A picture of a pencil with the words "Planning Matters".

Planning problems

Our client had waited since last November to go in for planning, and eventually after a redesign and new application, the client was invited to go to a planning committee meeting. At the meeting, he had to sit outside the room as there wasn’t enough space for him and they didn’t hear what he had to say because there wasn’t time.

It’s such a shame that things like this can happen because Milton Keynes planning department have improved so much when it comes to smaller ‘run-of-the-mill’ applications such as extensions for example, but when it comes to anything involving new housing, infill or listed buildings it seems much more arduous.

This is what Building Tectonics do, we deal with this sort of application and process all of the time, but with a 96% success rate in the smaller works applications, we usually get there in the end.

Success rate

One of the first things new clients ask us is how successful we are at getting planning approvals.

Other new clients can sometimes come to us because they have been clever enough to check out the planning permission success rates of architects, and architectural consultants in Milton Keynes themselves. When they do, they can see that our success rate is pretty good, and probably better than the competition.

One of our new clients had really done their homework – they told us that over the past 7 years, 96% of our domestic clients who have instructed us to apply for planning permission received a planning approval. Yes, 96%! Even we were astonished when we found out. You may be forgiven for thinking that we must only take on the easy projects, or that all of our projects are hidden away in back gardens, but no. We design quite a few front extensions for instance, and in some cases, other practices have tried and failed to obtain planning permission before us.

So what’s the secret?

Quite honestly, we do not know. It is not because Milton Keynes council are a pushover as they can be as picky as the next council, but we think it is partially because we put our schemes together with care.

Occasionally, we tell clients that what they are asking for is likely to be controversial and we try to steer them towards something more acceptable, we are pleased to say that in most cases they listen. Most clients are reasonable, and so usually with a little compromise we can successfully guide them through the process. It is important to us that what we do looks good, whether it is a back extension, a side extension, a side extension, a front extension or a dormer window. Basically, a bit of care with the design clearly pays off.

96 percent success rate

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Article 4 Directions

Article 4 directions are issued by the council where specific control is needed, for example, places where new developments could threaten the overall character of the area, especially if it is an area which has been deemed to be of some importance, historically or otherwise. For this reason, you would see them applied to conservation areas more commonly.

The effect that this type of direction has on the area is to remove permitted development rights, so that you have to obtain full planning permissions from the local authorities before you can begin any building work. Article 4 directions are never are never put into place without being very carefully considered first. This is because the council may have to pay compensation to people who are looking to get any work done on their property, but were denied the planning permission to do so, who would otherwise have been able to do it under the permitted development rights.

These can increase the public protection of old buildings, buildings of interest and their settings. They are not necessary for works to listed buildings and scheduled monuments,, as listed building consent would cover all of the potential harmful works which would otherwise be allowed due to permitted development. They can, however, assist in the protection of all other heritage assets (especially conservation areas) and help with the protection of the setting of all heritage assets, including listed buildings. The aim of these directions is to secure the protection of high quality architectural features on buildings, and to control small scale works that may be of little concern elsewhere, but that would have a considerable impact on an area of special architectural and historic interest.

People who live in a conservation area which is covered by an article 4 direction will be notified by the council when such an order is introduced. When an article 4 direction is put into place, it does not necessarily prevent all alterations to the exterior of your property, however, it does ensure that proposed changes are in accordance with the objective of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of the conservation area.

In Milton Keynes, there are currently two areas which have article 4 directions issued to them – they are Olney conservation area and Wolverton conservation area.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Design and access statements, what are they?

Design and access statements are documents which explain the thoughts behind the designs for a new planning application. They are submitted as well as the application which is made public for anyone to see, and so they should avoid any jargon or using very technical language. It is very important that they are written specifically  for the application which they are accompanying.

The statement should include a written description and justification of the planning application, sometimes photos, maps may need to be added as supplementary information to clearly illustrate the points made.  They don’t need to be very long, but they should be long enough that the included details reflect how complex the project is, therefore, a statement for a major development would be longer than one for a singular building.

