpine chalets??!!**??

One year we were given a loft bedroom that you couldn't stand up in with no wardrobe space and another chalet only had 2 bathrooms for 18 occupants. Still, skiers are the kind of people that can ruff it for most times so its no major hassle.

But what if these kind of deficiencies were commonly found in ordinary homes in the UK? Surely no one would make such glaring mistakes on comfort and amenities when extending or developing their own homes would they?

OK, setting that little seed of doubt lets explore 6 of the most common design mistakes people can make when extending their homes. Most professional developers understand their market and fail to make these errors but most ordinary homeowners on the other hand have a totally different set of criteria and motivations when developing their own homes which can lead to some costly mistakes.

1. Small kitchens mean small appeal. - Failure to improve the size and usability of a kitchen to include for an eating area as well is possibly the most common error. Like all changing lifestyle issues, you have to differentiate between what are passing fads and long term preferences. Unless you live in a studio or one bedroom property, having a larger kitchen with a dedicated eating area for those all important dinner parties, household hubs and 'show' appeal is one of the most important alterations or extension you can do to a property. Many people embark on ground floor extensions aiming for larger living rooms, studies or a dedicated dining room when the existing kitchen is no more than a 3M x 2M corridor with cut across access.

2. Ground floor bedrooms to two storey dwellings - Sometimes people are so desperate for additional bedroom space they take the cheap option and decide on a ground floor extension. This invariably leads to poor access to the new room (say from the living room or kitchen for example) rather than off the main circulation areas such as the hall. Most people still like to see all bedroom space on the first floor. Unless the new bedroom is for an elderly or disabled person unable to navigate the stairs, or your property is a chalet bungalow, it is often best to avoid ground floor bed space unless the room is flexible for a re-allocated use later on.

3. Loft conversions with inadequate ridge height - Not all lofts are ideal for conversion. There is a fine line between a great loft conversion and a poor one. Most loft conversions involve a delicate balancing act between the new access, usable new space and compromised existing space. Get one criteria wrong and the whole thing often becomes a clumsy compromise of no real value. The biggest area of failure often arises when the ridge height is already quite low. Generally speaking in my opinion a 3M minimum joist to ridge height needs to be in place for the finished room(s) to be of a useful height for a functional bedroom for example. Anything less than 3M ridge height will simply end up as triangular tube with only being able to stand up in the middle - great for a childs play room but not for an adult bedroom.

4. The creation of extra space at any cost - Many homeowners just want the added space and fail to consider some of the detailed design elements that will make their extended home look good. The most common error is the simple 'block on the side' two storey side extension that runs level with the existing front and rear elevation walls. Yes this maximises the usable inside space but the external effect is to create bland long wall and roof lines with little interest or relief. It really doesn't take much effort or sacrifice of space to create a well designed and interesting extension simply by incorporating some simple design principals such as the 'jut it in and jut it out' approach for the new work were is adjoins the existing structure.

5. Mis-match of roof pitches - Sometimes the size of the extension forces a roof design that at first look is unable to match in with the pitch of the existing roof slopes which is invariable lower than the original. On most modern housing this can result in an awful jarring to the eye creating an unbalanced dysfunctional looking property. Installing matching roof pitches is a major design 'must do' for all extension developments. A more complicated roof line may have to be provided but in the end is well worth the effort and cost.

6. The piecemeal extension without upgrading the existing property - Spending money on an extension when the existing property is in a spoor state of repair or of limited facilities and failing to allow money for the upgraded of the existing property to match the new works is a false economy. Many homeowners who I see live in a property that could already absorb £30k for repairs, upgrades and alterations in itself without any extension works but have no intention of allocating resources for these works while the extension is being built. This simply devalues the result of the new works and can lead to future problems when eventually the existing services for example fail and are then difficult to integrate with the newer built works. Always thinking of the 'whole' dwelling and how it functions as one unit rather than having a selected piecemeal focus is the way to go for most development.

Some of these design issues are often now incorporated within most councils design guides and are prevented from being granted Planning Permission if prior consent is required.
Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when developing a property.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


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 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.


Can you remember when people used to install slatted louvre windows as replacement units in their Victorian semis or the stone cladding revolution of the 1980's.
We look back and 'tut tut' at these blunders with a comfortable glow of self satisfaction that we would never make such obvious design and development errors in our own projects - we have a far greater sense of good taste haven't we?

Trends in the residential development world seem to go in huge swings of about 7 to 10 year cycles and it is often not until the end of one cycle we realise what the mistakes were which is usually triggered by the complete abandonment of the previous trend or methodology for another system.

We surge from brass to chrome light fittings, UPVC to aluminium and then back to real wood again for the windows. Carpets to laminates back to real wood block flooring back to laminates again when the real stuff shrinks, warps or splits.

The same is happening in the overall design and refurbishment of whole homes inside and out. We used to be conservation mad but now its total revamp of properties to something akin that we used to aspire to in the 70's with simple glazed panels, uncomplicated detail and simple finishes.

The quest for the elusive and theoretically unique contemporary look for the monied home owner is now the new bandwagon for most property owners and developers trying to be that little bit different and wanting to make a statement about their lifestyles.

