Series following homeowners as they try to build extensions. This episode looks at getting permission for extensions for houses in a conservation area.
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Across the country, behind closed doors, we British are building.
We're building up, down, and out, to improve our homes.
To have this as a bigger space means I can have more people round,
and it just changes your day-to-day life.
But before we build, we need permission.
Permission from the planners.
A bunch of people dedicated to
protecting our public spaces and neighbourhoods.
We have had one objection to the proposal.
Yeah, feel quite grumpy really.
So, if you've ever wanted a bigger kitchen,
an extra bedroom or an en suite bathroom,
stand by it's time to...
Plan It, Built It.
Britain has beautiful buildings - Victorian terraces,
Georgian townhouses and even the odd medieval dwelling.
In fact, 20% of Britain's houses
were built before the end of the First World War.
A crucial part of every planner's job is protecting our heritage.
And it's not always easy.
Once you've lost that historic asset,
whether it be a building, window design, doors,
once they've gone it's so difficult to get them back.
So today we're looking at our historic buildings and spaces,
is it possible to extend or alter your home
if you live somewhere with special conservation status?
We will meet...
..a man determined to increase the size of his loft.
This room's no good for anything really
apart from a single bed and a baby.
And a couple with a great view, but a difficult problem.
One of them has to actually go outside to sleep.
And it's not just about adding space, it's also about adding value.
Getting planning permission is often financially crucial.
Back in the '60s, worried about over-development,
the Government introduced the concept of the Conservation area.
From zero in 1967,
there are now 9,300 of these dotted across the nation.
If you don't protect a conservation area, the character's going to erode.
There will be so many different alterations that it
looses its value, its historic value, its social value,
its reason for being a conservation area.
One of these protected areas lies in
the little known London suburb of Nunhead.
Much of it was heavily bombed during the war,
but one small pocket emerged unscathed - Nunhead Green.
The charming, neat rows of Victorian terraces
and quiet streets make this the perfect place for young families
and first-time buyers with an eye for a bargain.
And what a bargain!
You'll pay around 550 grand for a three-bed house here,
which is an eye watering 150 grand cheaper than a similar house
in neighbouring East Dulwich.
So, who has the task of defending the character of
Nunhead's historic buildings?
Meet Southwark council's, Alex Cameron.
The application we've got in front of us today
is for a dormer roof extension to a first floor flat.
The best bit of the flat is these windows which,
as you come in through the door into the living room, I really like.
It's all a bit Jackanory really. "Through the arched window!"
Roland Cain has bought a one-bed flat in Nunhead Green for £238,000.
And he's planning to spend another 40 grand renovating the property.
He's desperate to add a proper second bedroom for his son
when he visits from university.
The house could be worth over 300,000 when finished,
but it won't be plain sailing.
Roland needs to get planning permission to solve a structural headache.
You can see there's a bit of a problem here.
Even before I've walked into the landing I'm banging my head
and I'm not particularly tall.
What I'm afraid of is that, because this is a conservation area,
what I'm hoping to do is extend the dormer,
that's in the next room we'll look at,
right the way along to this wall.
This is five foot wide this bit
and this room is not good for anything apart from a single bed
and a baby and someone who likes banging their head a lot.
The plans that we've submitted will run this dormer right
the way across the house, which is about five metres.
Dormers give more space to a loft area by extending out
from the existing roof.
Roland wants a dormer, running right across the back of the house,
creating a proper room in the loft
and providing more headroom on the stairs.
Alex wouldn't have a problem with this,
but in a conservation area he can't allow the dormer on the front
and would need a very good reason to allow it on the back.
Because the property is within a conservation area
it does restrict what alterations you can do to the front,
particularly to the roof of the building.
We look to try and keep it as original as possible
within conservation areas.
If Roland doesn't get the approval he's after he'll have wasted his time AND his money.
If the decision goes against me
then effectively I'll just have to refurbish the flat as it is
and sell it on because it won't be fit for me to live in.
I need a second room for my son to join me.
Roland's hopes for his son's new bedroom
hinge on a make-or-break site visit.
Can he persuade the planners that his need for space
justifies any impact on this picturesque neighbourhood?
