Notification of Householder Prior Approval

So far I have made two applications for larger permitted extensions. The first raised an objection from a neighbour. The planning officer came round (hi Kerry!) to see if the scheme would be compliant with current planning policy, but it fell foul of the neighbour’s right to light guidance. It was a 3.6m rear extension – 3.0m would have passed under normal PD rules, but not this. You can have as many free goes as you want and the neighbour is set to move, so we will take another shot at the title when the champ retires (sort of).

Larger permitted development application number 2 is a happier tale. We sent off the information on the 17th of September and today we got this:

Prior Approval

So the process takes one month, but one detail you might notice is that the work must be finished on site by 30th May 2016. If you allow twelve weeks on site and four weeks for determination, then if you are making your application after January 2016, you better have your contractor ready to start, with a price, when that letter drops on your doormat (or bleeps into your inbox).

Down down deeper and down

I am looking at a basement scheme for a client. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a scheme with a lot of potential – 30m2 of it to be precise, but if you are thinking of a basement scheme the first question you need to answer is “how much will this cost?”. To help find out the answer I have drawn up a sketch scheme and me and the builder will go round on Tuesday after school to have a look. Compared to going up, going down is very expensive and the first cost to establish is what will it cost to move the muck? I am guessing about £250 per cubic meter. We need to move about 26m3, so that should be about £6.5K. Sounds like a lot of money for a man with a barrow and a skip – but there’s a little bit more to it than that. The experts will explain it all to me next week. *For those watching at home, don’t forget the cost of the build as well!

Sk05 Section scheme B

Ship’s log Monday 30th September 13

No article today, although I am hoping to do some more on the arts and crafts houses all around us. The fact is, this is a rush week. The 1925 house is on site and the contractor needs information and there are building control conditions to discharge. An enquiry I thought I had lost has come back to me and I have an instruction to make a cautious start on a small extension. Just to explain: a job or a project is work for a client that has an agreed fee and a known brief.

An enquiry is an approach from a client that does not have an agreed fee and usually no agreed brief. What makes an enquiry into a project is the acceptance of a fee proposal, showing the project brief and the fee.

The brief, at it’s simplest, is a description of the client’s needs. For example, they may need a bigger kitchen, a family room or another bedroom. Without a brief it is pretty hard for me to deliver something useful that I can send an invoice for.

There is usually some work involved with an enquiry but the mission from my perspective is to determine what the brief might be and to propose a fee, even if it is just for a feasibility study to see what the possibilities might be. Some enquiries come to me where the client knows exactly what they want – others are looking for ideas. What I definitely want to avoid is getting into a situation where I find myself working on a scheme where there are no good ideas. A good example would be where the spatial solution will never get planning permission, or where the size or location of the property would make investment in it unprofitable. Another example is where the client does not know what they want – there is no brief. So it is very worthwhile for me to take a little time at the beginning to have a good look at the site and to try to talk to the client about the ideas. Sometimes the answers are readily apparent – a straightforward project that shows clear benefits. Sometimes the client might be better moving on. It also happens that the client has ideas that are good, but there are identifiable risks – planning restrictions and costs being the main ones. In these cases the risk is both mine and the client’s. Although it is her money, I definitely don’t want to be in the situation that we have chased a project down the road and come back with no viable solutions.

So that is a little bit about the brief, now that hard part – the money. What a wonderful world it must be for architects that don’t need money. Working endless hours on competitions, preparing great visuals, picking projects for their ethical or artistic value, whether build-able or not. Not so great for the client however, as they wait around for the drawings, or worse, go ahead with ambitious projects that might not work out for them the way they intended. Maybe you have seen some of these buildings. They are usually large and sometimes brightly coloured.

When I talk to a client about money, of course I am trying to win the work when the project looks good. But for some reason it is quite hard to explain to the client what the costs are and to get the fee right. In particular I need to be able to determine how much work I think the project will need – drawings, meetings, reports, letters, e-mails, permissions – and how long it will take me. But when preparing the fee there are two risks facing me – that I might take on the job and run a loss or that I might price to high and lose the work. So it is in construction. The contractors who tender for my clients face the same risks and it is good for the client to know that the prices are keen, but also to understand that the fee bids are made on an equal basis. I recently lost a job to a very low bidder but I do wonder what work the client was being offered in terms of service. In my fees I show the fees for the stages – outline design, planning, construction information including regulatory approval and tender and contract administration. Perhaps in future I will show two total sums – one for the full service, one for “planning and regs”. Professionally speaking I think that the client needs to understand the value of looking at the options at feasibility, having a proper tender process and a recognised construction contract supervised by an architect. I have the impression that it is very hard for my clients to understand this – they look at the bottom line and if it is above a certain figure, they just won’t. If the project is simple and the client has a builder on board from the start, maybe there is a way for me to protect the client’s interest and offer a shorter route to delivering the project. If the client then comes to the view that I can help them further then that might be the right solution, if they find a happy partnership with a trusted builder, then that’s good too.

A larger home extension

Since May the 30th this year, the rules governing what you can build onto your house without planning permission have changed. For a three year period, householders can make single storey rear extensions under permitted development rules twice the normal size. So for a terrace, you can extend back 6 metres, not 3, and for detached house you can go back 8 metres, not 4. That’s a lot of extension. In fact I expect very few people to go that far – more building means more money and as the house extends the inner parts of the house get further from the daylight and fresh air.

