It was established that one lounge, one bedroom and one ensuite shower room were needed, as well as extending the existing kitchen and one of the existing first floor bedrooms. I decided to go for an almost fully glazed gable end, with no windows on the elevations overlooking my neighbours, dealing in one stroke with any possible objections and solving all daylight issues.I paid particular attention to making sure the extension looked like it was part of the original house and not “stuck on”.
There were a few self-indulgences ; A spiral stair, a vaulted ceiling, a triangular window and French Doors with Juliet balconies. In general however, it was a simple design which could be broken down into two boxes. (Did I mention budget ?). After nineteen years of observation of building construction, I concluded that the myriad of weird and wonderful shapes I had seen built were interesting but ultimately in most cases, folly. I prefer to stick to simple form and let the detail speak. A reflection of my personality perhaps – Freud would have a field day. Anyway, this, I hoped, would make construction as uncomplicated as possible. (Really, did I not mention budget ?).
I then contacted my local council Planning Department to obtain the necessary forms and work out what drawings were required. After a week studying other approved plans on the council website, I concluded that I could do it with six separate drawings. Simple.
Now, I am not a luddite by any means but after a brief flirtation with Autocad and the doorstop of an instruction manual that came with it, I decided that I could have read and memorised War & Peace in less time than it would take to become at least competent in Autocad and that plan was shelved. So, out came the drawing board and the Rotrings again.
Three months, countless cups of tea and several crates of Jaffa Cakes later, I emerged with my finished drawings. I swear I could hear a fanfare of trumpets a’la Charlton Heston in “The Ten Commandments”, as I laid them on the kitchen table and stood back to look at them.
I looked at my work…and saw that it was good….
I decided that since communication is half of any battle, before submitting any application I would visit my neighbours with the plans and try to explain to them what was planned. I would recommend that anyone considering a planning application does this. People respond well to feeling included in decision processes. You may even end up with a better end result through their input. My consultations went better than I expected with no one running off into the night screaming for their solicitor. One neighbour even asked if I could do drawings for them but then they talk to their dog like it’s a person, so perhaps they shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
It was now August 2008 and safe in the knowlegde that my neighbours were onside, I arranged a pre-application meeting with an officer from the council Planning Department. The thinking being that this could only help to smooth the process and we could hopefully nip any potential problems in the bud.
The night before the meeting was like being sixteen again and cramming for exams. I checked and re-checked, double checked and double, double, checked all my drawings. Bearing in mind that first impressions last, I had prepared a set of colourwashed drawings. This had the desired effect of bringing them to life. For those of you now complaining, “it’s alright for him, he’s obviously artistic”, I would advise that all that is needed is a tin of coloured pencils, available from any stationers and a little patience. It doesn’t even matter if you go over the lines…
I had also taken photographs of the site and from the same position, prepared sketches or “artists impressions” of how the extension would look. I had even prepared a supporting statement explaining the genuine reasons for having to build the extension. I could do no more.
The morning of the meeting arrived and as we sat in the glass fronted foyer of the council office, slowly cooking, I contemplated the task ahead. In the midst of a daydream, (or planning ahead, as I like to call it), I was brought back to reality by a friendly voice with an Australian twang. Not really what you expect in Central Scotland. We followed him to another glass-fronted meeting room and sat down.
I launched into my well prepared presentation, spreading the drawings out, explaining all the thought processes that had gone into each element and trying to sound professional. I then became aware of a smile slowly spreading across the Planning Officer’s face.
“Did you do these ?”, he said, gesturing at the drawings.
“Er..yes. Are they ok ? Is there something wrong ?”, I replied, trying not to sound worried.
“No, no, not at all. It’s just the drawings we usually get aren’t so……well prepared. It’s a pleasant change to have all the information here. I see you’ve done sketches as well…(long pause)… Well…that looks…that looks…. in keeping. I see you’ve picked up on existing details……(another long pause)….roughcast and facing brick to match existing…..timber windows to match existing…….(agonisingly long pause)………….looks fine.”
It felt like the weight of the world had lifted from my shoulders. We were going to get on quite well. (I was then struck by how much he looked like Dilbert the well known cartoon strip character. However, no sarcastic comments were forthcoming). We discussed all the issues I had worried about ; overlooking, daylight restriction, massing and scale, etc., etc. and one by one, he alleviated all worries.
It seemed the time spent researching other successful applications had been worthwhile. The upshot was, the only thing he advised us to alter was to notify a couple more neighbours, even though they were more than 4 metres from the boundary. This we agreed to.
He concluded the meeting by advising us to submit the application as soon as possible and then he uttered the magical words I’d been waiting for,
“There are no material planning considerations, judging from these plans, so I don’t see any problems”.
We left the council office on a high, tempered only by the fact that we now had a four week wait to see if any neighbours would object. They didn’t.
So, barely eight weeks after submitting the planning application, we received the notification telling us that it had been granted, with no conditions. Hallelujah.
(This last point was important, as I intended to do a large proportion of the work myself, which would involve working at weekends, holidays and after getting home from my “proper” job). We were up and running and on to the next stage. It was all downhill from here, surely ?……….