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.
The replacement/conversion of existing buildings could be the most useful, but only if we find a site with buildings that need replacing or converting. This is the most common way of finding a self-build site though, as permission does seem to be easier to get if there is at least something already built on site. I’m wary of knocking down a perfectly good building just so we can build our own though, as it doesn’t immediately seem like the best use of resources! That said, depending on the state of the existing building it may well be easier to rebuild than to upgrade, in order to achieve the very high standards of insulation and energy efficiency we want.
The rural workers clause is one that I feel should apply, as it fits with the growing and maintenance of the coppice coupled with the kiln. But there are very specific conditions attached to this clause, which may be very hard to satisfy.
Employment development may be one of the most useful clauses to us. It’s a live/work development, providing work opportunities for Anna (my wife) and me via a workshop each (pottery and paintings/animation) coupled with the coppice, plus the massage treatment room. The treatment room would also be rented out to other practitioners for at least 3 days a week, providing them with employment opportunities too (and us with income). The detail of this clause refers to “small scale commercial and industrial enterprises”, the diversification of rural economy, the need to “enhance the self-containment of rural communities” and to site developments where they will cause least increase in “traffic movements”. This last fits with our hope to find a site on the edge of town rather than in the middle of nowhere (more on this later). Regional guidance also sates the aim of concentrating development in “previously developed and accessible areas… to minimize the need to travel and create attractive places in which to live and work.”
I’m not sure about the “Tourist, recreation or community facilities appropriate to a rural area” bit, but it could be argued that the pottery is a contribution to local rural tourism (if marketed well locally).
There is little specific mention of “live-work” in the current Local Plan, but what mention there is shows it is treated preferentially to purely residential development in rural locations. National guidance seems to be developing, which should make it easier to get live-work planning permission, provided it’s published in time to be of use to us! I’ll report on this as I find out more.
Somewhere down the line we’ll have to find the best compromise between all the things we ideally want, what land is available, and what the planners will allow. I’ve seen quite a few sites for sale that have great potential in terms of amount of land, and existing buildings that either need to be knocked down or could easily be refurbished or converted using strawbale walls. The main problem with these sites is that they tend to be in the middle of nowhere. This clearly doesn’t much help with the sustainability side of things, as we would have to drive a lot and potential customers (both for pots, paintings and massage) would mostly drive to find us. Importantly, people are far less likely to find us or want to find us if it involves a specific car journey that can’t easily be combined with anything else. If we could build on a site on the edge of a town then journeys could be combined with existing visits to town; this means more chance of getting customers (it’ll be easier, cheaper and quicker for them to visit) and much less pollution.
There are added benefits to us of being on the edge of a town (especially a smallish one!) because Anna has long-term medical conditions that prevent her from being able to drive or cycle. A journey down narrow windy and sunken country lanes in a small electric mobility scooter would be fairly terrifying and not a particularly great idea… So edge of town provides a compromise, with access to town by low energy means (scooter charged by solar-generated electricity for Anna, bike for me), but space for the workshops, treatment room and coppice.
This does severely limit our options though, and in around 3 months of looking not one suitable site has been marketed on the edge of town here. There was one on the edge of another town not too far away, but I didn’t find it until it had been sold already. I have seen some places that to me look perfect. But, they are not for sale, and as green-field sites are likely to prove very difficult to get permission for, even if we found out who owned them and persuaded them to sell (something I think we may attempt at some point).
In our favour here from the planning policy documents, are comments that development adjacent to the DDB may be allowed, provided it is designed and constructed to complement surroundings and not harm them. That sounds to me like us: we hope to end up with a beautiful strawbale/timberframe house, raised slightly off the ground by the supporting frame (which allows for low impact mini-pile foundations and no need to level the site or create deep trench/slab foundations) with a green roof which would be planted to replace any vegetation lost under the footprint of our building.
Dorset planning info (source of most of my quotes above) can be found here: http://www.dorset4you.com/localplans