Part Two – The Joy Of Planning

This second entry was published originally on the 6th April 2013 and received 1628 views on the old Ebuild forum

This entry includes comments that were asked and answered on the old Ebuild forum, if anyone objects to their comment being included here please contact me and I will remove it.

Reading the planning file for our newly purchased plot made for interesting reading. It seems some of the neighbours had been quite vociferous in raising objections over the years, as had the Parish Council. Clearly getting planning permission for a house built using rather non-traditional methods, next to a grade II listed mill and inside an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty might not be exactly straightforward.

The delay caused by the legal issues gave us time to research the history of the area, and even find evidence of some old agricultural buildings that had been on the plot until 30 or 40 years ago. It also allowed an opportunity to contact the neighbours and post out newsletters, letting them know what we were thinking of doing and giving them an opportunity to raise issues before we submitted plans for approval.

At first I had planned to get an architect to design the house, but after drawing up a careful brief and hawking it around a few practices I decided that the only way we were going to get the house we wanted was for me to sit down and design it myself. To say the learning curve was steep is an understatement. House design is a succession of compromises, forced by consideration of the plot shape and orientation, access arrangements, our needs for practical living spaces and last, but far from least, the requirements of the Building Regulations. After around a dozen iterations on paper I had a design that looked reasonable, so I made a scale model. This looked OK, but after a few days of looking at it over breakfast I felt it lacked “design” (in the artistic sense).

For the next iteration I started looking at pictures of some of the houses I’d seen in magazines and the web for inspiration. In the end I decided that replacing the front porch and door with a double height glazed wall and gable managed to lift the look of the house from “just another box” to something that looked rather like it might have been converted from one of the old barns that had been on the site. It also allowed solar gain right where it would be most useful, in the centre of the house, heating the insulated floor slab. The downside was that doing this meant adding bedroom windows to both gable ends, something that at one end had previously caused an overlooking issue with a neighbours garden around 25m away, on the other side of a lane.

In an attempt to show the neighbours and Parish Council that there really wouldn’t be any over looking issues, and that the planned house would sit deeply inset into the ground, so minimising any visual impact, I spent a few tens of hours making a detailed scale model of the whole plot and house. Once satisfied that we’d got things as we wanted them, it was time to submit the plans for approval.

Model - SW View - small

As soon as they were in I contacted the Parish Clerk to find out when the Parish Council Planning Committee would be meeting to consider our application. She was very helpful, and gave me the date of the meeting, plus some useful inside information. We agreed to attend and bring the scale model along. As luck would have it I found that I was scheduled for abdominal surgery two days before the meeting, but was still able to hobble along and chat through our plans. We were expecting a lot of resistance, as the previous application had been recommended for refusal by the PC, who had raised fourteen points of objection. We were pleasantly surprised when they voted unanimously to support our application. It felt as if we’d won “round 1”.

Every day I watched for consultation documents to be posted on the planning website, and as the consultation closing date came up was surprised to see there were no objections raised at all. As soon as the time was up I called the planning officer and asked whether or not he was going to decide using his delegated powers or whether it was being called in to the Planning Committee. I was expecting the latter, as every previous application for this plot had gone to committee. A few days before Christmas the planning officer called to say that he couldn’t see any problem, was going to recommend approval and that it wasn’t going to go to committee. He did warn us that there might be a delay in getting his team leader to sign it off, but said that we should have approval by early January 2013.

What an excellent Christmas gift!

Stay tuned for the next episode – dealing with some of the difficult build decisions.


Old comments and replies:


oz07 wrote on 6th April at 04:52pm

That gabled entrance trick does the job. Looks good!


joiner wrote on 7th April 2012 at 10:20 am

Taken together, caliwag’s excellent blogs on design and JSH’s contribution on how to go about the actual self-build process, makes this forum a front-runner in its field.

An object lesson in how to present an idea. The scale model, especially when lit to give shadow, shows the benefit of doing the visualisation for others who perhaps don’t have the imagination and spatial awareness needed to translate paper plans into a 3D mental image.


jsharris wrote on 7th April 2013 at 01:37pm

Thanks for the kind words, I’m still catching up here with things that have taken over a year so far! Part 3 will be along shortly…………………


dlewis61 wrote on 4th March 2016 at 07:16am

Hello , Just started to follow your blog as we are right a stage 1 . just chosen and architect, had out eco survey and topo survey. Is there a house floor plan anywhere in your blog please?