Teenagers tend do the same thing but they have piercings or a tattoos instead and it is only the more experienced in years amongst us that realise they are acting more like sheep rather than the individualists they are so desperate to attain.

Trying to define contemporary design is actually very hard and even harder to achieve. One definition that I like is a look that is clean, minimalist and unable to define as a year in which it was constructed - in other words free of all obvious identifiers and trends that would define its era. A design that would still retain its 'contemporary' badge in 40 years time - this is why I think obtaining a true contemporary design is so hard. The Oxford English dictionary defines contemporary as something belonging to the same age which I think is not too dissimilar from my definition of having a timeless feel.

So, am I against this new 'heard' mentality of trying to achieve a contemporary design or lifestyle for a dwelling house? Absolutely not! BUT there are qualifications. Firstly, nearly all aspects of contemporary design and lifestyle is attainable through internal design and alteration only. Those wishing to stamp their lifestyle choices to the wider majority through the external envelope of a dwelling should only consider this through either new build or carefully selected conversion projects (eg a 1950's pumping station for example).

Regretfully, there is a 'bandwagon' mentality out their at present that is also set on externally converting superb period properties in sensitive areas into simplistic, boring and bland looking so called 'contemporary' properties that have been stripped of their unique softness, character and warmth that is totally out of place within their unique setting - all for the sake of of gratifying the 'monied' ego's of people pursuing the latest design trend in urban living.
Some of the design treatments these ill-informed people are completing to their newly acquired homes consist of:-

1. Rendering over all the previous beautiful clay facing bricks.

2. Removing 18th century plain clay tile hanging for the dreaded 'smooth render' look.

3. Adjusting window and door openings to inappropriate scale apertures with out of place joinery.

4. Adding galvanized steel or stainless steel features for canopies or porches that jar with the very character of the buildings heritage and stature.

The list goes on even to the point of them rendering over beautiful feature brick dental coursings or projections that form an intrinsic part of the local character all to attain that elusive 'contemporary' rendered characterless design icon of so called modern living that the occupiers wish to stamp upon the world to satisfy their own egos.

The damage they are creating to some of the most beautiful parts of the UK heritage housing is criminal in my view and they should be brought to book. Regretfully, the type of people who are doing these odious external 'contemporary' conversions are the usual 'IT' brigade with the usual 'more money than sense' attitude and the 'see it - want it now' mentality - all because they can!
So the conclusion to my little rant on what is going on to some of our more important suburbs is this:-

1. If you are seeking a 'contemporary' style of living and dwelling, DO NOT materially alter the external envelope of an existing dwelling - Most contemporary design living is achievable through internal alterations ONLY.

2. If you are insistent on pleasing your greater ego and require a design statement for the whole external world to see then PLEASE only do this though new build projects where the contemporary design is not compromised by an existing period property and you are not 'murdering' a previously beautiful building that added value to the local character and to the residents.

Two very simple rules that will ensure that your latest residential development WILL NOT become a bad taste mistake in 2015 - You have been warned!
Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when developing a property.


Sorry for the delay in getting this news letter out but this last summer month has been a bit hectic but things are definitely slowing down now especially with regard to new work enquiries for residential development - Perhaps the interest rate hikes are beginning to bite at last. This not only effects house prices but also peoples aspirations on what they want to do with their homes - The spending horns are being pulled in for a possible rocky ride into 2005 I fear. It may not be a case of 'batten down the hatches' but hopefully more of a 'finger in the dyke' approach for next year until the high tide of personal debt recedes to manageable levels again (have you noticed the emptiness of ones local health clubs and Gyms just recently? - another sign that the slack money has now gone).

OK, down to business without my usual editorial link. There is a perception amongst most folk that every house is allowed a certain percentage of extension development without the need for formal Planning Permission. People seem to think that it applies to them even when they purchase an already extended property.

The Permitted development allowances as contained within the GPDO 1995, Statutory instrument 1995 No. 418 is a minefield of criteria and restrictions with affecting paragraphs and clarifications all over the document which has lead to a vast array of interpretations from homeowners, agents and Planning Authorities, some of which has been challenged in the courts. It is so cumbersome that there is even a government discussion document out at the moment seeking to address these issues that should result in an update or complete new legislation document in the coming months so watch this space.

This News Letter is far too short to go into every issue of what you can and cannot build within the curtilage of a dwelling house without formal Planning Permission (unless you have purchased my MAXIMUM BUILD PLANNING GUIDE OF COURSE???) but it may be advantageous to subscribers of this news letter to highlight some of the more common 'trip up' clauses that will prevent you from erecting your extension, outbuilding or alterations to your property as follows:-

1. Site zoning - if your property is within a conservation area or Area of outstanding natural Beauty or a National park then your PD limits may be fully withdrawn or limited from normal.

2. New dwellings - If your property was part of an estate, small infill development, one off build etc. within the last 15 years then there is a good chance that the Planners cleverly by stealth removed the PD rights to the property as part of the original Planning Approval as a Planning Condition. This is to maintain control over your property in most aspects for the future. Even older housing estates may have their PD rights lifted so do check first. This is the most common of all reasons why most ordinary householder hopes are dashed at the outset or illegal buildings are erected in the first place.

