Our house is top-heavy – should we spend on moving or building?

    John Bullock

    With four bedrooms the Baldwins have plenty of sleeping space. What they need now is a much bigger living area on the ground floor – one that leads straight out to the garden


    Dear Design with the Times,

    We live in a semi-detached Victorian house in central Tunbridge Wells, and would like to extend our home to accommodate our growing family.

    The house is not listed and is not in the conservation area.

    It has three floors, with four bedrooms set out on the first floor and attic levels.

    The balance of house is top-heavy, and the area where we are lacking space is on the ground floor.

    To improve this, we would like to create a large family kitchen/dining and sitting room leading out on to the garden, which is south facing.

    Light is crucial to us and we want to make the most of this aspect, and also create something which has a contemporary feel.

    We have a fixed budget and have been considering moving.

    But to get to the next level in the market would incur some fairly large costs and stamp duty, and we wonder if it would be better spending this money on our current home to try and make it work for us?

    If we wanted to add a relatively small extension, would this require planning permission, or could it be built under permitted development?

    If so, what would we need in the way of drawings and input from a professional, and are there any other permissions necessary?

    Fiona and John Baldwin
    Tunbridge Wells


    With the high costs involved in moving, and good family houses in central Tunbridge Wells being in high demand, extending could be a good option.

    We work with many clients who have a similar dilemma to you. Using the funds that would otherwise be spent in tax, removal costs and fees and investing in works to your current home could reap rewards, not only because it would fulfil your family requirements and give longevity to the practicalities of staying in your home, but it could ultimately increase its intrinsic value.

    When considering an extension, we always recommend working with the brief and taking a holistic approach to the design without being restricted to an extension within the restraints of permitted development.

    If it fits within permitted development criteria then all well and good, but – as ever – it is crucial to ensure the design isn’t compromised. There has been a great deal of confusion over Permitted Development rights, and we asked Stephen Baughen, Development Manger of the Planning Department at TWBC, to clarify the position:

    “Permitted development rights are a national grant of planning permission which allow certain building works to houses (but not flats/apartments) to be carried out without having to make a planning application,” he explained.

    “To be considered permitted development, the works must comply with certain conditions and limitations which are set out in government legislation known as the General Permitted Development (England) Order 2015 (as amended). This legislation is usually referred to as the GPDO.

    “Most houses have ‘permitted development’ rights, although these rights are sometimes removed when planning permission is originally granted for the house, so it is always necessary to check whether this has occurred at an early stage.

    “The conditions and limitations (for example in terms of height, depth, etc) of permitted development are used to control impact and to protect local amenity, and vary if a building or land is in a Conservation Area or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

    “The best starting point to find out more about these conditions and limitations is to take a look at the Planning Portal website at: www.planningportal.co.uk

    “This website provides general information on whether common projects require permission,
    and also has very useful ‘interactive houses’.”

    Regarding your home, Mr Baughen confirmed: “The conditions and limitations for a single storey rear extension at this semi-detached property are as follows:

    1. The extension cannot extend more than three metres from the rear wall of the original house. Proposals for extensions between three and six metres would require the submission of a ‘larger householder extension’ Prior Notification to the Council.

    2. The height of the eaves of the extension cannot exceed the height of the eaves of the main house. If the extension would be within two metres of the garden boundary, then the eaves cannot be more than three metres high. The overall height of the extension (including any ridged roof) cannot be more than four metres.

    3. The extension cannot exceed 50 per cent of the total garden area, and materials used in any exterior work (other than those used in the construction of a conservatory) must be of a similar appearance to the main dwelling house.

    “If any of these conditions and limitations are exceeded, then planning permission would be required. This will require the submission of a planning application that would be assessed against local and national planning policy.

    “If the proposed works meet the conditions and limitations in the GPDO, then there is usually no requirement to apply to the council for permission to carry out the work.

    “However, we find that many people now want written confirmation that works can be carried out as ‘permitted development’, as this is often asked for by solicitors when they go on to sell the house in the future, and not having this paperwork can cause delays to house sales/purchases.

    “The council can provide an informal view in writing through its Pre-application Advice service (available through the council’s website). Alternatively, you may wish to submit an application for a Lawful Development Certificate, which will provide formal confirmation that the works can be carried out without planning permission. More information on Lawful Development Certificates are available on the Planning Portal website.”

    So, looking at your floor plan, it seems that a really good family space could be created within the criteria Permitted Development.

    But you will have to keep your extension to less than three metres deep, and – because you are close to the boundary – it will need to have a ridge of less than four metres.

