Planning permission was first on the agenda, but where to start with a grade-2 listed property? Luckily I knew a friend who’d replaced some walls in the garden of her listed town house. So I started by talking to her. “Join the Listed Property Owners’ Club (LPOC),” she said, which turned out to be great advice. The club offers support and advice to its members as well as insurance catered specifically for Grade-1 and 2 listed properties. So this in itself saved us hundreds annually.
Before applying for planning permission, we needed to find an architect. Top of our wish list was that extra space for the boys. There was already a ground floor extension on the back of the house, so we wanted to make this a double storey extension. Our aim was to create three good sized bedrooms upstairs rather than the double, single and box room we currently had. Next on the wish list was a utility room at the front of the house. We had quite a lot of wasted space here, which could be utilised much more wisely. A lot of the neighbours had created a similar single-storey extension in front of the porch.
I rang around a few firms after an extensive Google search and one company stood out – LPS Architecture. Architectural consultant Josh answered my call. He was knowledgeable about listed properties and gave me lots of advice over the phone, just by looking at photographs. I sent him pictures of our house and the next-door extensions, emailing them over while we talked. After speaking to him, I was eager to get going.
Applying for planning permission
We arranged an appointment for measurements and an on-site assessment. Josh felt it was necessary and worthwhile for us to get pre-planning permission advice. Our local planning department provided a range of services, from a phone call with a planning officer to an on-site inspection and report. I discovered that there was a free daily telephone advice service from 9.30-12.30 from our local council. Though it was difficult to get hold of someone, generally they called back within a few days.
Next I booked an appointment with the planning officer, and a week later she arrived. I’d heard some stories from neighbours about her straight and stern attitude. It seemed that she didn’t have any quibbles about rejecting as many applications as she approved. What happened next was most unexpected. The planning officer inspected previous work that had been done back in the 1990s. She commented on areas where previous owners had used the wrong materials. Then she pointed to the aluminium windows at the front of the house (the most visible and oldest part of the property). “Now that I’ve seen these windows they will have to go I’m afraid.” What did this mean? My heart sank as I imagined our budget getting swallowed up.
Encountering a thorny problem
It turned out that the owners previous to the vendors we had bought from had replaced the original Victorian wooden windows with the hideous double-glazed aluminium frames that we now had without planning permission. Although I am definitely not a fan of these brown replicas (take a look at them here), they were fine. We originally saw no reason to replace them. It looked as though we’d now need to factor this into our budget and time plan. It wasn’t all bad though: the building officer gave us the pre-planning green light on the rest. So fingers crossed it is all accepted when we put the final application in.
Later that week, Josh sent through the initial plans. So we spent an excited evening in with a glass of wine deciding which option we preferred. We had to keep the front door – it would be a dummy, with real access to the house around the side. Being listed, the houses along the row need to look as close to their original state as possible and be in line with the adjoining house. The small window on the first floor at the back of the property caused more problems than we could imagine. Planning permission wouldn’t allow us to remove it or change it in any way (except to a wooden single glazed version). So we had to keep it, which meant our original idea wasn’t possible.
In the end, we decided on Option B as that provided the most extra space for the boys. Next, we submitted the planning permission application to the council (along with proposed materials for the new windows). Now, it’s a waiting game with a minimum of 8 weeks decision time. We really hope the planning officer sees that we’re committed to retaining and restoring the character of the property, while also gaining much needed space for our family.
We’re experiencing all the trials and tribulations that come with owning a listed property (and I’m sure we’ll encounter even more as our build progresses). But the pride of owning something with so much history and national importance outweighs all this extra work (and cost!). We are in it for the long run now.
Read more First Time Renovator blogs in the series.