But it's not just in towns and cities that planners have special powers to stop development.
Our countryside is protected too.
There are 46 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the country.
They're known as AONBs in planner speak,
and if you're lucky enough to live in one,
you may find you're not so lucky when it comes to planning.
Hastings might not be the wealthiest place in the country,
but it does have some beautiful buildings,
and some stunning countryside.
This is The High Weald, AONB.
This protected area sits next to Ore,
historically one of the most downtrodden areas of Hastings.
But today, this hilly suburb has become much more desirable,
three-bed detached houses will set you back between
180 and 190,0000,
and there's one place where prices are at a premium -
on this elevated road where houses overlooking the High Weald
can sell for as much half a million pounds!
The views are stunning and you're only a ten minute drive from the sea.
Hastings council's Carol Boydell is dedicated to protecting this area
and she's on her way to visit a couple whose house overlooks the High Weald AONB.
It's protected countryside and we have planning policies that protect the countryside there.
The couple really want a two-storey extension,
but like every planner, Carol has to stick to the rules -
policies set by the council and driven by guidelines
from the government.
There's also a policy about development outside
the built up area
which means if somebody wants to develop,
even if it's just putting up a shed that needs planning permission,
it still has to be tested against the policy
so that we can regulate how much development takes place.
-The views are just stunning.
-It sold the house to us.
-We didn't buy the house, we bought the views.
And who could blame them?
Bill and Cally O'Reilly recently moved down from just outside
Milton Keynes after falling in love with the area on holiday.
They put their savings into buying their dream home,
but now need planning permission to solve an unusual problem.
One of the strange things about this house, it has three bedrooms,
but one of them is only accessible from outside.
So you actually have to go out the back door, down the steps
and then round the back of the house and then into the third bedroom.
So a little strange.
Yeah, and when we've got both our daughters here, one of them actually
has to go outside to sleep and it's just a bit horrible, so we'd like
the extension to bring the third bedroom into the rest of the house.
So downstairs is going to be the utility room
and a shower for the third bedroom.
Then upstairs will be extended out. I've got the study,
so my desk doesn't have to be in what's essentially the dining room.
Initially we thought that perhaps we could get it done
for 30 or 40,0000, but I don't think it's going to be that now,
I think it's going to be more like 50 going on 60.
Before we moved in here we had a visit to the planning office.
When they asked us where we lived, we pointed it out on the map and they said, "Right.
"If ever you want to change anything, we'll look at it very closely."
We hope that what we're proposing is not going to be obtrusive
to anybody and it will sort of fit in fairly well.
Fingers crossed we get the extension.
In Southwark, it's an important day for Roland Cain who needs
a bigger dormer window to create space for his son's bedroom.
Alex Cameron from Southwark's planning office has arrived
to carry out the all-important site visit.
-Hi, Alex Cameron.
-Hi. Come on.
-Thank you very much.
Since 2007, Nunhead Green has been a conservation area,
which could spell disaster for Roland's plans.
But he has a secret weapon - in the form of another council officer!
Roland has invited Hailu Worku from Southwark's building control to join the meeting.
From Hailu's point of view the headroom on the stairs
is too low and ought to be raised.
But the final say on whether the project can go ahead rests with Alex.
Obviously this is the front, isn't it? So it's the top floor.
So that's the offending member.
Right. So it's obviously quite low, isn't it?
I'm a little under six foot.
At the moment the application has the dormer coming out
to halfway across,
and what I was asking for was a special bit of leeway
to push this dormer to maybe this far from this boundary wall.
From your perspective, Hailu...
From Building Control side
the minimum requirement is a two metre clearance,
so if there's no problem from planning...
-we will encourage the customer to have a two metre.
'Two metres headroom. That's VERY good news for Roland.'
If there is any restriction from planning, we can do nothing
because it's an existing loft conversion.
'Or maybe not!'
I think we've got to look at... It's a delicate balance.
Obviously it's a conservation area around here
and externally we need to make sure that's not compromised,
so it's about trying to negotiate a resolution between the three parties
and trying to make that work as best we can.
Do you want to look just before we go down at the room next door.
Oh, wow. It's a rather small room, isn't it?
I'm planning on swinging cats, I do a lot of that.
