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).
The point of all this document trawling is to try to find the grounds on which we might get planning permission. There seems in theory to be grounds that apply to our scheme, which makes me optimistic. The general principle is that permission is generally granted (with conditions) for schemes within the official Defined Development Boundary (DDB). Anything outside the DDB is generally refused permission, but there are some quite specific exceptions to this rule (more on these coming soon, in Planning issues - Part 3). The trick for us will probably be to convince the planning committee that the exceptions apply to us. Despite the theory, anecdotal evidence and experience of people with even more solid grounds for permission than us suggests that in reality is it's still extremely difficult to bring the planners round.
In general this is probably a very good thing. The whole point of the DDB is to restrict development to the areas where it will have least impact, and encourage most development to centre around towns. The system is very sensibly intended to protect the countryside from damaging and unsuitable development. What I see as the shortfall in the current system, is that there is little (if any?) distinction between schemes with high or low environmental impact. I’m oversimplifying slightly, but it feels like the presumption is that development = concrete and bricks etcetera, and a high visual presence. There is increasing emphasis (though belatedly and increasing too slowly) on low carbon construction and energy efficiency, but it a kind of ‘tag-on’ way – improving insulation etcetera within standard (and inherently inefficient/high-carbon) building techniques.
Our scheme isn’t just about building a home. We want to be able to organize our lives so that our existence is as sustainable and environmentally low-impact as possible (to counter the fact that that sounds far more worthy than either Anna or me really feel about it, I should point out that integral to this is making life as easy as possible!). I’m clearly biased but if I didn’t believe our plans were much more suitable and infinitely less damaging than much current development I wouldn’t be bothering.
To be continued very shortly...