3. Previously extended properties - If you are purchasing a property that has already been extended then it is likely that no further PD rights exist applicable to extending a dwelling. 70 cubic metres is not a great deal of extension volume.

4. Ancillary outbuildings - These have minimum distance requirements from the house and to a highway. They also have strict ridge and Flat roof heights and are again affected by the sites zoning as in item 1 above. The use must also be ancillary and contain no bed space. So no granny annexes, office suites or huge buildings that cannot be classified as an 'ancillary use'.

5. Extension heights - If it is over 4M high within 2M of a boundary then sorry but no go here as well.

6. Fence heights - Normally 1M max. close to a highway or 2M in most other cases.

7. Roof Dormers - if they exceed the existing ridge line, front towards a highway (that means paths as well) or are greater than 40/50 cubic metres (terrace/other) or within a conservation area then no go for building them without Planning.

8. Porches - that do not cover a doorway or exceed 3 square metres or exceed 3M high or are within 2 Metres to a highway do not comply with PD - you will need Planning Permission.
There are more areas of 'trip ups' but the ones listed above are the main common catches that most people fall into from time to time.

The solution is to always check the constraining details with your local Planning Dept. with what you want to do and get it 'informally' agreed in writing. This aspect is actually harder to obtain than you think as most Councils now want you to apply for a Certificate of Lawfulness (C of E) which is a legally binding document that confirms (or denies) that you do not require formal Planning Approval for your scheme.

You see the council have an unfair 'get out of jail free' card where their 'opinion letters' outside of a C of E are not legally binding? - Isn't that great! Can you imagine what the world would become if we were are all granted that sort of 'cop out' licence in our correspondence and professional opinions?

Cynical I may be but this sort of evasion of duty and responsibility really guiles me. The down side is when applying for a C of E is that you need proper drawings showing all aspects of the design, siting and location plan etc. which is not normally achievable in a DIY format by the householder, you need to pay a fee (currently £55.00) and surprise, surprise - it takes about 2 months!!!! to decide. - ere.......excuse me....but doesn't that sound just like a Planning application - YES - to be informed that you don't need planning in the first place! - what a great ploy and clever thinking by the boys at Whitehall. I think the phrase is....'you couldn't possibly make this up!

If you have trouble deciding what you want to build is PD or not and the council remain unhelpful outside of a C of E then do seek a professional opinion from a Building Design Agent used to this sort of residential development.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when extending a property under Permitted Development and what areas can be exploited for developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Most conversion works to an existing structure is often more expensive than having it knocked down and rebuilt. The main reason for this is the VAT element that is exempt for new dwellings. There have been numerous examples where extensive extension and conversion work has proved more expensive than rebuilding the scheme a-fresh from the ground up.

However, where VAT is still applicable even for new build within an existing residential curtilage, the conversion route is often still less expensive. This can also have the added benefit of retaining the sites character and charm where as a complete new build can often stand out like a sore thumb.

Garage conversions are a case in point. Converting a domestic garage (normally integral or attached to the main dwelling) is a growing trend that I cannot see declining in the coming years.
Peoples desire for additional living space is by far more important than the the requirement to store a motor car or general household storage which is more often the case.
WIth the general superior build quality of most modern day cars the need for undercover parking in order that they start in the morning has now diminished. This combined with the relative cheapness of cars makes that valuable garage area look very under used.
Off road car parking is till very important but a physical building to store it in overnight in is not.
So what are the issues relating to converting an existing garage into habitable room space? Well firstly, most garage conversions do not require the benefit of a separate Planning Approval unless there is a condition on the original Planning Approval restricting the garages use. Always check with your Local Planning Authority first but in most cases specific Planning Approval should not be required (subject to conditions and Planning criteria).
If the garage is to become a useful additional to the main dwelling then it should ideally be converted in a way that makes it hard for the 'lay person' to tell that the space was originally a garage.

This means that the new room (previous garage) should be preferably accessed off the main hall way, have follow through floor levels (rather than step downs), have similar floor to ceiling levels, have all the meter services relocated to outside meter boxes, be centrally heated, thermally upgraded for the floor walls, and ceilings, and have a quality in-fill construction for the old garage door opening. Most of these items are covered within the Building Regulations for which the conversion must comply also to.

As a guide, a good single garage conversion incorporating these element will be in the order of £15 to £20K. Cheaper conversions can be achieved but they will always feel like a 'converted garage' and may not add the full value to a property.

If the converted garage can only be accessed off another room such as the living room or kitchen, they can still perform a useful functioning extra room but they may not have the flexibility of use compared to access form a common circulation area.

So what are the typical uses for garage conversions? The most common use is for a study area whether it be for the business dealings of the parent working from home or the children having a dedicated place to study homework outside of their bedroom which is not very desirable.
Another common use is for a ground floor bedroom for an elderly relative or even a son or daughter unable to purchase a property but now requiring some extra space for a baby for example.