-You're going to need the space for that, aren't you?
-I think so.
So, I can appreciate that you want to increase this space here
to allow for a decent-sized bedroom really.
From our planning perspective we have to look at how it
affects the visual appearance of the building.
There's a dormer on that side which goes up to the party wall,
that side, and there's an extended dormer down the road that
goes up to the party wall.
There's obviously a precedent of other similar alterations.
Just not quite as wide as we want to go.
OK. Full width dormer extensions in conservation areas
are usually not permitted.
In this instance there are bigger dormers
which works in your favour.
Roland's plans are hanging in the balance.
Alex needs to assess whether other properties have dormers
the size and shape that Roland wants.
If not, it could be curtains for his son's new bedroom.
There's a dormer to the right and another dormer to the left.
Neither of them is as wide as I'm hoping to go.
Both side are larger which, again in principle,
means that you having a larger extension is fine.
There's a bigger one by the looks of it at the very end.
I'll have a look into that and I'll check
the history of surrounding ones and I'll get back to you on that front.
Alex needs to take loads of photos so he can carefully study
the pictures and work out if other houses have similar style dormers.
Roland's got his fingers crossed.
If I'm lucky and they've got planning for that at the end there,
I'm hoping that that might just tip
the balance in our favour to get the full width dormer and then keep
the pitch of that parapet wall which seems to be important for planners.
That might be a good compromise.
With the visit over, it will now be a nervy wait for Roland.
There's a 21-day neighbourhood consultation period
before Alex makes his "yes" or "no" decision.
-Thanks for coming down.
-Nice to meet you.
Up on the High Weald in Hastings,
Carol has arrived for her crucial site visit.
Hello, Carol Boydell.
-Bill O'Reilly, pleased to meet you.
-Hi, I'm Cally.
How long have you lived here?
We've been here just over five months.
Came through here, fell in love with the place and thought, "Somehow we've got to do it."
-Yeah. "And we'll have to make the house expand with us!"
This inspection is everything.
Carol's impression of the site, and the impact of the extension,
will determine whether the O'Reillys get to
integrate their third bedroom or face rejection.
Right. If we can have a look at what you're proposing to do.
This is lower ground floor, which is this area here.
So that's an existing bedroom that is only accessible
from the outside and so we want to fill in this corner with a
two-storey extension, with a utility room downstairs and a wet room.
With internal stairs.
With internal stairs up going in through there and then that room
will extend out this way to become...
-To create a study area upstairs.
-Oh, I see.
So it's going to be a flat roof and it's going to be rendered
to match the existing dwelling, that's good.
OK, if I can have a look from further down the path
and looking back at the house that would be helpful.
With so much riding on this visit,
Carol must be sure she's viewed the problem from every possible angle.
She needs to take into account the O'Reilly's desire for better
living space, but crucially she must remember her long-term
responsibility to protect this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
-So where is that over there?
-That's Friar's Hill.
Can you get a view of the property at all from there?
You probably could if were to drive over there,
park up and walk along the road, you might get a glance.
Well, that's a good thing
because I've also got to test the impact on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and we can't have
your extension having an adverse impact on that, so if it's difficult to view, that's good for you.
Lovely. It's beautiful out here.
We all agree, Carol, but the big question is...
So what do you think? Will we get planning permission?
Well, I've got to go back to the office and test it against policies,
but I've got reservations, but I'll have a look at the local plan.
-My main priority is the AONB.
I've also got to check when I get back to the office
to see whether you're outside the built up area,
so there is another policy that can be quite restrictive about how much
development takes place outside the built up area, so I'm going
-to test it against that, so I think they're your two main concerns.
Right, OK, I think that's everything.
Thanks very much for being here for me.
Hopefully you won't hear from me later,
you'll just get a decision through, but if there is any tweaking
that needs doing,
or if there is a major problem I will phone you because
I don't want you worrying about it and see what might possible.
-Is that OK?
-That sounds great.
-Thanks very much.
We appreciate that we're in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty -
it's one of the reasons we moved here,
and we had consulted the planning office before we came here,
we knew there were lots of restrictions.
But we're hopeful that this planning application will go through.