The document itself should include a brief description of the process which brought you to the scheme which you are submitting. This should include the thinking process behind each of the following points:

  • Use – What the development will be used for.
  • Amount – How much is being built on-site.
  • Layout – How the building(s) and private space will be arranged on-site, and the relationships between those and the existing buildings around the site.
  • Scale – How big the building(s) will be (height, width and length are all included).
  • Landscaping – How open spaces will be treated to enhance and protect the character of a place.
  • Appearance – What the development will look like. (E.g. materials, detail etc.).
  • Access – The statement should include two possible aspects of entrance.
  • Transport links – Why the access points shown have been chosen.
  • Inclusive access – How everyone can get to, and move through the place equally regardless of age, disability, ethnicity or social grouping.

The rules for outline applications changed so that they must include a minimum amount of detail on:

  • What the building(s) will be used for
  • How many building(s) there will be
  • Roughly, how they will be laid out
  • Minimum and maximum building sizes
  • Where entrances to the site will be.

They should also include some information about how having the development can create accessible and safe environments, including addressing crime and disorder and fear of crime. They can include more information than the brief description given here, if the applicant believes that the extra information is also relevant.

In short, statements accompany an application but they’re not apart of it, they should explain and justify what is being applied for and this statement should set out the aims for the whole design, even if some details still need to be drawn up.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Listed buildings…What are you talking about?

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We have written about listed buildings before, and so I thought it was about time we explained what they actually are, in case you do not already know.

Listed buildings in the UK are buildings which have been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic interest, there are just over 500,000 buildings in the UK to which this applies.

A listed building cannot be demolished, extended or altered  without getting special permissions given by the local planning authority. Only certain churches are exempt from this, but in any case the church organisation will operate its own permissions procedure. The particular permission which is required for a Listed Building is Listed Building Consent, and is in addition to Planning Permission and Building Regulation Approval that will probably be needed too. Usually Listed Building Consent is given (or refused) by a Historic Building Department, and this is more often than not, part of the Planning Department within a councils organizational structure. However,  it is not uncommon for the Planning Department to give an approval but the Historic Building Department to refuse (or visa versa).

This list is made up of buildings which are from the 1700’s or beforehand and are still near their original state ,or have been altered over the years in a way that is thought to be exceptional or instructive, take, for example Bedford Castle which got its first mention in 1138 (that doesn’t mean that it did not exist before 1138, it may well have for all we know, that’s just when it was first mentioned in writing).  It is not only buildings which are included in this list though, bridges, monuments and statues can also be included. Any post 1945 buildings have to be of exceptional interest to the nation to be listed. The Milton Keynes shopping centre is an example of a modern listed building, this is because its exceptional nature (love it or hate it, you have to admit it is unusual) and some wartime “pill boxes” would you believe have also been listed, in their case because it is excepted that as time goes by, they will be lost or altered and so some should be conserved for future generations to see.

There are three grades of listed building, and they are as follows:

  1. Grade 1 – Grade 1 listed buildings are buildings of exceptional interest, sometimes they’re considered to be internationally interesting. Only around 2.5% of listed buildings are grade 1.
  2. Grade 2* (note the star) – These buildings are particularly important buildings of more than special interest. Around 5.5% of listed buildings are listed as grade 2*.
  3. Grade 2 – These are nationally import and of special interest, around 92% of listed buildings are grade 2, this is the most likely grade for residential buildings.

I hope this brief explanation has helped you to understand a little about listed buildings and when you hear architects and planners use this term you will, hopefully,have a better idea as to what they’re talking about.

Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Blogging Guru.

Retrospective Approval for Planning & Building Regulations

We have been asked to deal with more than the usual number of Retrospective Planning and Building Regulation Applications. One of the reasons for not making the requisite application is that the lay person sometimes does not understand that for many projects there are two types of approval required, namely Planning Permission and Building Regulation Approval. Simply put, Planning is all about the use to which a building is put and how it looks, Building Regulations is about structural issues, heat loss and drainage etc.

However for some projects, only a Planning Application is needed and for others, only a Building Regulation Application is required. Some clients do genuinely get confused and when told they do not need to make a Planning Application they assume they do not need to make a Building Regulation Application either. Having said that, some people probably use that as an excuse and hope to get away with it. Burying your head in the sand is not a good idea, especially when it is mixed with cement and water.

Having said that, the main reason for the growth in this type of work appears to be caused by builders who miss advise their clients, possibly sometimes because they need the work now and want to get on with it, without the delay that following the proper procedure would cause.