Separate dining rooms are now a thing of the past really but if the garage adjoins the usual 3M x 2M developer designed pokey kitchen then by knocking through into the garage area often creates a great full sized family kitchen/eating area that is so much in demand these these days (the Jamie Oliver effect).

When should a conversion be avoided? - generally if the garage is detached or some distance away from the main dwelling. Also, if the loss of a car parking space within the garage means that the property is unable to park at least 2 cars unless your have adequate on road parking available right outside the property.

Future trends for new build? - Even the Planning policy design guidance is now erring away from dedicated garages for densely populated developments preferring to have the space released for extra habitable rooms. A dedicated off road car paring space or two in the open is now preferred over garages - Planners also realise that most garages are not used for the storage of cars so they are now doing something about it.

To emphasis the point further, we have never yet been asked to convert a habitable room into a garage space but we are asked several times a year to complete the opposite. I am sure in London and such places such 'reversionary garage' schemes have been completed but this is certainly not typical when compared to the larger picture of what the current development trends are.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when converting existing structures and what areas can be exploited for developing land, buildings or a site for residential use.


Probably the most common type of residential extension is the two storey side extension. However, it is one of the most easiest schemes to get wrong with regard to Planning Permission. Side extensions have an awful lot of issues that need careful consideration before submitting a scheme to the Planning Department for Planning Permission.

Firstly is the impact of your scheme upon the neighbours. Most councils design guides will not let you build right up to the boundary at the first floor level. This is to prevent 'terracing' of the street scene. This usually means 'insetting' the extension by at least 1M. The ground floor element can normally go closer.

Secondly, is respecting the shape of the existing dwelling. This often means setting back the extension to obtain broken wall and roof lines together with a lower ridge line. Simply adding on a 'block' of same depth extension with flush front elevation wall and roof lines will normally be resisted.

This is to prevent large bland wall and roof areas. Having broken wall lines retains the original house shape, adds interest and is subordinate to the main dwelling. The most common reply to this design concept from home owners is 'but it will look like an extension!' Yes if it is done badly but no if the design accommodates good design detailing, respectful scale and well designed roof slopes. It really does not take much effort to achieve the right balanced look - just the right eye and lots of design experience in such matters.

Thirdly are side windows of adjoining properties. These need to be carefully assessed for right of light issues. Some side windows are not relevant - others are - you need to decide which ones are which.

Fourth is the off road car parking requirements. Additional bedrooms often means additional or compliant off road car parking provision. If your property is already deficient in this area and known to be within an on road parking problem area with perhaps access problems onto a busy classified road then you may have to consider what you will be formally presenting to the Planners in terms of potential new bedroom spaces.

Lastly is the overall width of property scenario. All properties have a dimensional ratio (width versus depth). Many properties are already long and thin with a wide street scene or presence. A two storey side extension will often just add to this visual impact which is again often resisted by the Planners. Clever design tweaks such as recessing the extension further back from the front elevation and wrapping it around the rear elevation can often create the additional space required but without making the property look ungainly wide.

The same result can be achieved by bringing the extension further forward and wrapping it around part of the front elevation. Many people seem to think front extensions are impossible because of infringing 'building lines' but the fact is front extensions are becoming far more popular and acceptable due to the improvement of the street scene. Many front extensions can turn a really bland looking property into a very interesting building with interesting roof and wall lines. Property developers do this all the time but that can fill another topic on its own.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the issues involved when extending an existing property and what areas can be exploited for developing land, buildings or a site for residential use.


Isn't it a shame that for most folk, taking a holiday means moving en-mass with millions of other people also doing the same thing! Long journeys, loads of bodies at airports and long traffic queues in humid conditions - why do we do it?

Strange thing is, - do we ever notice any easier parking provision in our towns and cities while all these people are travelling away from home to these holiday locations? I haven't.
For a great many of us (myself included), street parking outside ones own home is getting to be a bit of a luxury these days. Those properties with well designed highway access and off road parking have a definite added value element to their homes that will be of even greater value as the years proceed.

Therefore, any property without the facility for off road car parking may be seriously less desirable in 5 years time for example. There is also a 'sustainability' element that conflicts with this desire for people to park their 4 wheel 'designer badge' off the road. I guarantee you will not see many late model Merc's BMW's or other german machinery parked in the gutter these days. Many Planners would have you believe that we are unable to sustain this level of car dependency but even if petrol went up to £10 a gallon, most people would rather starve than not put juice in the car to get us around - it's a freedom thing!

So, your property does not have any off street parking at present but has the ability to be modified to incorporate such a space or three. I can guarantee that the cost of installing such a facility for a dwelling (even if it is just one car space) will add significantly to the value and desirability of your home and is often a very easy thing to have done. The problem arises when people do this without any thought for the design, materials and if Planning Consent is required.

Generally speaking, if you live on a classified road (A, B, C, D, etc.) then you will need formal planning permission. When consent is required the Highways have a whole set of requirements for vision splays, materials, dimensions etc. that many properties are unable to comply with. So even if you could do it, you may well be prevented on road safety issues by the Highways and Planning Dept. There can be ways around this but it does involve a degree of risk that is explained within our Planning guide.

