Challenging the Local Planning Authority. And keeping the faith!

Posted By Jon Sewell-Rutter

Jun 20th, 2019

At Dwell, we’re often confronted with problems.  For the mostpart, it’s our job to solve them, which we do by turning creative ideas into beautiful built solutions.  We’ve made a bit of a habit of it, leaving in our wake a ripple of content clients and a legacy of better buildings.

But that’s often easier said than done, and much of our time is spent jumping through, or negotiating our way around, various hoops seemingly placed in the way of progress to catch out the uninitiated.

A case in point

Our clients presented us with their home; a small Victorian ‘two-up two-down’ worker’s cottage in a sheltered clearing on the edge of the Ashdown Forest.  The house had been extended in two or more phases previously, resulting in a rather unsatisfactory linear series of rooms with each a corridor to the next.  A generic wood-grained hexagonal uPVC conservatory had been hurriedly tacked onto the rear at some point, providing a cold and awkward kitchen, but not offering much of an improvement to living conditions.

Dwell prepared a very contemporary scheme to extend the property to the rear, addressing the space issues internally, and responding to the very steep site levels to maximise views into the neighbouring woodland SSSI.  The design was developed over several months using physical models, sketches and CAD, a process peppered with budget costings, re-working spaces and materials and finishes accordingly to reach a happy medium.  We (and our clients) were delighted with the outcome.

Round 1

There comes a time when we must share our brainchild with the world, through the medium of the Local Planning Authority (LPA) planning approval process.  The LPA are responsible for assessing proposals against the various local and national planning policies, and determining whether they are acceptable or not.  The quality of such decision-making across Councils has been, and possibly always will be, quite variable and worthy of an article (or dramatised mini-series) in its own right. 

Suffice to say that despite the careful efforts made with the design, and no objections from any neighbours, the Local Authority refused consent for the scheme.  Disappointingly, however, they cited in their reasons for refusal, policy which related to traditional design rather than contemporary, and we are so far unable to evidence their visit to the site to assess the proposal insitu, which is a crucial part of the consideration process particularly for unique sites like this…  All-in-all a rather unsatisfactory state of affairs.


Borne from this disappointment, Dwell conceived a revised scheme, which used the same footprint and internal layout as the previous scheme, but which adjusted the building envelope to fall within the various size limits and other criteria of the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO).  Although perhaps having slightly less presence than the first scheme, it nonetheless shared its DNA and still represented a strong project for our clients, whilst effectively removing the planners’ underlying objection to the design from the decision-making process.

Round 2…

Mission-accomplished, you might think?  Perhaps not.  Despite the scheme’s compliance with the GPDO criteria, the LPA refused to grant a certificate of lawful development.  This time, having considered the earlier application for a ‘rear extension’ in the same location, the Council in their wisdom determined that the back of the house was actually the ‘side’, and therefore the criteria for assessment differed, and the proposal did not comply as a ‘side extension’.

Third time lucky?

Reeling from this clearly preposterous determination, much evidence was gathered to support the delineation of the faces of the house, confirming that the rear was indeed at the back, in the traditional fashion.  With the same scheme drawings submitted once more in the same manner, together with an array of evidence and written statement documenting the LPA’s earlier errors, we waited in earnest for the Council’s decision.

Success ensued however, with the LPA’s u-turn decision confirming that on balance, their notion that the rear was a side was demonstrably incorrect, and as a result the proposal was permissible after all…