We had the pleasure to interview Nick, co-owner of the Holloway and Holloway Architects who shared with us a story of their clients who bumped into quite some obstacles before achieving a beautiful and bright extension.
So I hear this project was a bit of a tricky one. How do you go about designing something in a conservation area that has already been rejected by the council?
The clients had already spent 2 years and lots of money on fees with a different architect on this project and they felt that they had achieved nothing! So when we were first approached, they were nervous about spending more money on another rejection and had resigned themselves to the idea that they were only going to be able to get a very small bay window sized extension, and that their dream of a modern, airy, bright extension was going to be an impossibility.
The project had had planning permission rejected previously, and they had then appealed that decision and that had been thrown out. It is in a conservation area, where the local historical group were really active and had been very opposed to the original scheme, so it really was the perfect storm for a tricky project.
Before we were officially appointed, we reviewed the council policy and the previous applications and felt confident that we could design them something that would achieve the footprint and the aesthetic that they wanted that the council would be happy with, and slightly nervously the client’s decided that they were prepared to trust us and give it one more go.
What should people do if they have had planning permissions on their property rejected? Or if they are looking at purchasing one that has had a rejection in the past?
This is a really common thing, and there can be a whole host of different reasons why an application may have been rejected in the past, so first thing is, don’t panic. It doesn’t necessarily mean that what you are attempting will be impossible, sometimes it can be quite a minor thing that needs addressing, or it can be resolved by taking a slightly different approach.
From my point of view as an Architect, when I get asked to look at a project that has had a recent refusal, I think happy days, I’m going to have some really concrete feedback on what the council has taken issue with.
With this project there were some fairly minor points that the council wanted us to take on board, this is why the appeal had also been thrown out, because there were some relatively simple, but fundamental issues with the design. So, all it took was carefully reading the feedback from the council and addressing these concerns, and hey presto we were able to get planning approved with another go.
If you’ve had a rejection notice, the first thing to do is read the officers report. When the council issues a decision, generally they will also post a Case Officers Report on the decision. It wont be sent to you directly, but often it can be found on the councils website attached to your application, or if it’s not there, then you should be able to request a copy of it from the case officer. This will give you a more detailed breakdown of the reasons behind the council’s thought process behind the decision.
Clearly, with this project, the previous architect had not read the feedback from the council, else they would have seen that the issues that the council had were fairly minor in the scheme of the proposals, so this is a great place to start.
From there, you should have an idea of why your application was rejected. This is the time to think about the next stage, this could be to submit a new and revised proposal to the council taking on board their feedback. Or if you feel that the application did in fact meet policy, you can look to appeal the application to see if you can get the decision overturned. In this circumstance, I would consult with either a competent Architect or design professional or a planning consultant as appeals can be fairly tricky.
Finally, it might just be that the principle of what you are trying to do is simply not acceptable, and so you might need time to come up with a different plan.
Is there any way you can avoid a rejection in the first place?
The first thing is to design to meet policy, now this can be difficult if your council doesn’t have very clear guidance on their policy for extensions and alterations. Each council is responsible for creating their own guidelines on specific policy, some of them have better guides than others. But you or your designer should be able to work out what does and doesn’t meet policy.
If policy is fairly light on the ground or if the idea of looking for this is a bit daunting, then another good approach is see what your neighbours have gotten permission for in recent times, as this can be a good guide on what will be acceptable.
Once you have an idea of the policy, you can design with that in mind. With the Rickmansworth project, we needed to create a space that would feel really open and bright, but policy dictated that at the boundary, we should not be too imposing on the neighbours. So this meant that we needed to slope the roof down toward the boundary, a very common design principle in rear extensions. We then added rooflights all along the slope, to bring the light in to the deeper parts of the house and to give the feeling of a higher ceiling height in this area. Without the pitch at the boundary, we would never have been able to get permission for the extension, so it is key to include the relevant elements.
Secondly, I would advise is to make sure that you keep a dialogue up with the planners once the application is live, as some officers and councils, will allow you to make tweaks to the design once it’s live, so that you can get approval. For instance, if you applied for a 4m extension, your officer might tell you that he will accept 3m but will reject 4m, so you can have the opportunity to pull the depth back to 3m to achieve approval.
How did you approach the subject of glazing/natural light when you had to be so careful with the designs?
Although there are lots of important factors to take into account for planning, the Planners themselves are generally very in favour of creating high quality, bright spaces as these will improve the quality of the housing in their area. Whatever your style, modern or traditional, the council will generally be in favour if what you are doing is going to be of good quality. So even though it was a traditional building in a conservation area, we weren’t too worried about a modern design.
Our strategy was twofold, firstly open the back up to the garden to connect with the amazing green space the clients had at the back, and secondly get as much natural light into the darker central parts of the house as we could.
In order to get natural light deep into the building, we introduced roof lights along the pitched section of roof at the boundary to flood this space with light from above, we used electrically openable lights to allow the space to be really well ventilated to get a through breeze in the space, so it felt fresh and you could get the wonderful clean county air into the property.
What about the connection to the garden?
The clients have an amazing garden and they love to host so they needed their space to really connect with the outdoors. With the vertical glazing, we then wanted to do something really bold that would open out onto the client’s lovely garden and bring in all of that greenery, but also to create a comfortable enclosed space that felt like a courtyard area so you have a really protected space for outside dining and entertaining.
We opened the property out with corner glazing that folded away into pockets in the wall, so that when it was all open, it felt like the structure was completely floating. We kept a completely flush threshold so that the transition from inside to outside was seamless for when everything was open.
We then added additional openings to open out onto the courtyard to create a really flexible space, that allowed for easy movement in and around the kitchen area and the courtyard.
Thanks, Nick. So what do the clients think about it? Have they been enjoying the new place?
They have, they sent us a really nice message once the works were complete, that told just how much it had improved their lives! They hadn’t expected the difference to be so drastic, but every day they came down stairs and back into this lovely space it made them smile to see it, it’s nice to know that you can have such an effect on people’s day to day lives like that.
That's great! So before you sign off, would you have any advice for people starting out about avoiding a rejection?
I think the key is try and do it right the first time if you can, get the right people on board, especially when you live in areas that are going to be more difficult like a conservation area or an area of natural beauty. By getting a quality professional on board from the outset you could end up saving a lot of time and money, not to mention stress.
Holloway and Holloway Architects: https://holloway-holloway.com