' the Woodlouse: 2010


Friday, 3 September 2010

Conservation Conversation.

Today we finally went to talk to a planning officer, motivated by a couple of possible plots which have come onto the market in roughly the right area for us, but in conservation areas.  More on conversation with the planning officer in a moment.  First a bit of an update...

We seem to have found our first area of compromise within our occasionally conflicting list of aims and criteria for a site.  In some ways it's a big departure, but mostly it makes a lot of sense.  It certainly feels possible, which is definitely progress!  The original ideal scenario was to have have home, workshop, treatment room, kiln and coppice in the same place; not just any old place but a place right on the edge of town, so that clients could easily get to it and we could get into town on foot or electric mobility scooter.  This is a lovely idea, but frankly impossible.  As discussed in previous blogs, this would mean a whole load of building outside the DDB (Defined Development Boundary), which would be highly unlikely to get planning permission even if we could find what we thought was a good site.  The planning officer (PO) confirmed that anything residential outside the DDB would be refused unless directly linked to an agricultural need to be there.  In any case, we have only seen one site that ticked most of the boxes for this plan, and that never reached auction.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Strawbale Frenzy

Last week I was on a fantastic Building With Straw-bales course run by amazonails and held at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), near Machynlleth in Wales.  The course was massively inspiring and motivating, to the point that on the train home I ended up eulogising about the virtues of straw building to a young couple (un)lucky enough to be standing in the same vestibule as me on the train between Birmingham's New Street and International. At Birmingham International I met a couple of friends who I was staying the night with, and despite having arrived 2.5 hours late (due to a poor, overworked train from Machynlleth which was overheating "due to the hot weather" that day) I still managed to have a crack at persuading them the best way to build their planned extension was (of course) with straw, before finally giving in to tiredness and need for bed.

I think the rampant evangelical fervour has now calmed slightly, but the course certainly confirmed and amplified everything I'd been suspecting about what a truly genius way to build, straw is.  Here's some reasons why: 

Monday, 17 May 2010

Planning issues - Part 3

I think when I first read the Local Plan planning policy documents I was either in a very optimistic mood, or reading late at night when my mind was shutting down, or quite likely both.  The positive bits of policy I thought would apply straightforwardly to our eventual planning application now seem to me not quite so clear-cut.  But there are still helpful statements in the local plan and also some Regional and National planning guidance that could help us get the go ahead once we’ve found a site. 

The Local Plan allows for limited development outside the DDB (Defined Development Boundary) of a town/village in certain cases.  Here are those that I think could apply to our scheme:

  • Dwellings for which there is proven local need (either for affordable housing – which won’t help us in our application, or essential rural workers dwellings – which might be relevant to us)
  • On site replacement of dwellings
  • Conversion/replacement of buildings
  • Employment development
  • Tourist, recreation or community facilities appropriate to a rural area.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Planning issues - Part 2

What is our scheme, and why would we need to build outside the DDB (Defined Development Boundary – see last blog, Planning issues – part 1)?

We want to build ourselves a home and place to work.  We want it to be built using as sustainable materials as possible, and to have as little impact as possible both on the actual site and on the environment in general.  Practically this means building with straw-bales, sustainably grown timber, little or no concrete.  We’ll be aiming for as high a rating as possible according to the Code for Sustainable Homes which details high specifications for energy efficiency, insulation, energy use and ventilation (I’m likely to write more about this in later blogs, along with more about building and materials, as I find out more).

It’ll be a single story, green-roofed home, with a separate building for workshop and a massage (and other) treatment room on site.  The wood-fired pottery kiln would also be on site.  I want to try and grow most (if not all) of the wood for firing it on site as coppice.  BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) website indicates that 5 acres of coppice should produce up to 6 tonnes of mixed hardwood a year (once mature), which is equivalent to 2 firings a year of a large kiln (provided I get the design right, the wood is well seasoned, and the kiln works well!). 

Friday, 30 April 2010

Planning issues - Part 1

So then, trying to find somewhere to build a low-impact straw-bale home and workshop.  As I knew, it's not going to be straightforward... The main problem will be finding a site we can afford that we have a good chance of getting planning permission on.

Right now I feel like my brain is melting after hours downloading and reading too many planning policy documents.  It seems like planning guidelines for each region are generally out there online, but are far from easily accessible.  To be fair, I am sure this is at least in part due to District Councils’ limited resources.  For example: though I find it frustrating I’d probably rather they spent money on more important things than upgrading their webhosting/servers etc to allow the online Local-Plan-map to operate at a speed actually approaching usefulness.   Ah well.  A visit to the local Council office will be in order shortly to purchase a much more practical paper version (£5 for the Bridport area map, £50 for the whole of West Dorset).