Following a lot of disappointment and missed opportunities, finding the right plot of land on which to build a house had proven a difficult task for Linda and Bryn Miles. So when a perfect plot with planning permission came up for sale in a picturesque village in Glamorgan, they were determined that it was going to be theirs. Advertised for £135,000, the couple put in an offer for the asking price, but there was a lot of interest in the plot and the sale ended up going to sealed bids. “We offered the maximum we could afford of £150,000 and one pence,” recalls Linda. “If we had been outbid then at least we could be satisfied in the knowledge that we had offered our maximum. Fortunately we were successful. The purchase went through quite quickly and soon enough we were the owners.”

Linda and Bryn had decided to build their own property some years before — it was just a matter of finding the right plot. Linda explains: “I saw an advert and was inspired. It said there are three ways to own a fabulous home: One is to win the lottery, two is to have a well-paid job and three is to build your own. We felt we had no chance with the first two options but with the third we thought, why not?”

Project Details

  • Name: Linda and Bryn Miles
  • Build Cost: £259,000 (£866/m²)
  • Build Time: 8 Months
  • Build Route: Architect and subcontractors
  • Region: Vale of Glamorgan

The couple could see the potential of the plot. Situated on the edge of a well-established village, it fell within the catchment area of several excellent primary and secondary schools. It also gave the family the privacy they wanted. However, Linda and Bryn were not impressed with the design of the house that planning permission had been granted for, and assumed that it would not be that difficult to change.

Over the next couple of months, Linda and Bryn looked at different house designs and employed a quantity surveyor to help with the design and planning permission. However, every time plans were submitted to the local authority they were turned down. The couple learned that their village was a Conservation Area and that planning officers were very strict about what they would accept. “We quickly found that we were getting nowhere,” says Bryn. “The planners were quite specific. The house shape needed to be in keeping with the village and built with certain materials. A slate roof instead of tiles, render instead of brick or stone, and wooden windows, not PVCu. They also insisted on metal guttering and downpipes.”

After two more failed attempts the couple began to wonder if they would ever get planning permission. They finally decided to employ architect Tony King. Based in Cardiff, he had worked with the planning officers in the area before and so had a good idea about the kind of design and materials they were looking for. “In hindsight we should have used him from the beginning. Tony King was top quality; he was much more in tune with our line of thinking,” says Bryn.

Working with Tony, Linda and Bryn came up with a design which – apart from a few minor tweaks – was approved by the planners first time. Bryn explains: “We were even able to compromise on some of the materials being used. For example, we were allowed windows from Andersen that were clad in PVCu on the outside, but wood on the inside. We were also able to build extra bedrooms using the attic space, and install Spanish rather than Welsh slate.”

The next challenge was to find a builder. Linda and Bryn, with the help of Tony, put out to tender for a building company and settled upon Andrew Hodgson and his company Town & Counties Builders. He was to be involved in the whole of the build apart from the stairs and the kitchen: Linda and Bryn wanted to use specialists for these two projects. They contracted Woodside Joinery to make and fit a fabulous wooden staircase, and a local kitchen company, Room for Living, to fit the kitchen.

With planning permission granted and a building company on board, work finally started on the plot in a rather stop-start fashion in the August of the year after they bought the plot. To begin with, a large barn built out of stone and blocks and a corrugated roof needed to be taken down and levelled off. Then, before the real construction work could begin, the Mileses had to organise an archaeological dig on the plot. “Roman remains had been found in the area,” explains Byrn. “There had been a Roman fort in Cowbridge, located just two miles away.”

The couple arranged the dig with the help of Andrew. Nothing was found – luckily – so builders moved in to start digging for the foundations of the Miles’ new house. Progress, however, was short-lived: the builders discovered a sewerage pipe running through the centre of the plot. “It had not shown up on any of the searches so we asked our solicitor about it,” Linda says. “We were advised to ignore it and continue. Not happy with this advice we wrote to Welsh Water, who confirmed that the pipe was still being used and should have shown up if the proper searches had been carried out. The result was that the sewerage pipe had to be diverted at a cost of £10,000. We had to finance this cost.”

Thankfully there were no other problems with the build and work continued smoothly. Andrew project managed the build leaving Linda and Byrn to focus on what they wanted to do to the interior of their property. With six teenage children in the household, space was very much an issue. They wanted the new house to have lots of storage and feel light and airy.

Working with their architect, Linda and Bryn came up with a very organised interior design scheme. Although the planners had been quite specific about the exterior of the property, the couple had free rein on the interior of their home. “We were lucky enough to be able to buy all new furniture and fittings,” says Linda. “This allowed us to choose contemporary styles – a complete contrast to what we had at the old house.”

When the build started the family were living in a four bedroom house in nearby Llantwit Major. It was their intention to stay there until the build was complete. However, with a booming housing market the couple accepted an offer on the house which they simply could not refuse. The family sold up and moved into rented accommodation for the rest of the build. The proceeds of the sale were used to help finance the build and purchase new furniture, fixtures and fittings.

When the family moved into their new house in April of the following year, it was not quite finished. It was habitable with power and water, but there was no kitchen and no staircase. Linda chuckles, “It was a case of having to use ladders to get to the bedrooms and eating lots of takeaways for about six weeks!” In addition, the house was not decorated. Bryn took on the task of painting and decorating all of the rooms. It took him about 18 months to finish.

Linda and Bryn love their new home and are very happy that they decided to use an architect and a building firm. “We were really pleased with the speed of the project. Putting it out to tender meant that having one contractor doing everything was much quicker than trying to project manage everything ourselves.”

Conservation Areas

A Conservation Area is a locality that has been given protected status in order to ensure that its special architectural or historic interest is safeguarded. Unlike listed status, which serves to protect specific buildings, a Conservation Area protects the area as a whole, and in addition to residential properties, can include the historic layout of roads, paths and boundaries; characteristic building and paving materials; a particular ‘mix’ of building uses; public and private spaces, such as gardens, parks and greens; and trees and street furniture. More than 8,000 Conservation Areas have been designated in the UK by local authorities, who can exert extra control over demolition, minor developments and the protection of trees. The designation does not prevent development from taking place, but does require that any new properties preserve or enhance the historic character of the area, for example by ensuring that the buildings are of a high-quality design and sensitive to the vernacular. Conservation Area status also removes some of the Permitted Development (PD) rights that apply in undesignated areas.

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