Planning Approval Down, Conditions To Go

We’ve had our second planning application in the system since mid December. Our first application was in May and the main reason for the delay between these was negotiating with Highways over the new vehicle access and parking to our existing farmhouse. (The existing access and parking falls within the new-build plot.) This delay was due to a combination of us being new to this and not understanding the rules to this bureaucratic game, and the highways engineer being just totally disorganised. Very frustrating and annoying for us, but what can you do?

We have been checking the LPA website most days. The acceptance Notice of Decision was posted on the Thurs 12th (also the expiry date for our application). Hurrah! On the following Monday, I rang our planner to ask a few follow up Qs, and got an answer phone message that the 13th was his last day and he’d left the LPA. Arggggghhhh!! – I felt like I had just walked out of the front door to a building only to have the ceiling collapse behind me; not because of any loss (even though we like the guy), but more the idea of our having to change the planner that we’d been negotiating with at such a critical stage in the process.

Having compared our NoD to others that have been recently posted on the LPA website, it seems broadly typical. A lot of the conditions are defensive measures on the part of the LPA to give them mechanisms to enforce the application should a builder try it on. We had six pre-commencement decisions for details to be agreed: three relating to the stone and slate of the outer skin and the access onto the highway; one on surveyed levels for the existing and proposed ground levels, floor levels, eaves and ridge heights in relation to adjacent buildings; one on the planting plan and one on an archaeological survey.

The planting plan one was silly but easy to fix: we’d already provided one in our application, but it wasn’t in the format that they liked, so we essentially had to represent the planting scheme as a marked-up site plan with lots of text boxes and arrows, rather than a figure and a couple of pages of text.

IMO, the archaeological survey requirement is both silly and capricious. Apparently a survey ½ mile away below the village uncovered some Roman/Iron Age finds in 2010. So we now have to dig a survey strip across our 14.5m wide plot under the supervision of a qualified archaeologist; get him to write this up and file it before we can start our foundations. There have been 5 full infill development with permission granted in the village since 2010; none of the other four had a survey condition, despite 3 being closer to the previous site and ours being the only one that had previously contained (Victorian / Edwardian) farm outbuildings; the others were green field / garden. We also dozed the site down to the virgin clay 25 years ago to lay a tarmac drive so I don’t think that it will yield anything more than the odd Victorian bottle shard. However, the cost and time impact of appealing this condition will probably be more than the cost of gritting our teeth and doing it – as I said to Jan, at least we don’t have Newts!!

We have six conditions before specified phases of work; for example they want to agree the paint (which must be white or off white) that we will use for exterior paintwork. I would class these as mostly stupid / annoying, and the LPA having a dose of Big Brother complex. We have another 3 conditions before occupation / use. So overall we can live with all of these, but even if we were to ignore their petty ones (e.g. the colour of paintwork, there’s no way that the LPA would realistically issue an enforcement notice (the village falls into a category the LPA classify as “modestly sustainable”), so why bother attempting this level of minutiae control?

However, overall I think that the LPA provided a good and effective service. Two of our neighbours strongly objected to having a house built beyond the bottom of their gardens, but the planner agreed with us that what we were proposing was the best compromise given that it provided a reasonably sized infill dwelling that would fit well within the village. We’ll just have to be careful about one of these neighbours during the build itself; I suspect that he’ll be complaining to the enforcement officer about anything that he possibly can – which is a pity because I’d prefer to stay on good terms with neighbours and do a bit of give and take where practical.

So upwards and onwards. The main issue for us here is now to reach the necessary agreements without this taking another 3 months off our timelines.

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