Properties on unclassified roads can have a field day as no formal Planning permission is normally required and a new access can be installed in any location. Regretfully, this has led to some very unsightly car parking spaces in small front gardens of lovely Victorian terraces for example. Generally speaking, the smaller the property and its front garden, the harder it is to design something that respects the local character.

As a guide, great attention and detailing must be placed on material selection and ancillary landscaping elements. You would be amazed just how much a car parking space can be improved visually with strategically located planting, bunding, planters, paving and curves - yes curves. The poorest quality of car parking simply uses gravel or concrete without any edge detailing or thinking as to the pedestrian access to the front or side doors when a car is actually parked - poor old posty can have one hell of a job delivering the mail at times.
So think about these issues and don't try to install an off road car parking facility on the cheap as that's exactly how your properties curb side appeal will be - cheap!.

Finding out whether or not your property is on a classified road is simply a matter of telephoning the council and asking that question. Also, please remember that you will still need to have a dropped kerb installed and this can only be completed by a contractor that is on the Highways approved list as they need a huge amount of liability insurance to dig up pavements and roads. Again, have this done correctly with the proper matching sets and materials for making good. A concrete repaired path adjoining tarmac looks awful.

If you can, always make sure that your actual parking bay area is of a min. size of 2.4M x 4.8M. You may only have a small mini but the next owner is bound to have a boring BMW that wont fit and most people who pander to these German status symbols wont change their car to fit your parking slot. Also remember that you should allow a greater width of parking bay if your have raised walling or planters for example around the bay other wise you may not get out of the car door.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


First of all, welcome to all new subscribers who have joined over the last month or two. We do hope that you will find our monthly news letters of value and of use in your development plans - remember our motto is "good luck is usually the result of good engineering of a situation based on sound knowledge".

The holiday season is now in full swing and for about the next 6 weeks we tend to see a noticeable downturn in the level of new enquiries which I think is pretty much typical amongst most services. This, for us, is a time when we normally attend to the updating and improvement of our internal administration, so the forecasted lull over the coming weeks will be put to good use. The strange thing is that your Local Planning Departments tend to cite the opposite and correspondence suddenly goes unanswered or the Case Officer dealing with your application is off yet again on another 3 week jaunt.

Return to main Planning guide

So, is it worth contacting the Planning Department for an Officers opinion on your scheme prior to submitting a formal application when their response times are getting seriously worse as each year passes? Well like all things it depends on a lot of variables.

From simple observations and anecdotal evidence, I would say that the ordinary householder has a distinct response time advantage over professional Agents in this respect when writing or contacting the Council. I can only assume that the 'general public' are easier to deal with and satisfy than 'Professional Agents' who often require a far higher level of detail and concise opinion from the Case Officer rather than the wooly explanations they usually offer simply quoting policy reference numbers that you should be adhering to.

I can see their point of view. When offering a clear personal opinion either way on a scheme the subsequent application can quite easily become high profile for example by a very articulate anti-lobbying neighbour that affects the outcome contrary to what the Case Officer may have initially advised.

We (MSM) only tend to make pre-application enquiries for schemes that we know will become high profile or have a high front end fee cost to the client in order to pursue the more detailed scheme. Regretfully, much of the site specific Planning advice we receive is usually after a 6 week wait that simply regurgitates the relevant elements of the current Planning Policy that we knew about anyway - so you still end having to take a view.

Most Planning Officers these days wont even visit a site for an opinion without having some for of sketch plan to comment on. Hopefully, if you are engaging a professional Design Agent to draw out your development scheme then they should be able to advise you right from the start what will likely receive an approval and what wont so use their expertise and experience to your advantage and listen to what they have to say.

If you are not using a Design Agent then I would advise allowing some time for a pre-application contact with the Council whether it be through a letter, drawing, site visit or an internal office meeting. About 4 weeks should suffice but always follow up about 2 weeks later if your written reply is still outstanding. I personally would not rely on a simple verbal opinion as your final application may be given to another Case Officer so cover all the bases.

Your sketch scheme doesn't have to be professionally prepared and a simple hand drawn (but roughly to scale) plan is normally enough for the Case Officer. However, like anything in life, the more precise and accurate you can be with your initial presentation, you will likely receive a better quality of reply.

Return to main Planning guide

I recently came across a very impressive service that took your digital photographic information and created an 'as built' photographic realistic view of your extended property. This is a great way of demonstrating your intentions and is ideally suited for pre-application discussions with the Case Planning Officer. This image can then be used to also support the 2D drawings when your application is submitted. The great thing about this service is that it can all be completed remotely by utilising your own photographs without the cost of a surveyors visit. Simply send them the photos and a small pencil sketch of what you intend doing and 'hey-presto' out comes a photograph of the finished extension - Great stuff!

So, a few tips......
1. Always allow 4 to 6 weeks when waiting for a Planning Officer to reply to your pre-application enquiry.

2. Try to provide the Case Officer with as detailed description, drawing or visual presentation of what you are trying to achieve.

