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Planning Permission - Part 2

Posted by joeirish , 23 January 2015 · 939 views

January to April 2013

"You didn't say you had a motorhome." was the first thing Miles our architect said when he turned up with the initial draft of the plans for our new house. We had already had several hours of discussion with him about all sorts of things in the attempt to decide what type of house we wanted. And although we had already substantially renovated three houses over the years this was the first time we were starting from scratch. And there were so many, many things to consider, much more than when doing up an existing property. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Having discovered that we could in fact build our our proposed site (see last blog) there were three other essential questions that needed to be answered.
  • Was the site suitable to have a wastewater system (as it was not in a place that could be connected to any public sewer system)?
  • Was there water on site using our own borehole (no mains water available)?
  • Would the design satisfy the planning committee?
And we had to pay to get the answers to these before we would know if we could build on the site and before we actually purchased it. That meant a bit of a leap of faith. And a fair bit of upfront money with no guarantee of getting planning.

To answer the first question we needed a percolation test. However, Liam P., the seller of the site has already had one done some years previously when he had been hoping to sell this site to another person. But we weren't sure if the previous test results were still valid as there had been some changes to regulations in the meantime. So we decided to go ahead and get our own test done. Or at least see how much this would cost and what was entailed.

So an online search was done and that produced a few names in the area. We sent emails and left phone messages. But nothing, nada, silence. Weren't we in some sort of recession? Low levels of house building going on so surely some of these people were looking for new business? This became somewhat of a theme throughout our entire build. Regardless of what stage we were at it took a lot of effort just to get a quotation. And sometime we abandoned a particular approach just because we could not get any sort of quotation or even any response at all, from the trades that we contacted.

At the same time as we were trying to sort percolation we had been given the name of an architect. Unfortunately although he was a specialist in eco designs and also a local man he lived in Barcelona! At least that was what Miles said when I first spoke to him on the phone. But he only lived some of the time in Barcelona and most of his work was in Ireland where he spent at least half of his time. In fact he had done a lot of work at Cloughjordan Eco Village which we had visited. So we arranged to meet up at the site the following Saturday as he was visiting a client in Ireland that weekend. We also spent some time looking at Miles' website and were impressed by his work.

So we met with our (potential) architect and then went for a coffee where we spent about two hours being quizzed on our social life, eating habits, families, frequency and number of overnight visitors, how hot we liked our rooms, preferred evening behaviour (i.e. watching TV, reading, listening to music, or in our case playing Irish traditional tunes) and a lot more. At one point I queried why he needed all this information as all we were after was an overall house design. I was told, firmly, that in order for the house to be designed in a way that was in keeping with our lifestyles this was the process that had to been followed. A bottom up approach. Room types, usage and sizes determined first and then organised into a whole that determined what the eventual house would look like. I had been looking at external house designs to considering things like barrel roof versus single pitch. Window sizes. Position of front door and so on. An architect works differently I rapidly discovered. So at the end of this fairly exhausting meeting Miles headed off to draw up some initial plans.

While he was doing this we swithced our focus to the percolation test.

After some days we finally got the old percolation results from Liam P. and made copies which were sent to the planning office. After a couple of days we heard that these were not acceptable as they pre-dated the current regs. And anyway there was a problem with the engineer who had conducted the test (now left the country). Apparently it was alleged that he had submitted the same set of results for a number of different sites of several years and it had not been discovered for some time. All his reports were therefore to be treated with caution and the advice was to get a new test done, even though we might have been successful with the old results.

We then found an "Environmental Engineer' who agreed to visit our site and talk about percolation. A price was agreed, not as much as we feared so we booked him. Some days later Enda turned up and made some preliminary small holes with a shovel and announced that proper trial holes would need to be dug using a digger. Which we had to organise. More inquiries. More silence. Everybody obviously too busy. But a word with Liam P. who owned the site produce a name and digger was booked. Day before Davey had phoned to say he had a problem as his digger had broken down. Then phoned again later to say he could borrow a small one to do the trial holes. And the next day, Enda, Davey and the digger all turned up and the trial holes were dug.

Attached Image
Davey in the borrowed digger

Attached Image
First trial hole

The procedure is quite simple. A couple of trial holes or trenches are dug. A specified amount of water is poured in and the time it take to percolate away determines whether or not the ground is suitable for a wastewater system. If it drains too readily then that's no good and the waste water will just go straight to the water table, where yoyu find the water we, and others, use for our well. If the water doesn't drain quickly enough then we can't sue that site as the wastewater will just build up. So a tense few hours until we get the phone call the next day to say that it was pretty OK but the actual results would have to be seen by the planning officer to determine if this was acceptable. There was some problem with overnight rain and the an accumulation of water in the ground from the previous heavy rain we'd had.

And then we got the percolation report. Nine sections complete with site characterisation and a site suitability report. This last one told us among other things that our site that the "Bedrock under site is part of the Ayle River Formation of Mudstone, siltstone, conglomerate." Which was nice to know! But the reports contained the following crucial sentence "Based on the previous assessment and the soil type, this site will be able to percolate, attenuate and dispose of the wastewater generated from the proposed dwelling house." It seemed that everything was OK and that the engineer was recommending that we could install a wastewater system on the site. In fact the results were pretty much the same as the older report. It had cost us several hundred euros but we felt that was money well spent.

So all we needed now was an acceptable, to us and to the planning department, set of plans for our new house. And water on site. But that was unlikely to be a problem due to the underground watercourses in the area and especially on our neighbours' properties. That was for later though.



Very good Blog. Cant wait for part 3
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