Fingers crossed we'll be OK.
We'll have to wait and see, but I'm hopeful.
I want a utility room!
I want a study.
Fabulous property, fabulous views,
it is going to be prominent from the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,
which could be an issue with regards to planning policy.
I've got to go back to the office, have a look at the local plan.
I think what I'll do is I don't always discuss every application
with senior planners, but I think this is one I just want to check.
In Southwark, Alex has been finding it hard to reach a decision.
The location of Roland's flat in a conservation area makes
the application problematic,
which doesn't bode well for his son's new room.
Alex has called a crunch meeting with Hailu from building control
before he delivers his verdict.
-Good morning, Hailu.
-Morning, nice to see you again.
So obviously we're here to discuss the plans.
There's not been any objections from neighbours,
but I have spoken to our design conservation team about it
and also done some research with regard to the surrounding area,
whether there's any similar extensions
within the conservation area and whether there's a precedent really
to allow a large extension.
Unfortunately from their perspective there's not.
So what we're going to need him to do is to make it smaller
and bring it in from the sides.
The problem is here where the staircase is...
Building control requires two metres of headroom clearance,
but for Alex this will unduly affect the look of Roland's extension,
making it out of place within the conservation area.
What I thought about suggesting to the applicant would be that perhaps,
bring it over to this side so that you retain that headroom there.
It makes the internal room a bit smaller, but I think still creates
a decent enough bedroom and obviously meets the headroom requirements.
I mean from our side the main concern is the headroom,
so if they come from this side, we don't have any problem
because there is no requirement inside a room.
So what I think what I'll suggest in that regard is that we
look at amending the plans so that they take into account
the conservation side of things and also the building control side
of things and have a decent headroom in there, but also
they will ensure that the extension is small enough, it doesn't
dominate the building and it's not out of place in a conservation area.
-Thank you for your time.
-Good to see you and I'll see you again soon.
'Yeah. I'm generally happy with the resolution.'
The extension is still relatively large, but given
the fact that there are similar sized extensions on the neighbouring
properties I think I'm pretty satisfied with what we've agreed.
Obviously we need to get the applicant to agree to those
amendments first, but fingers crossed they'll be keen to do that
and we can get that resubmitted and approved, hopefully, in the next week or two.
Up on the High Weald on the outskirts of Hastings,
the O'Reillys are longing to get the go-ahead to restructure
the corner of their home.
But Carol's also finding it difficult to make the decision
which will have a huge impact on Bill and Cally's living space.
I was quite nervous on site because it is so elevated,
it's right at the top of that ridge and it's quite exposed.
-Karen. Can I have a word about Hysted?
Carol's referring the application to one of Hasting's senior planners -
I've done the report and my main concern was about the AONB.
And you looked at the emerging plan, didn't you?
Yup, I looked at the emerging plan
-and everything. I think I've covered everything.
If you can have a look at that and let me know what you think.
-Yeah, will do.
The property's not got any immediate neighbours,
so it's quite on its own and secluded within the AONB.
We don't allow a lot of development in the AONB at all.
It's quite rare that anyone gets permission to develop anything
more significant than this sort of size extension.
The planners have thought long and hard about the O'Reilly's application -
so fingers crossed, everyone, when they ring in for news...
Good afternoon. Planning. Carol speaking.
Oh, Carol. It's Bill O'Reilly.
I was wondering if you had any news for us?
That's great, Carol.
It's a yes!
So next step is Building Regulations,
then we've got to find ourselves a builder and then we can get going.
Then we can have both girls under the same roof.
Fast forward four weeks
and the O'Reillys have begun to turn their dream into reality.
Their planning permission maybe valid for three years,
but they're not waiting,
they want their extension built as soon as possible.
Very excited that this has now gone from a concept four months ago
to here we are breaking ground,
and, you know, within three months we will have an extension here.
I'm very happy with the builder that we've chosen.
I've got confidence in the guy that we're dealing with.
One thing that bothered me was - I knew we wouldn't find this out until
we started digging, but there's not much concrete under that end wall.
Is that a problem or is that more or less what you were expecting?
We expected that to be honest with you.
The footing is, you can see the footing over in the far corner there.