JSHarris wrote on 3rd April 2016 at 10:24am

Sorry, I missed this comment. The plans etc are in Part Fifteen of this blog


dlewis61 wrote on 3rd April 2016 at 07:36pm

and thank you

no problem


Part One – In The Beginning…………..

This first entry was published originally on the 3rd April 2013 and received 2,340 views on the old Ebuild forum


We first decided we’d like to build ourselves a house several years ago, but with both of us working full time we did little more than think about it for a few years. Then, almost out of the blue, I was given an opportunity to take early retirement in September 2010, with a favourable pension and a tax free gratuity. So started our adventure!

We looked far and wide for a building plot, with our only constraint being that we didn’t want to be more than around a couple of hours drive from where we currently live, in South Wiltshire. After much looking through plot search web sites, calling around estate agents and even cold-calling people who had put in planning applications for plots, we found a few that looked interesting, ranging from Ross on Wye, across the Cotswolds and down to Somerset. It seemed that plots in our part of Wiltshire, or the adjoining counties of Hampshire and Dorset, were very scarce, or beyond our budget. The first plot that caught our eye looked wonderful, it was fairly large, situated on the site of an old mill, just on the Welsh side of the Wye valley. After doing some basic research into the cost of getting services in, the likely planning constraints we may face (it only had OPP) etc, we made an offer which was accepted. Unfortunately we then encountered two major problems during the legal searches. The first was that a large part of the plot was actually being used by a neighbouring house as part of their garden. The second was that at some point a public footpath had been moved, without consent. Despite months spent trying to get these issues resolved, it became clear that the footpath problem alone was likely to take at least a year to be fixed. Reluctantly we pulled out of the deal and had a re-think about our plans.

The next few months were spent driving around looking at both plots and some houses that we thought might have some potential. As advice to anyone else going through this, all I can say is use every tool you can get your hands on to try and look at places before driving miles to see them. We made extensive use of Google Earth and Streetview to look at potential plots, and this quickly gave an indication as to what the local area was like (at the date of the imagery, which is often a few years old). Even then we made long journeys out to view plots that turned out to be hopeless. Generally, the worst of these came via the “free to the seller” plot sales services. We quickly found that the best source seemed to be Rightmove, although the filters on their search facility were often poor, meaning that plots might well be listed as houses, for example.

In October 2011 we found a plot just a short distance from where we currently live, much to our surprise. As it was only half an hour’s drive away we drove over to take a quick look. Despite all the undergrowth and untidiness, we could see straight away (well, by using a bit of imagination to visualise what it’d be like without all the mess) that the plot seemed ideal for our needs. The house would face more or less south, giving the potential for good solar gain and photovoltaic panel performance. The plot was small, but this suited us as neither of us are keen gardeners. It was also semi-rural, right on the edge of an ancient village, opposite an old mill (in fact it is on what was the old orchard that belonged to the mill at some point). The price looked good, too, even if the plot itself looked less than wonderful in its present state.


Having been caught out by the first plot, before making an offer for this one I set about finding out as much as I could about the likely issues and costs of building on it. This plot had a chequered planning history, with several applications on file and a few refusals, and it was clear that there had been a lot of local opposition to developing it. I also discovered that there was no water main or sewer within reasonable distance, so we knew that the costs of getting these services in to the site was going to be high.

Armed with this knowledge, we negotiated the price down to a lower figure, to allow for the added costs imposed by the nature of the plot (it slopes, so needs a lot of ground work) and the difficulty with getting water and sewerage services in. By early December 2011 we had agreed a price and started the legal process to buy the plot. Our hope was that we’d be able to start work during the late spring of 2012.

Once again we found we had a boundary problem, severe enough to cause a major problem with the approved plans. The next 9 months were taken up with protracted legal arguments, ending when the vendor finally agreed to get the boundary positions shown on the Land Registry title amended to reflect what was actually on the ground. We completed the purchase in early November 2012, more than a year after first seeing the plot and deciding to buy it.

The next task would be to submit a new planning application, for the house that we wanted to build, rather than the one that was currently approved, and get it through before the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy.

Stay tuned for part two of this tale, where we venture into the interesting world of local politics and planning.