As I mentioned in last month’s column, my wife Sarah and I can’t be accused of rushing into our project, as we find ourselves some 18 months into the renovation and extension of our 1960s house in the Staffordshire countryside and yet to start on site. No guns blazing — all corners definitely left uncut.

During my 12 years as Editor of this magazine I’ve seen hundreds of projects threatened and many more never reach their full potential due to a misplaced desire to shorten and scrimp on the design process. So we were determined to make sure that this, our family home for the foreseeable future, would be everything we wanted — at least within the scope of our budget.

hand drawn site plans for planning permission application

Planning Permission Drawings: Designer Pete Tonks produced hand-drawn plans of the proposed house and plot to submit to Jason’s local planners — presentation is an important part of the planning application

In terms of planning permission, this was a difficult one to weigh up. There was a part of me that had a very gung-ho attitude. After all, this was the terminal ugly duckling house in a prominent position in a Conservation Area within a historic village. What could we actually do that wouldn’t preserve or enhance the house? Surely any right-minded planning officer would welcome even the most basic of improvements?

On the other hand, there were the planning officers. I’ve heard all too many stories over the years of simpleton planning officers refusing to grant approval for something that stands up in design terms without any discourse to reason. Sure, it could be reversed on appeal, but even so, planning is unpredictable — all too often relying on personalities and emotion.

With that in mind, my first designer (I have used three in total to come up with the final design) Pete Tonks and I used the planning permission ‘rulebook’. One of Pete’s many strengths is his ability to produce beautiful hand-drawn plans of a scheme, which I’m convinced make a difference (presentation being an important part of an application).

We engaged with the local authority for formal pre-application advice, which came back with broad support for the modern scheme but a few rather left-field recommendations: including the re-siting of some garaging to be set back further from the road and, somewhat surprisingly, a bat survey. I managed to argue against this on the basis that the only building we were demolishing was a large flat roof garage. (The planning officer seemed somewhat apologetic and suggested they tend to ‘put them in’ as a matter of course, so if you’re in a similar position it’s worth questioning.)

hand drawn plans of the outbuilding and garage

The New Outbuilding: Following pre-application advice, it was recommended that the replacement outbuilding (above) sit slightly further back from the road. The outbuilding will house the garaging, biomass boiler, store and studio

Pre-app advice considered, Pete and I produced a full heritage statement, photographing and documenting the varied approach to new development in the village, concentrating particularly on the use of materials. Our mission was to create a modern home which was contextualised by the use of traditional, hopefully locally sourced materials.

The house is on the southern edge of the Peak District but the village itself is a typical Staffordshire village dominated by iron-heavy red bricks — and of course the famous Staffordshire blues. I wanted to have my cake and eat it, and we eventually opted for a mix of light sandstone drystone-effect walling with a hidden mortar, handmade bricks and timber cladding. All high-quality, natural materials.

I had even presented our scheme to the local parish council. In my head I was expecting to have to deliver a Churchillian speech to win the backing of a throng of angry locals: the reality was two bemused local councillors who seemed pleasantly surprised anyone had bothered but couldn’t quite work out why. It was all over in five minutes and they ‘permitted’ the application. I genuinely wanted to explain to the community what we were doing but, as with many things in life, your own life is largely only of interest to yourself.

Eight weeks later, planning permission was granted with no objections, just two conditions: a foundation detail for the new outbuilding, as it was near a tree, and full details on the external materials before commencement. On reflection, it is wise to play by the rulebook.

Next month: Going out to tender


    Hi Jason,

    Thank you for sharing. We have learned a lot from you article and from this excellent website. We are just in the beginning of buying a plot and pre application for planning permission. You mentioned ‘ rulebook’ at the end of your article, I have googled it, but I could not find this book, Can I ask where we can buy it or download it? Thank you in advance.


    Tina and Mark

  • mark osborne

    Ha ha ha…no, please stop, you are killing me…….

    “To play by the rule book” or “playing by the rules” is an expression not to be taken literally!!



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