As far as you said, no problems so far.
-No problems so far, no.
-Excellent, excellent. OK.
Back in Southwark, Alex is happy, building control are happy,
but is Roland happy?
Having received an e-mail, he's come to see his planning agent
and he can't contain his frustration.
I'm faced with either not converting this at all, in which case I've got
a really nasty, little one-bed and I won't be able to move my son in.
Or having to bang our heads every time I come up the stairs,
but even if I went for that, building control won't allow it.
So I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place really,
so I have no choice but to contest this decision.
The likelihood is that it's going to be refused, and then you have
the chance of appeal, but that takes up to six months.
I don't think there's a real issue with the outlook.
I really don't believe that the gardens outside
or the public space is affected.
I don't think it diminishes anybody's view, any amenity.
I think it's a slightly irritating,
sticking to the policy because that's the easiest thing to do.
"We've got these rules, therefore you have to stick with them,"
and I think there should be more flexibility
and discretion than that.
Roland's plans are in serious jeopardy.
He feels Alex's decision has left him with little option
but to embark on a lengthy, costly and uncertain appeal process.
The problem is that it will delay the project so much and all
the time it's delaying it I'm paying a mortgage on a property
I can't do anything with. I'd really like to avoid that if I can.
I'd really like to avoid the refusal, and I'd like to avoid taking it to appeal.
Frustration for Roland, but the O'Reilly's extension is nearing completion.
The scaffolding has come down
and Bill and Cally are about to get the space they dreamed of.
When Carol came round to do the initial inspection, one of her
key concerns was that this structure was going to fit in with
the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
I look at this now and I think this extension...
It looks as if it's always been there.
This was all outside space when we first moved in and now
this is going to be my utility room,
and this is going to be the wet room, the shower, the tiles
and the flooring is all organised.
So this is the third bedroom that was rather strange that you
had to go out of the front door, along a path
and then into this room through an external door.
This is not a strange bedroom detached from the rest of the house,
it's fully part of the house.
The mess has been terrific over the past 12 weeks now -
we've been living in a building site.
But we can actually see it all coming together.
We can be living in this new space that we've created that makes it
more of a family home so that when the girls do come down
and stay they will both be in the same house.
It's going to work, and we're really pleased with the way it's gone.
With the extension almost finished, Carol has come down to take a look.
She's interested to see how the new structure
fits into this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Oh, brilliant. That's good.
That looks really good.
Do you mind if I go down the garden and have a look...
-Come and have a look.
-..at the impact down the bottom?
I remember you had a lovely, large garden down there.
-That'll be lovely. OK.
It is quite big, but I don't think it's overly dominant.
I'll tell you what, if people didn't know,
they wouldn't know that that wasn't built at the same time, would they?
I'm really pleased that I've been able to help them
get what they wanted because the living conditions weren't right,
it wasn't right to have a bedroom downstairs
and you have to go round upstairs to come into the main dwelling.
Carol did seem very happy with the way the extension has gone.
She's said she's tried to see the house from different places
around the area and hasn't actually managed to spot it yet.
I guess that's a good thing that it's not sticking out
like a sore thumb from anywhere.
And we've still got views, beautiful views from all around,
so we haven't lost any of the views by putting an extension in.
-Yeah, I think we'll be here for some years.
-I think so.
Bill and Cally have planned it, built it.
They've spent £60,000
and added 70 square metres of living space.
In this highly desirable area, the value of their house
will quickly overtake the money they've laid out.
And Roland has decided to compromise...
ensuring he too will soon have space for a proper second bedroom.
Plus, he could add 70 grand to his £238,000 purchase price -
sounds like good financial sense.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Getting permission to extend in a conservation area can prove extremely problematic. Roland Cain has bought a flat but cannot get the planning permission he desperately wants to open up his attic. He plans to spend £40,000 to create an extra bedroom so his son can visit from university, but getting permission for an extended dormer window is proving a headache.
The O'Reillys live in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Their home has fantastic views over the High Weald in Hastings, but they need planning permission to extend one corner of the house and incorporate an outside bedroom. Carol Boydell from Hastings Planning Office loves the area, but will she grant the all-important planning permission? It's a nail-biting wait.