Plan, plan and plan again should be the mantra of any self builder or renovator. There’s no guarantee you won’t have to raid the contingency fund, but knowing the basics of planning and building regs will give you the chance to prepare a realistic budget and avoid delays.
Are Listed Buildings Problematic?
A listed building is a property of special historical or architectural interest. Grade II buildings are of ‘special interest’ and every effort is made to preserve them. Grade II are a step up in significance and the highest listing is Grade I for properties of ‘exceptional interest.’
If you’re not sure if your home is listed, go to the English Heritage Images of England website (www.imagesofengland.org.uk) to search. Your local authority Building Control department will also have full records in what are called the Greenbacks – books of the listed buildings within the council’s boundary.
If you do have a listed building you must apply for listed building consent to alter or extend the building in any way. This can include the maximum size of any shed and repainting the exterior. Assume any building work will need consent and contact your local planning department to ask for guidance.
Moving to a Conservation Area?
If you buy a plot in a Conservation Area, a National Park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or the Norfolk or Suffolk Broads, there are additional restrictions to building work that don’t apply in the rest of the country.
You may need permission to lop trees, change the roof tiles or add a satellite dish. Even putting up a fence or gate over 1m high will always need permission. In other words, check everything with your local council’s planning officials before buying .www.direct.gov.uk and www.planningportal.gov.uk have more information on applications and appeals.
These areas are designated to preserve the quality of the environments but the planners are keen they don’t become a historic theme park or open-air museum of rural life. So, you may be able to make a substantial change to a building if you’re planning to start a business employing local people or bringing wealth into the local economy.
The wide open spaces of a barn put it at the top of many a home hunter’s wish list but getting permission to convert can turn a dream into a nightmare. If you’re lucky enough to find one of the few remaining barns that weren’t converted in the seventies and eighties, don’t expect an easy ride from your local planning department.
The default option now is to preserve the structure of the barn and keep it in agricultural or at least light commercial use. Planners see this as the best way of avoiding the mistakes of the past.
www.findaproperty.com is a good place to start if you want an overview of the barn types and planning issues and www.barnsetc.co.uk gives a helpful restoration guide as well as listing barns for sale in the UK and abroad.
What You Can and Can’t Do
Although barns come in all shapes, from a cruck frame to brick built, there are some aspects of renovation that they all have in common…
- One thing the planners will hate is a design that has large windows punching holes in the traditional walls. You may be allowed low profile roof windows, some smaller wall windows or enlargements of existing openings. Original cart doors will often have to be retained but can often be glazed
- We all think of oak beams and floor-to-ceiling spaces when we think of barns and that’s just what the planning department wants to preserve. You may need to use reclaimed or specialist timbers that can drastically increase a renovation budget. You may also need to re-use tiles and bricks
- Details such as guttering may have to be metal rather than shiny plastic and you won’t be able to stick up aerials and satellite dishes
If it all sounds too restricting, Potton has introduced the Heritage range of new barn designs (www.buildabarn.co.uk) and you can see one being put up in just twelve weeks on the site’s photo diary.
Tree Protection Orders
If you have trees on your plot or within the boundaries of a renovation project, your solicitor should have made you aware of any TPOs. These orders can be placed on an individual tree or a group of trees and make it an offence to uproot, damage or even lop the trees without obtaining permission from the local council.
There are unlimited fines if you break the rules so always protect these trees with something like a metal fence or scaffolding before starting your building work.
Make everyone on site aware of the protected trees. If you want to lop the branches, you may need to submit a report from a qualified tree surgeon (www.trees.org.uk). Even if you think the tree is dead, alert the council before removing it.
Clashing with the Building Control Officer
Probably the most common problem on any building site, the Building Control Officer is there to ensure certain building standards are complied with to make your home safe, durable and energy efficient.
Contravention of the Building Regulations is a criminal offence so never, ever go along with a builder who says he knows better than the Building Control department.
Although it’s not their responsibility to offer solutions, if you do find a problem, ask for the BCOs advice. You may find they will be happy to suggest a solution or even re-interpret a regulation to some extent. Go to www.planningportal.gov.uk for Building Regulation advice.