    John Bullock 2

    We would suggest removing the wall between the existing kitchen and dining room and extending to the rear of the existing kitchen, which would keep the extension away from the adjoining boundary.

    Because the garden is private, we would suggest a large glazed area to the rear, wrapping around the side return. This can be achieved either by sliding or bifold doors and this is a personal choice.

    Over the past year, we have seen a revival in larger sliding glass panels and a move away from bifolds. The beauty is that you can open up the whole area of the rear of your house in the summer, but when closed they are more visually impactful on the aspect out.

    Here we would suggest a two-panel sliding system where you will be able to open up 50 per cent of the rear elevation, but during the colder months you will have a fairly uninterrupted view of the garden beyond.

    We could achieve a ‘vanishing corner’ where the structure is cantilevered, so when the doors are open there is no structure on the corner.

    The garden is as important to consider as the extension, and it’s worth planning and designing this.

    Especially a terrace and seating area hand-in-hand with the extension, as this outside area will ultimately extend the living space further.

    The only issue with large panels of glass is that if they are not dressed with curtains or blinds, in the winter and at night they become a very large black reflective surface. To negate this impact we always recommend introducing some form of subtle lighting in the garden beyond, which will visually increase the feeling of space and add drama.

    Whilst planning permission is not necessary for this scheme, it is worth investing in a good set of design drawings in order that the space is properly considered and the best results are obtained.

    To produce these, it will initially be necessary to undertake a measured survey of the house. This set of drawings will become the basis for all further design and detail drawings.

    Once the design is agreed, then building regulations would need to be obtained.

    John Bullock 3

    Stephen Baughen explains: “If you choose Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s Building Control Service as your building control provider, you have the option of two types of Building Regulations applications.

    1. A Full Plans application would need to contain plans and other information showing all construction details. If your plans comply with the Building Regulations, you will receive a notice stating that they have been approved. If necessary, you will be asked to make amendments or provide additional information. Plans are usually vetted within seven working days of the application being received. The benefit of this type of application is that both yourself and your builder can have the confidence that the plans have been approved, and this could reduce the likelihood of defective work occurring on site.

    2. A Building Notice application avoids the preparation of detailed ‘full plans’ and is designed to enable some types of building work to get under way very quickly, and is best suited to small minor works. If you decide to use this procedure, you will need to be confident that the work will comply with the Building Regulations or you will risk having to correct any work you carry out if it is defective.

    “Once you have submitted your application, you are responsible for notifying the council at certain stages of building work during the construction phase. These inspections are necessary to ensure works carried out on site are compliant with the Building Regulations. It is essential that these inspections are undertaken, and failure to provide notification to inspect may prevent a Completion Certificate being issued at a later date.

    “Whether you decide to use Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s Building Control Service or an Approved Inspector, we strongly urge you to arrange a pre-commencement meeting to discuss your project with your Area Surveyor prior to works commencing on site. This is a great opportunity not just to meet your surveyor, but also to be given valuable guidance on the Building Control process.”

    We would always advocate making a full plans submission as it defines from the start what needs to be undertaken to meet the requirements of the Building Inspector.

    Some buildings can be exempt from regulations, but for an extension to a dwelling it will be necessary, and because structural walls are being removed an engineer will be required to make calculations for any steelwork.

    When all the information relating to the work has been gathered and specified, then it can be sent to tender. We like to send projects to a minimum of three contractors and obtain fixed prices for the works. Having three prices ensures best value and enables you to budget for the completed project.

    At present, we are seeing an array of prices returned at tender.

    Choosing the right builder for your project is not only about price but also about personality. It is crucial to feel comfortable with your builder as they will be in your home for several months, and communication is key to the successful outcome of a project.

    Our grateful thanks to:

    Stephen Baughen, Development Manager,
    TWBC Planning Department

    If you have a question you’d like John Bullock to answer, then please email it to: newsdesk@timesoftunbridgewells.co.uk or newsdesk@timesoftonbridge.co.uk

    Please mark the subject as: Design Team

    You can also write to us at:
    Design Team
    Times of Tunbridge Wells & Tonbridge,
    16 Lonsdale Gardens,
    Tunbridge Wells
    TN1 1NU

    Having studied at Edinburgh College of Art and The Royal Academy of The Hague, John Bullock launched John Bullock Design in 2003. With offices in Tunbridge Wells High Street, John has won awards for his work and is committed to delivering the best outcomes for clients. www.johnbullockdesign.com