A01 Existing and Proposed site plan - Grange road

I wrote about changes to permitted development back in June and since then I have been looking for a job to try it out on. I worked on this scheme last year without being able to satisfy the planning officer or the client and now the rules have changed we will try again. I spoke to the planning officer and sent off this site plan, let’s see what comes back.

If you want to apply for Permitted Development – Larger Extensions here’s what to do: Fill in a form like this one and send it off together with a site location plan at 1:1250 (showing the direction of north, the names of two streets and the site outlined in red) and a site plan at 1:200 showing the proposed extension. Make sure you send it to your local authority directly, not to the planning portal – that is for planning permission only, but it has tons of useful information. Seems like a lot of information? You can get in touch with me right here and get some help with it all.

Although the six or eight metre allowance seems like a free-for-all, bear in mind that there are some significant restrictions to permitted development – it does not apply in Conservation Areas, like Moseley Conservation Area, or if your home is special enough to be listed. There are also restrictions on height, width, proximity to boundary, materials and overall size in relation to curtilage (the vacant land around your house). There are also special rules about the geometry of your extension if your house has a projecting wing at the rear – likely to be the narrow kitchen if your house is a Kings Heath terrace.

Birmingham City Council have a pretty tough line on rear extensions that try to fill in between the kitchen wing and the back living room, but permitted development lets people “get around” this prohibition because planning permission is not required. So for client’s looking for a kitchen that is the full width of their house, PD can give a legal route to build. In the case of this project on Grange Road, the client was looking for just this arrangement, and to have the  side return extension finish flush with the end of their house. The client gets a big kitchen, the previous living room becomes a dining area and the end of the house gets folding sliding doors. Very nice. But under the old rules the side return extension could only be 3m deep and the existing kitchen was 3.7m. The extra two feet four inches was not just a spatial problem, but a structural one. To open up the space we need steel beams of modest size, but beams must be straight and must be supported at either end. If the end of the house is not in a straight line, we get not one opening but two, with a support in the middle, so the open end of the house is lost and we get two medium sized openings instead of one big one. Not the same effect at all.

With the changes to PD we can now have the extra 70cms and the scheme is back in contention. Let’s see what they say, my client should be pretty happy if we get an approval.

One of the additional rules for larger extensions is the neighbour consultation scheme. This obliges the council (not the applicant) to notify all adjoining owners of the proposal, in case they wish to comment. What they do with these comments I don’t know – and if you are objecting to your neighbour’s proposal for an eight metre monster your rights are is not made clear. What is shown in the guidance however is the determination period, which is six weeks, and the minimum time for objections to be registered, which is three weeks. Reading the guidance it seems that the amenity to the adjoining owners is the main consideration and that the council will determine whether this is acceptable.

Dear Diary

There are usually two reasons why websites or blogs go all quiet. Thankfully the recent dry spell on KHA (if we can call it that) is for the second reason – the shop is so busy I haven’t found time to update it. In fact I am approaching the state that is small business nirvana – I have work to do now and work in the diary to do later – some of it much later. My customers are forming an orderly queue, like at a well known high street coffee shop.

Trying to plan the office workload is notoriously difficult for an architect. I might visit a client who is thinking of a big project and it leads nowhere, or I hear nothing for weeks – or months – then the client wishes to proceed at top speed.  When a project progresses smoothly, there is usually a body of work leading up to a planning application, followed by a wait of eight weeks or so for the council to give their determination before the construction information package gets underway. So it’s nice to be able to have one project slowly rising in the airing cupboard, one in the oven and another being kneaded on a floury counter top. But this is not so easy to do in practice!

I have drafted various charts and lists to try to sort out what we call the office work programme with some success, but at the end of the day new enquiries need attention, existing clients are eager to see their drawings and the mortgage needs to get paid. For all these reasons, the post this month has been a bit slow… Hope to give you the attention you deserve soon. Next week maybe?

The secret room

We step out from the kitchen, or take the French doors from the sitting room. A brick wall closes off the garden at the end of the existing kitchen to create a small yard. Through a door takes us into a tiny glass roofed room – which houses the washing machine and dryer. Through another door we enter a large garden room with full width sliding folding doors facing onto the garden.

A garden room on the end of the existing outbuildings on a narrow terrace house. Bi-fold doors open out on to the garden and a roof light brings in some sunshine. The existing out buildings are lined out to create a wet room with wc, wash basin and shower. A tiny glass roofed space can be used for the utilities that don’t fit into the existing kitchen. The whole is hidden from the house by a brick wall with a wooden door, like a secret room or route that leads to the garden room and garden.

The room can be used for dining, party or guest room – or just a hiding place with a book. Hidden room, secret place. Time for a fountain, tall box hedges and a statuary, peacocks on the lawn.

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I like to sketch out some rough ideas at client meetings in my notebook. I have added a little colour to this one in Photoshop. It shows the key ideas of the proposal in a very concise way, it is quick, personal and can be sent by email. The top drawing shows the loft plan with Velux roof light, winder stair and b for bathroom. The middle picture is a through the wall perspective showing the stair, dormer with large window and door to bathroom and finally the elevation at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Tomato Wollivar for his old scanner : -).