A simple planning application becomes more complicated
People skills, planning knowledge and design flexibility, are required to overcome it.
This case study is very simple, but it did result in an unexpected issue that needed to be resolved. I’ve included it as a first post about the planning system because I think it more useful, and more interesting, to describe the sort of things that actually happen in practice, rather than talk about theory.
The communication and interaction between the parties involved is the thing that I want to emphasise, rather than the design of the project itself. I have included a summary of the email correspondence at the end of the post.
The project was a small single-storey L-shaped extension to a house in a suburban location. The proposal replaced an earlier single-storey extension and conservatory on the same footprint.
The clients wanted to replace the existing extension and conservatory with something more contemporary in nature. This was intended to improve the external appearance and provide much better internal accommodation.
We had decided not to attempt to match the facing brick of the original house, and the choice of timber cladding was a client preference.
Existing high hedges and fencing meant that the extension was well screened from the road.
The simple solution was drawn up and submitted for planning, which was to be determined under delegated powers* (see note below) within 8 weeks.
The Local Planning Authority (LPA) was short-staffed and, as a result, a planning officer was not allocated to the application until the last week of the determination period. The clients were away on holiday at this time.
I received an email from the planning officer which contained the following comments (in a single paragraph):
‘The proposed single-storey extension would feature a flat-roof. Whilst a flat-roof extension may be acceptable at single-storey level, by reason of its height and the use of different materials and fenestration to the existing dwellinghouse, the extension would look out of keeping at this corner site. The proposal would sit awkwardly against the building and whilst the height of the extension is only approx. 3.1m, it would appear to meet the dwellinghouse at an unusually high height for a flat-roofed extension between the first-floor windows. This results in an extension that does not appear as subordinate and, given the proposed materials and box-design, it would look bulky against the dwellinghouse. Given there are no shared features between the proposed extension and the dwellinghouse, the two do not merge sympathetically. Its height and bulk would also appear cramped in relation to the garage building. Further, whilst the proposal is for a rear extension, the application site sits on a corner plot and the extension would be visible from public vantage points and could be viewed within the street scene. Given this, it is important to note that there are no extensions or modern designs/ materials used in the vicinity of the site’.
At first glance, the comments seemed negative, and you might think that there would be no hope of obtaining permission. But from previous experience, I felt it best to regard them as indicating there was an issue, even though I couldn’t be sure what, exactly, was the cause of the problem.
I didn’t want to forward the planning officer’s email to the clients because I felt it would sound too alarming at this stage.
So I replied to the planning officer stating my position and attempting to push back on her comments. But I also said that I wanted to work with her to sort it out, and I suggested a couple of potential changes that might be made subject to the client being in agreement. My main point was to make it clear that if the timber cladding were the real cause of the problem, then we would look at other possibilities. Render seemed like a good alternative as there was plenty of precedent for that material in the area.
The planning officer indicated that changing the facing material to render would be sufficient to overcome the issues. This may sound surprising given that she had commented negatively on a host of other things!
I put the suggested change of material to the client, and they accepted. Although we both noted that they didn’t have much choice in the matter. Fortunately, they were equally happy with a rendered solution.
In addition to designing projects, an architect’s role also includes the need to obtain planning permission for them. The ability to achieve consent is an important skill which needs to be developed, particularly for more complex or sensitive situations.
Even this simple case study illustrates some key issues:
- Like other professions, planners have a unique language which needs to be understood.
- Helping clients through the planning process is clearly important but not always straightforward.
- Planning knowledge is required in order to understand the real problem.
- Developing relationships with planners is vital in achieving the best outcome.
- Negotiation is involved and this requires some give and take.