We regularly have to make Retrospective Applications for conservatories where the client has been advised by the conservatory company that Planning is not required. For conservatories it is usually true but not always and some conservatory companies are not very vigorous at checking. It is a very unpleasant surprise for a home owner to answer the door to a Planning Enforcement Officer and be told that an application has to be made and even worse, that it may not be approved.

Planning is a very blunt instrument and the building work is either acceptable or not and if the application is refused and an appeal is dismissed you will have to demolish the building work. Fines and ultimately jail will result if you refuse. This can seem very harsh especially when the contentious building may look fine to some but unacceptable to others.

The situation with Building Regulation is different in that you can nearly always find a solution to a problem building. This is because you are trying to solve a technical issue and generally, every one involved is working to find a solution. The difficulty for us is that we often do not know what the builder did, we do not know what materials he used or the size of the timber joist he used or how he fixed two components together. Unfortunately the only option sometime is to cut open the work, which is a terrible shame when the work is satisfactory.

If you should find yourself with any of the above problems please contact us at Building Tectonics to discuss the particulars of the case. We have over the years dealt with a very broad range of issues.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Permitted Development

In brief, Permitted Development is that work that you can carry out to your house without requiring Planning Permission.  The rules changed the other year and was heralded with a fanfare by Governments as a new simplified set of rules that would result in fewer Planning Applications. Oh yer!  I can tell you that our very first project under the new regime needed Planning Permission but it would not have done under the old set of rules.  However that is not the worst of it.  As complicated as the old rules were, we ( those working in the field) were familiar with them and there had been many test cases to iron out the anomalies and help clarify matters.  What we are dealing with now is a very sloppy piece of legal drafting that is being interpreted by one planning authority in one way and another in another way.

Building Tectonics advises that the Local Planning Department should always be consulted to see if Planning Permission is required.  We nearly always do this because in addition to the vagaries of the new rules, a planning authority can apply to have your Permitted development Rights removed.  This is done where the local authority believes an area is special, and the public cannot be trusted to build with taste and sensitivity.

Central Government advice actually encourages applicants to make a pre-planning enquiry, as we do, and most local authorities.  However some Planning Authorities are now charging for this consultation which is a bit rich and I believe deplorable.  In these cash struck times we may see more councils doing this.  It goes against the spirit of things and we should harrang Central Government to stop this.

As a summary I would repeat that Permitted Development is that which can be done without Planning Permission.  Lastly I would like to stress that just because you need Planning Permission does not mean you will not get it.  I have had clients that have gone to great lengths to come up with a design that can be built under Permitted Development and yet a much better approach would have been to design a much nicer extension that would require Planning Permission.  In most cases a well designed extension will obtain approval.

Please also remember that building Regulation Approval is an entirely different thing and is not affected by any on the above, so this separate approval will probably be needed anyway.

Happy building.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Planning Permission and Building Regulations

Planning Permission and Building Regulations
It is apparent that many clients and potential clients confuse Planning Permission and Building Regulation Approval.  What I am about to explain is not intended to be definitive or comprehensive but only a rough guide to a subject that many find unfathomable.

Planning.
Very roughly the Planning Department is concerned with the use to what the building or land is put, ie is the building or land a shop or a house for instance. This is because it may be undesirable to have a noisy factory, or a business with many customers creating a parking issue, in the middle of a housing estate. The other issue that concerns Planners is what will the building will look like. They use terms like massing, style and scale, all terms effectively relating to how the building relates to other nearby buildings or the building you are trying to extend. Very simply for most of Building Tectonics work these are the sort of issues that we have to talk to the Planning Department about.

Building Regulations.
Building Regulations started off as mandatory building codes to ensure the safety and well-being of people using a building. Simple examples would include structural stability and damp penetration. This is still at the core of the Building Regulations but they are now also used to implement Central Government policy regarding heat loss and disabled access. Think of Building Regulations as the technical standards you have to achieve.

This is of course very simplistic and one could list many examples that contradict the above.

We have had many clients including professional people such as solicitors who have not had a grasp that there are these two regulatory areas and even though Building Tectonics will deal with these two aspects for a client, they still have to be aware that both types of approvals are required – unless the work is exempt of course. Now, this issue of whether the work is exempt or not also requires an understanding of the two areas because the work may be exempt from one but not the other.

I will blog again on Planning matters and Building Regulations but in the meantime I hope the above is useful.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.