Friday, 23 April 2010

Planning on planning

The last couple of weeks we have been thinking about the new studio I want. A builder who was two and a half hours late, (always a good sign) quoted us just below every last penny we have for the project. The quote was for a brick building with a flat roof (budget restrictions) and it didn’t sound attractive.

An architect visited and pointed out several things the planners may object to including nearby bridleways and trees. He suggested a wooden building instead and offered to put a quote in for an initial survey with recommendations. He never actually submitted this.

Meantime I scoured the internet for wooden buildings. Most were much like sheds, and I feel the cold, besides I have no intention whatsoever of suffering for my art. A few were proper studios, very modern, companies based in London, costing about 10k per sq metre. Then at last, a reasonably priced company, selling large wood cabins and offices with nice thick insulation and double glazing. The nearest showroom was Bedford, and on Sunday we drove out. I was pleased with the cabins and found one I liked.

Wednesday was spent filling out the form you fill out to see if you need planning permission. This involved drawing a to-scale plan of the house, garden and surrounding areas. Despite my CSE in Technical Drawing this was not an easy task, mainly due to the difficulty of measuring the garden, which is far from square, with several inaccessible areas due to big shrubs. We notice that neighbours have also taken advantage of the previous elderly occupant to pinch a foot of land behind the garage.

Late afternoon I pay over a fiver to guarantee next day delivery. “It’s only going to Hadleigh” mutters the lady at the post office. But I know better than to underestimate the council’s ability to lose stuff and claim never to have received it. Just to make me feel like I am getting value for money, I log on to the Post Office website next day, where apparently I can enter a number and track my package. “This service is currently unavailable” says the website.

But I needn’t worry, an email turns up from the planners, acknowledging receipt and assuring us they will try and reply within 4 weeks. But it may be longer due to ‘Other service demands’ The letter ends with ‘we look forward to receiving your cooperation’ which sounds like a phrase the Chinese government might have used to tell you they intend to knock down your house to build the Olympic village.

Years ago I worked as a clerk at East Herts District Council planning dept. It was in the ‘80’s, and the strength of the Civil Service Union meant that the management had little luck in making anyone do any work, particularly if it meant lifting anything heavier than a paperclip. On a Friday everyone had saved up their flexitime for a two and a half hour pub lunch at the local which sold fruit wines strong enough to kill rats. Occasionally I was left to cover reception. Irate people would phone, demanding to speak urgently to planners and building control officers. I could hardly tell them that the entire building was at the pub, and when they came back they would be in no condition to speak to the public.

Lets hope things are more efficient at the planning department nowadays, but as my boyfriend points out, if it takes over four weeks for them to tell you whether you need to apply for planning permission, how long in heavens name does it take for actual planning permission?

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