3. Always obtain the Case Officers name and follow up every week after the initial 2 weeks have elapsed.

4. Always try to obtain the CAse Officers opinion confirmed in writing. If they refuse then you write to them to confirm the relevant details and conclusions of your meeting or discussion.

5. If you know that your scheme is already high profile and has contentious Planning issues then don't bother wasting your time getting this fact confirmed in writing - submit it straight away as a formal Planning application and take your chances that way.

6. Always remember that it is easier for a Case Officer to be informally negative about your marginal scheme than it is for them to stretch their neck above the parapet in support. An early negative informal opinion will nearly always result in a later Planning refusal where it just may have passed without one.

Return to main Planning guide

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval.


First of all, welcome to all new subscribers who have joined over the last month or two. We do hope that you will find our monthly news letters of value and of use in your development plans - remember our motto is "good luck is usually the result of good engineering of a situation based on sound knowledge".

Apologies for the delay in writing this months news letter but it's been very busy in the office with several schemes coming together at once makes for a hectic life from the ever more demanding client. The pathetic interest rate rise is akin to trying to stop a super-tanker with a dinghy. Why the hell the Bank of England doesn't do it in 1 full point steps is beyond me. The measly £20 per month extra on a 100K mortgage is less than most people spend on a night down the pub or club - Lets get real, if they want to slow down the housing market (which they do) a measly quarter percentage point increases wont do it.

Return to main Planning guide

OK, (party political over with), lets get down to some real topical issues within the residential development field. We get a great many requests to view the potential of Loft conversions. This type of extension has remained fairly popular since I first started designing property and is perhaps even more in demand now than ever before - especially in dense urban areas where the alternative choices for that fourth bedroom are somewhat limited.
Now, the popular press would have you believe that they do not add value or have limited appeal. However, that blanket broad brush, slightly disrespectful opinion does not ring true for most of our clients. So what is going on? As always, the devil is in the detail - the detail in this respect is mainly focussed on two primary areas:-

1. DESIGN and 2. DESIGN.

It's just like the location, location location slogan for house values and desirability. Fortunately, the planners have got to grips with a lot of loft conversions these days and they now have a great more control of schemes that a few years ago could have been built under Permitted Development. This means that they have encompassed 'good design guides' in an attempt to stamp out the ugly full width box dormer that turned a beautiful victorian semi into a something that looks like a car sized packing crate trying to escape from a neighbours roof.

Conversely, many people have argued that the 'chocolate box' cottage type pointy roofed dormers (as suggested by the planners) are quite simply impractical and do not provide enough space for a fully functional room which in many cases is a very valid and true point. HOWEVER, life is all about compromises and choices have to be made. Fortunately, most members of the public are now becoming far more 'design aware' than they ever used to be and slowly by slowly they are beginning to accept that the formation of more space must not be at the expense of a poor external visual impact that simply jars with the whole look of the locality. This type of poor dormer design can not only decrease the value of your own home but that of the neighbours as well.

But yet again there are exceptions. Some suburbs of London for example have a plethora of these types of loft extensions and the ones that have not yet been converted look out of place. These types of areas pay more attention to the internal design of the living space than the grotty externals - goes with the environment I suppose. Also, some areas are 70's and 80's built estates where the whole so called 'architect design' was for this style of flat roofed box dormer which is a commonly accepted fact for the area and enjoyed by many.

So, back to my original question - Does a loft conversion or extension add value? In my opinion YES in practically all cases baring a few exceptions. Should it be my first choice of residential development if my site has surrounding ground that allows alternative solutions? Well no in my opinion unless your property is a bungalow.

A loft conversion for the standard 2 storey dwelling house (detached, semi or terrace) should perhaps be on the 'last option' list rather than your first choice - more to do with peoples perceptions rather than anything scientific I could quote.

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When we assess a loft conversions viability we run through a sort of assessment check list before we advise our clients and we always steer them towards nice looking, well balanced, recessed type of pitched roof dormers at the sacrifice of some space rather than the 'ugly duckling' alternative. However, like all services, many clients do not value the external look as much and they insist on the largest dormer possible especially if it can be constructed under the sites Permitted Development allowances (no planning permission necessary) - Do we still take the job? - yes of course we do its our living but our sign board never goes up during the construction works.

Some people subscribing to our news letter may value our 'design lead' approach so we schedule below some of our assessment criteria relating to loft conversions that you may find useful:-
1. Does it need Planning Permission - If so utilising the councils design guides is a must. Some front or side facing dormers may still be resisted even if they are small. Velux windows often overcome these objections. In most cases, big bulky box dormers will not be allowed.

2. What area of new space does the client require - Many clients have overambitious floor space targets and visualise 3 bedrooms for example (all with ensuite of course). They fail to appreciate the loss of floor space caused by the extensive sloping soffits, and the new stairs.

3. Where can the new stair set go - Many clients fail to realise that their preferred location for the stairs does not achieve the required head room within the new floor for example. In most cases some existing floor space of the bedrooms for example will need to be sacrificed.

4. It is better to achieve one or two good sized functional rooms to compensate for the lack of head room in some areas of the new rooms rather than trying to cram in the bedroom numbers for the sake of it where the new rooms can become nothing more than single bed sleeping podules with very little inbuilt amenity value.

