The Old Forge re-development is an exciting new project I am just embarking upon, but before I give you more details dear reader, indulge me if you will, in painting you a picture of my self build story thus far.
I’ve wanted to build my own house for as long as I can remember. When I was four years old my parents moved down to Cornwall from Yorkshire and bought a plot of land which my father proceeded to build our family home on. I guess you could say I started my self build aspirations then, at the tender age of four, as I ”helped” my dad on the site; constantly pestering, asking questions and generally getting underfoot and in the way. Despite having no construction experience what-so-ever and despite my constant ”help” he successfully built a substantial home for the family which we lived in for nearly 30 years. What an inspiration. Twenty six years after my dad built our first home I finally got the opportunity to build mine.
I’d been dreaming of building my own house for years, I actually saw it as the only affordable way to get on the housing ladder. House prices were booming, especially down in Cornwall and the amount of deposit needed to get a mortgage even on a fairly basic starter home was substantial. Furthermore I just couldn’t see myself living in any of the houses that I’d looked at. All I wanted to do was build my own house, to my own design and to my own desired level of finish but I couldn’t find a way of doing it. I’d been looking for a plot of land for about two years whilst renting a small one bedroom flat but frustratingly to no avail. Plots are incredibly rare and finding one for the right price, in the right location with planning permission was proving to be impossible. If you are reading this and currently in the process of looking for a plot I wish you the best of luck and can sympathise with your shear-hair-pulling-out frustration entirely! After two years of scouring right move twice a day, near misses, fruitless searches and envious Grand Designs watching I was at the end of my tether and ready to throw in the towel but luckily things were about to take a turn for the better.
I returned home one summer evening to find my dad mowing his sizeable lawn after having trimmed the trees and hedges back. “I say, Ash, I reckon you could get a th’ouse in down here” he said in his faint but stubbornly lingering Northern twang. “I don’t think so” I guffawed with my usual know-it-all confidence, “It’s tiny”. By the next morning, having been up all night thinking about getting “a th’ouse” in I had steeled my resolve to eat a generous helping of humble pie, negotiate with dad and apply for planning permission to build in his garden.
I couldn’t afford an architect so I did some sketches myself, knowing what I wanted, and submitted a ”pre-application” enquiry to the local council. This allows you to ”sus out” the council as to their thoughts on your proposal without incurring too much in the way of costs. Alas, the planners were just not keen, no matter how I tried to negotiate with them. They just did not want me to build on this site, despite, at the time, garden sites being encouraged by the government.
Undeterred, and stubbornly refusing to give up on my dream which I felt was within grabbing distance, I applied for full planning permission to build a small cottage style house, despite the fact the planners had told me it would not be looked upon favourably. Sure enough, what seemed like an eternity later (months!) the decision came back – my application had been refused. Reading through the lengthy document that came back I felt I had been cheated of my dream, their policies just didn’t seem to add up, some contradicted others and other applications within the area had been granted permission despite falling foul of some of the same policies that my application had been refused for. Why had my application been refused when other, similar applications were being passed? The only option left to me was to appeal the decision of the local council to the planning inspectorate but, out of funds, I would have to tackle this complicated process on my own rather than employ a planning consultant or architect to do it for me. My chances were slim to none I thought, but I had nothing to lose so I went for it.
I remember the moment precisely, I returned home from work to a pile of mail on the doormat, some junk and one official looking letter. I didn’t know what it was until I opened it but as I did so I realised, it was from the planning inspectorate. As I read down the page, past the address at the top, past the date, past the reference numbers there it was, in bold ”Decision”. And below: ”1. I allow the appeal and grant planning permission for the construction of a detached two bedroom cottage in the grounds of…”. I ALLOW THE APPEAL! I couldn’t believe it, I must have read it a dozen times before it sank in and I was on the phone to my dad to tell him. It felt like it such a huge victory for me, but little did I know the biggest battle was to come… building the damn thing!
But that was 4 years ago and another story. With conflicting emotions I sold Candles Cottage last year and have been renting a little place whilst starting the whole process again… looking for another plot to continue my self build dream and build another home.
Three months ago I found it, a modest sized, disused industrial building in a little village next to a grade 1 listed church and in a conservation area but with planning permission to demolish the existing workshop and replace it with a detached 3 bedroom cottage – The Old Forge. In terms of size, price, design and location it’s perfect, exactly what I was looking for but it’s not going to be without its challenges – being in a conservation area and next to the village church there are a number of planning conditions attached to the approval. Rather than see these as a negative I’m viewing them as a positive, it’ll make the project challenging but also interesting and ultimately, as it’s exactly what I want and such a rare opportunity, worth all the hard work. I consider myself very lucky to be embarking on my second of hopefully many self builds.
Over the next few months I’ll be updating you on my progress with The Old Forge and the trials and tribulations of self building. I hope you find it as interesting as I do!
”When one has finished building one’s house, one suddenly realizes that in the process one has learned something that one really needed to know in the worst way – before one began.”