Friday, September 29, 2006

What exactly is a one-and-a-half storey house?

I was posed this question by a guy from Essex at last weekend’s Homebuilding & Renovating show in London. I said I had an idea that it was something like a bungalow with a loft conversion, although on reflection it seems strange to count a loft conversion as half a storey. So in turn I asked him why he wanted to know.

Turns out, of course, that he was in dispute with the planners over just what he could and couldn’t build in his garden. He’d won planning permission, at appeal, for a one-and-a-half storey house and had subsequently drawn up plans for a house where the eaves lines intersects with the bottom of the upper floor windows, in effect turning them into dormers. It’s a common enough design, a sort of English country cottage look. But was it one-and-a-half storeys or two?

Guess what the planners thought? They are insisting that he redraw his plans with the eaves line about 1500mm lower so that it was immediately above the top of the ground floor windows. That, to them, was a one-and-a-half storey house. He felt it made for an inferior design and he showed me a sketch of both options. I tended to agree with him. The low eaves version was in fact exactly the same floor area but headroom was lost on the upper floor and he reckoned he would lose a bedroom in the planner’s preferred arrangement. Also the planners’ preferred version was much more roof-dominant, which he felt just didn’t look as good. Basically he wanted a country cottage look whilst the planners were insisting on….a bungalow with a loft conversion.

Of course, nowhere in any planning guidance is there a definition of what is meant by a one-and-a-half storey house. No, that would be far too helpful. So the very vagueness of the term allows lots of room for planners to make up arbitrary rulings. The planning inspector who had granted permission for this house on appeal hadn’t seen fit to mention any specific ridge height, which would have introduced a little clarity to the situation. In fact, there was a difference in ridge heights — 8m for our man’s preferred version as against 7.1 for the planners. However, the position of the house hardly merited any height restriction and none of the neighbours had expressed any concern about the design of the house.

So just what should he do? He had yet to put in a detailed application for either version of the house. Should he go for the easy life and get permission for the version the planners had given the nod to. Or fight for the version he wanted. The planners would recommend refusal on that but that would give the final say to the committee who, he thought, might just see sense. His best bet was probably to apply for the his preferred version and be prepared to take in to appeal if it was turned down, whilst subsequently making a second application for the uncontroversial design so that he would be sure of at least being able to build something before the whole planning application went dead after three years.

But what a palaver? Why should anyone have to jump through such an extraordinary set of hoops in the first place. In ten years’ time, whatever gets built there will have become accepted as part and parcel of the neighbourhood and no one will bat an eyelid if the house is 8m high or 7.1m high, or where the eaves level is. So why the compulsion to meddle in the minutiae of house design like this? Why not just let him get on and build what he thinks of as a one-and-a-half storey house?


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