5. If flat roofed dormers can only be achieved due to the low ridge height then split the dormers into 2 or three smaller ones with no more than 1200mm (4') wide windows to break up its bulk. Always, always always recess the dormer into the roof slope to reduce the dormers bulk - DO NOT BUILD THE EXTERNAL FACE OF THE DORMER WALL OFF THE EXISTING EXTERNAL WALL OF THE HOUSE.

6. If a client wants a conversion with only Velux type roof lights then all well and good (much cheaper as well). However an exercise should be completed to explore the possibilities of a strategically located dormer or two that often frees up an extra 30% floor area that the client may not have realised for very little extra money.

7. Dormers are not the only design solution to more light and space - consideration could also be given to a hip to gable conversion of the side roof for example that wont look out of keeping (unless your a semi of course).

8. As a rule of thumb to the practicality of your new room in the roof - if you can already touch the ridge board when standing in the loft (about 2.3M or less), then its normally too small to form useful functioning bedrooms unless a bulky box dormer is constructed (which is what we are trying to avoid) If it is an area just for a play room or a study then all well and good but beware, many people have embarked on tight loft conversions only to realise too late that that they have no where to place the bed or locate a wardrobe.

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There are a great many other issues to consider as well when completing loft conversions such as overheating, fire regs, weather protection during the works etc. and these are major discussion topics in themselves that I will leave for another day. However, the points listed above are the main ones relative to the external design and appearance of loft conversions.
Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing a site with a loft conversion or extension and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval.


The first part of most years brings a flurry of trade shows aimed at the public and trade alike such as The Ideal Home Show, Interiors and just recently the Building Exhibition at the NEC. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of new gadgets and Gizmos (along with the usual tat) that companies invent for our consumption. Most seem to have a shelf life of about 2 days once home where it is usually broken, binned or stored never to be seen again. What seemed like a great idea turns out to be nothing more than a poorly designed and manufactured item aimed squarely at the naive and impulsive home owner.

Now what has this cynical observation got to do with Residential Planning and Development I hear you ask? Well I have noticed the start of an increasing trend that for me, has the makings of another 'latest fashion fad' about to explode onto the UK property scene that could fall into the same criteria I have just described above - except this one wont cost you £9.99 but £16K to £25K - Please enter the 'building plot' sale of huge chunks of farm land for residential housing (subject to Planning of course).

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Speculative Development Plots - A worrying Trend or a Safe Bet? - Displayed on a glossy wall map and within a condensed brochure pack are what at first hand appears to be a professionally presented and laid out set of building plots for domestic dwellings. Each plot is about half an acre with the infrastructure and plot areas already laid out and clearly defined. I don't have to imagine anything - its so clear what I am buying.

Even their web sites shows the same degree of 'mouse-over' pick and choose selections - WOW! - the quick and cheap way into the fast food version of buying your own building plot - why hasn't anyone thought of doing this sort of mass plot sale before? - it's so simple - the 'building plot supermarket' springs to mind - UNTIL THE PENNY DROPS and YOU REALISE THAT NONE OF THESE SITES HAVE PLANNING CONSENT FOR THE DREAM PROPERTIES THAT MAY EVENTUALLY BE CONSTRUCTED.

So, OK, you get over the initial excitement and let-down and you say to yourself, '£16K for a potential future development building plot is still peanuts compared to the £200K+ price it would fetch with Planning Permission - that must still be a good deal even if it does take 5 to 10 years to obtain Planning' - the real question is WHAT CHANCE DOES IT EVER HAVE OF EVER GETTING PLANNING PERMISSION? Not only are you paying an over-inflated price of £32K+ per acre for agricultural land to begin with (normally £4K to £8K) but the chances are that the parcel of land you have just purchased will always remain just that - AGRICULTURAL - Hooray!!! You have just become a lifelong token farmer.

Why I am sceptical and cynical about some of these companies that are packaging up so called 'Building plots' like this of huge chunks of land (mostly in the Green Belt I may add) is that their presentation methods are squarely aimed at the unsuspecting public using all the visual and presentation tricks they can in order to sell this 'dream' of your very own detached 5 bedroom house in the country. These 'deals' also appeal to the 'easy fortune hunters', the 'quick buck' brigade that dupe themselves into thinking that this is a short to medium term sure bet investment - after all, land values never go down do they?

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Well let me play devils advocate for the moment and give you some reasons why most of these speculative mass land plot schemes may be potentially flawed.....
1. The land is usually within Green Belt or other controlled areas unlikely to ever receive Planning permission without a major 'U' turn or change in Government Policy. In most cases this is what needs to happen if any stand a chance of being granted Planning Permission. I really do not see this happening across the board in the UK - perhaps in some specific locations where precise and exact reasons will be given for allowing development very much relevant to the local area and its merits.

2. All the land plots and estate layouts I have so far seen simply pander to the publics dream vision of a large detached dwelling on a large plot - This is not the type of housing or efficient use of prime building land that this country needs or will be encouraged by Government on a mass scale - whatever the colour of the government is at the time.

