We often represent the sale of period properties and they’re just wonderful to work with! They’re an important part of our heritage with so much character and charm. As with any property, they need to meet buyers’ needs which, over the years, requires modernisation. I’m delighted to see that planning departments recognise this and will work with owners to upgrade properties sympathetically to ensure the balance of historical integrity and usability is maintained. That said, there’s a way to go about it!
Laura from Period Home Projects has a wealth of experience in working with owners and planning authorities to maximise the likelihood of planning being approved and has been an invaluable ally to some of my clients. Over to Laura…
So, who doesn’t love the look of our traditional vernacular architecture, from medieval humble workers’ cottages to grand Georgian manor houses and villas or even simple well-proportioned Victorian & Edwardian terraces? After all, what’s not to like?!
For some, admiring them from a distance is enough. Concerns over maintenance and upkeep costs, issues around damp, potentially costly defects (mainly caused by the use of modern impermeable materials and finishes during the C20th) and draughtiness can be off-putting, added to which traditional floor layouts do not always suit the desire for more open-plan living.
For others, the ability to ‘call-home’ such wonderful heritage properties, often described as having a soul of their own given the many generations of previous inhabitants, is an opportunity not to be missed. Many are keen to be custodians of these historic homes for future generations, enjoying the many benefits of well-built, well-designed, mostly well-proportioned buildings but often, understandably, wish to modernise, alter and personalise them.
There is also a perception, particularly with Listed Buildings, that getting permission to alter, let alone extend them is a protracted, complicated and laborious process. This depends on what you wish to do and who is guiding you through the process. Using a professional with appropriate knowledge, experience and expertise is key.
If newly acquired, we would always recommend that clients live in their new home for a year prior to finalising ideas for alterations, if possible. This is hugely beneficial given the effects of natural light as the seasons change – you will soon know where you want to spend more time, the preferred use of each room and whether remodelling, rather than extending the space makes more sense.
It is amazing how often we hear the words “if only we’d lived in it first”. You might also realise that some rooms could have multiple uses, for example, a home office during the day and TV/cinema room during the evening or perhaps a larger spare bedroom could double up as a second office with clever use of screens to divide the spaces. Could outbuildings be used more effectively as additional accommodation?
Once you have established your initial ideas and plans, getting the necessary consents is vital;
- Do we need planning permission?
- Do we need Listed Building Consent?
- What professional advice do I need
- Who should I approach?
There is a misconception that only external works to a Listed Building require consent but this is not the case; if a property is Listed any works that are not deemed routine maintenance and repair require Listed Building Consent, particularly where they affect the historic building fabric, layout and/or significance of the property. It should be noted that it is no longer a civil offence but a criminal offence to alter listed buildings without the required paperwork.
Enforcement Officers are taking their responsibility much further and much more seriously. Large fines can be issued together with a requirement to reinstate but that’s not really the point – once that original fabric is lost, it’s lost forever. An experienced adviser will be able to tell you what and who is needed and how to go about it. Whether it’s a projects-based company that can co-ordinate and hand-hold through the whole or part(s) of the process or an architect-led scheme depends on your preference and budget. The planning system can be complicated but at its heart is considerate and promotes considered design. In some circumstances, the adviser may recommend ‘sounding-out’ the local authority by means of a pre-application submission but this is not a requirement nor always necessary and can incur additional cost and delay.
The requirements for applications will depend on what you want to do and whether your home is designated (protected) in any way. For example, does it lie within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) or a Conservation Area (CA)? Is it Listed or local authority protected by means of an Article 4 Direction for example? All or any of these could mean a more involved process as your normal permitted development rights (under the General Permitted Development Order 2015) are restricted to varying degrees. Although your adviser will have significant knowledge and understanding of planning policy and process including the relevant National, District/Local and Neighbourhood Policies and Design Guidance in some more complicated scenarios they may recommend using a Planning Consultant to further support and inform any application aiding the decision-making process and ensuring the best possible outcome.
PHP often works with SMS Planning Consultancy and Suzanne Scott comments “The planning system is becoming more and more complicated. The ‘simplification’ central government talks about doesn’t really translate at the local level. Planning officers are getting busier and busier with increasing case-loads meaning less time to look at each application. This is why it is vital to have the right professionals on board right from the start of any project, otherwise, the process can become messy or complicated or, even worse, mean that planning enforcement gets involved!
Planning is a legal process, and many people underestimate the time and costs involved. A good professional adviser will always appraise you of these things prior to you making any commitment to them. This is not an area to skimp on as it can be the difference between the success or failure of your project.”
The consultant will prepare, or arrange to have prepared, the required accompanying documents which focus on Heritage, Significance, Setting, Design, Impact and Access. They should also advise as to whether input is needed from an ecology, arboricultural (tree) and sustainability perspective amongst other things and whether any CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) may become payable.
As might be expected given the world’s current challenges, one of the success criteria is often the balance between conserving the heritage asset (including appropriate remedial works to remove modern impermeable materials, where required), and improving its sustainability and energy efficiency weighed against the desire for a new extension, for example.
Planners and Conservation Officers tend to prefer a holistic approach to the property where all the known proposals are included within one application (albeit that these works could take years to fully implement) in order to add context and perspective. Their assessment of the proposals influences the decision and any conditions attached.
Adopting the right tone and approach, exercising sound judgement, and being aware of the sensitivities around dealing with traditionally constructed buildings really helps to smooth the process and justify the client’s plans.
If the local authority knows the adviser and is familiar with their ethos, previous cases and rationale, they are more likely to trust their judgement. It also goes without saying that a good adviser will not only know what has a greater chance of getting consent but how to go about securing it.
Finally, make sure your neighbours have been consulted before submitting the application to keep them on board with your plans. This can be via casual conversation, a letter or even an open house event inviting them to view your proposals and ask questions. Although there may be negative comments, objections are only acceptable if on planning-related grounds (e.g. overlooking, scale implications, visibility from the highway, etc.) most of which can often be designed out if required.
About Period Home Projects
Laura Millbourn qualified as a Chartered Surveyor in 1994, then worked in London for many years refurbishing prime residential properties. Her passion for preserving our traditionally constructed heritage buildings with their original fabric and period features led her to set up Period Home Projects in 2014.
Laura advises on all types of projects with an emphasis on combining traditional building materials and techniques with appropriate energy efficiency works and retrofit measures to produce sustainable, comfortable and healthy homes fit for 21st-century living.
+44 (0)7721 996380