The search for the Holy Grail and the Lost Ark of the Covenant. Otherwise known as – Obtaining a Building Warrant & Finance

Architects and dogs are similar in many ways. Some long-haired. Some short-haired. Some very placid and gentle. Some inclined to bite your ar…er, ankles. That goes for the dogs too.

Therefore, with the precious planning permission in hand, it was time to embark upon the adventure of finding an architect to translate the planning vision into something which actually obeyed the laws of physics and Building Standards, (which are not always mutually exclusive) and which could be understood by a builder.

So, how to find an architect ? Personal recommendation or local knowledge is always good. There are also various websites such as : www.riba.co.uk , www.rias.co.uk and even some regional architect associations. However, being awkward, different and stubborn, I chose my own route.

I used the local authorities online building and planning systems to short list the architects who had the best records when it came to obtaining building warrants. The logic being, if they had successfully obtained building warrants for other clients, chances are they would have built up a working relationship with the Building Standards Officers and were therefore more likely to get my application passed quickly. It also helped that I had dealt with a few during the course of work.

I was also in a slightly different position to most people in that I only needed an architect to translate my design and obtain the building warrant. I did not need their services as project managers or site agents.

I narrowed my list down to five and sent off copies of my drawings to get some quotes. The results were interesting, with one apparently under the impression that he was the new Sir Norman Foster and was actually quoting for a penthouse in Chelsea. At least, that’s the only expanation I could think of for his astronomical quote. However, there were also realistic quotes, within budget. So, after further narrowing of the list, based on projects completed, establishment of practice, location of practice (you will generally be charged travelling expenses by your chosen architect) and the fact that they actually replied to e-mail and even sounded enthusiastic, I settled on one, Machin Associates, in Alloa and arranged for them carry out a site inspection.

Alan from Machin’s, duly arrived on the appointed day, on time and carried out his survey of the existing house. We went over my planning drawings and he could see no real problems getting the warrant other than the depth of foundations because of the sloping site, and the vaulted ceiling, which he advised may require a Structural Engineer. So, off he went with the planning drawings, photographs and other information. Two weeks later, I received PDF copies of the Building Warrant application drawings, closely followed by paper copies in the post. It was strange to see my imagination actually made into something that was structurally sound…..and it looked exactly the same.

Alan advised that an engineer would be required to design the roof structure, so he sent out for three quotes for that. The application was submitted to the council meantime. One week later, the quotes were in from the engineers. They were roughly similar but in the end my decision was made based on cost and the fact that the other two couldn’t spell my name properly or get the address correct. (Despite one of the engineers being located in the same town). My thinking being if they couldn’t get these minor details right, what about the important things ?

So, we were all set to go, right ? Er, not quite. The chosen engineers, Dryburgh Associates of Cowdenbeath, came back and advised that they needed two trial pits dug to expose the existing house foundations. Usually not a problem, except I knew how deep the foundations were and that this would require two pits, 1.80metres deep, dug by hand….in January. Joy.

Suitably wrapped up, we ventured out that Saturday morning and started digging…and digging…and digging. There was a point that I was sure I could hear “Waltzing Matilda” but put it down to tiredness. However, after 5 hours of digging, breaking through 6×2’s, discarded metal, bottles etc, we hit a bigger problem. A lump of concrete problem, 1.70metres down. Everything came to a halt. There was no way through it without serious machinery, so the engineers were contacted again. We were given the option to leave the trial pit until we started on site and the builder had exposed the foundations. After about 2 seconds deliberation, we decided to go with this option. There ended the trial pits.

In the meantime, the warrant application was progressing, with Alan making the necessary adjustments. Unfortunately, this process dragged on for a while and it was April 2009 before the warrant was finally granted, most of the delay being down to the engineers being short-staffed and over-worked. However, it was granted and there was much celebration.(background cheers).

Now, normally I would say “on to Part Four” but it’s more complicated than that.

Running concurrently with the Building Warrant application was the small matter of raising the finance. Enough to write a whole article about on its own. Never fear, I shall summarise.

After a brief discussion with my lender at that time (who happened to be Northern Rock), it became clear that they were not in the least bit interested. (I opened their reply letter and a tumbleweed blew out). So, I had to look at re-mortgaging elsewhere. I checked the internet, the High Street and all the usual avenues, however, sometimes the answer is right in front of you. It was a surprise to find, when visiting my bank for some other business and I happened to mention the mortgage search, that they were actually interested in helping. Immediately, they were keen on hearing more and a meeting was set up with the bank’s mortgage adviser. Within the hour, the finance was approved in principle. Job done.

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