3. None of the estate layout plots conforms to any suggested Planning Guidance (namely PPG3). Therefore, even in the rare event a large section of protected country land did receive Planning Consent for residential development it most certainly will not be for the layout of the roads and plots already sold to the various hundreds of people that now own their individual section of the site - Can you honestly say that the Planners will approve a scheme for the already sold plots at the first attempt without their own involvement and guidance from their in-house or specialist urban design teams?

4. Can you imagine the logistics of tracking, locating, contacting and re-negotiating with a 100+ separate plot owners asking them to release or put back into the pot their land to then have it re-divided up again and to then choose another plot(s) or just have the increase in value money instead.

Remember, we are dealing with 'Joe public' here and any professional land developer will tell you that the more fingers there are in the 'land pie' the harder it is to get a final agreement to implement the approved scheme - Sure 95% of the land owners will be pragmatic and see common sense BUT it only takes a few complicated people to prevent the estate development from taking place. Some prime land developments that have received approval have remained dormant for years or never implemented due to the actions (or non-actions) of one or more obstructive land owners.

In 10 to 20 years time some plot owners would have vanished, be untraceable, changed hands or even died and left complicated estates to be battled out at court by relatives not to mention the arrogant plot owner who thinks he deserves more re-allocated plot allowance or more money can stop a development scheme from starting or being sold on dead in its tracks. Even if the land plot companies have legal machinery in place to control these events I guarantee it will not cover all the eventualities - remember, there is NOTHING AS FICKLE AS FOLK!

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5. Now that you have 100+ plot owners actually owning clearly defined building plots, many will not want to wait for the master plan to be approved in 20+ years time - they will get impatient and start submitting their own disjointed Planning Applications or require fencing to define their own plot, or use it to for storage or to erect a shed or build a boat on etc. - the list as to what 100 individuals may desire for their own piece of land is endless and a mine-field for the adjoining neighbours and Local Authority to control.

6. Planners and Government love control - Do you really think they would allow a huge housing estate to comprise of individually built houses with no real overall design style or theme for the entire estate - simply left up to the design discretion of each land owner? Therefore again, this reinforces my view that selling individual plots like this and casting the layout of the estate in stone with so many individual plot owners is NOT the correct way to develop a site for housing. The design of any development site is a continuing stream of ideas and proposals between the designers and the Local Authority that is ever changing and evolving to accommodate Planning Issues. Most schemes now for large development sites require social housing and other amenities to be incorporated - some schemes have set aside a percentage of the land for this use as a bargaining tool with the Council but who says that the land retained for this use is in the right location to begin with?

7. Some plots I have seen encompass woodlands, hedge rows, ponds and thickets of trees. Most rural developments are supposed to respect and work with the established natural environment - again no thought seems to have been given to the plot layout to work with this important aspect of site design.

8. Some companies also imply that if you then join some sort of 'plot owners association' it will add strength to the lobbying committee (by virtue of numbers) to release more land for development on the premise that these 'poor homeless' plot owners simply want to build their own 'affordable' house. This argument is entirely scuppered by the fact that most plot owners are purely speculators not too dissimilar with the current over blown 'Buy to Let' market. If all buy to let properties came back onto the market for owner occupiers only it would easily accommodate most of the housing demand and lower prices to more affordable levels but at the cost of destabilising the housing market.

My conclusion to this growing mass plot land sale of agricultural land without a valid Building Permission is that it merely serves as a tool to maximise the previous land owners sale value well above what its true agricultural value is and for the companies setting up these sub-divisions to earn huge profits on the back of the over-inflated land sales to the unsuspecting public at large. AFTER ALL THEY ARE A BUSINESS TO MAKE MONEY. Also, most Farm or large land owners are fairly canny people - do you really think they would sell potential building land that could receive Planning Permission within the next decade or two? - I doubt it.
At the end of the day it is simply a gamble with very high stakes. Even for the odd success storey in the years to come it will not be an easy ride for the successful plot owners for the practical reasons I have already stated.

However, it only needs one site to win Planning permission within the next 5 to 10 years to instantly improve the value of all the other pending schemes and it is at that point I may be tempted to cut and run - to realise a small profit when you can rather than waiting for a full consent that may never come in your lifetime. Would buy one of these individual plots myself - NO. Would I invest in a company that sold shares in a development land bank scheme that allowed for the design flexibility required during the negotiations and Planning application process - YES.

Some people I feel sure do not worry about the length of time it may take to obtain Planning Permission and see it as a 'gifting asset' to pass on to their younger family and perhaps that may be the right attitude to take if you really have no there use for the £16K + investment money at this time.

What are your thoughts? Have you been tempted with one of these schemes? Do you already own a plot? What is your perspective? Am I just being too cynical and cautious for my own good? I would love some feed back on this issue.
Please remember, this is only a personal view from a limited observation of these schemes and may not be fully conclusive or represent a balanced viewpoint. Always do your own research first.

Our 'Maximum Build Planning Guide' explains further the tactics involved when developing land or a site for residential use and how to give yourself the best chance of being granted an approval. There are some reals do's and don't's that must be implemented.