Monthly Archives: July 2012

Bat Survey

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Bats are a protected species in the UK.  This means that it is a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly kill or capture, disturb a place of shelter or destroy the resting place of a bat.  A roosting site can be protected even if there are no bats present.  Furthermore, a bat survey needs to be undertaken BEFORE a planning application can be determined.

The other compounding fact here is that the survey can only be completed at suitable times of the year, normally May to September. 

In our case, we are not likely to be submitting a planning application until after September, so if it turns out that we need a bat survey then we will have to put everything on hold until the following May when the survey can be completed.  Not a great result.

Talking to the existing owners, it would appear that there are bats in the area, so we have decided to get a bat survey completed now just in case.  But it is another added expense.  Around £1,000.

How old is the property?

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One of the questions that has been bugging me ever since we first saw the property has been it’s age.  Exactly how old is it?

This seems like a hard question to answer – at least, answer accurately.  I am guessing that it was built in the 1800s and I am assuming that some of the interal features might help dated it.  However, often a visit to the Local History unit in the local Library will provide a number of the answers.

Well, I have looked into this will previous properties that I have owned so have an idea about the process.  With this in mind, I visited the Local History unit in Huddersfield central Library.  I was not quite sure how much information I would be able to find – it is very variable depending on the age and area.  However, I was very pleasantly surprised to be able to spot the property on an old map.  First of all, it was definitely there in 1894.  I then looked on the 1854 map and it was there too.  Then onto the oldest map in the library.  And bingo.  It was there too.  In 1788! 

The amazing thing is that the outline of the house really hasn’t changed that much in the past 250 years (it is the “T” shaped building above the letter “A” in “Lower Hagg”.  Just compare the scan from the 1788 map with the image from Google earth on my other posting.  Almost identical.

With the help of the librarians at the library, I looked through the boxes of photos of the area and managed to find an RAF aerial photograph from 1948 that also includes the property. [Incidentally, many of these aerial photographs are available online, however, not the one that I was looking for.  English Heritage maintain and archive of these images online and you can find it here: http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/.]

A quick through the census for 1901 established that the property (10 Hagg Lane as it was referred to then) was occupied by Smith and Mary Littlewood and their three children (Ernest, Wilfred, and Denis) and a step daughter Evelyn Eastwood.  Their occupations were listed as Woollen Weaver.  The property next door (9 Hagg Lane) is occupied by a 50 year old farm labourer, named Joseph Hobson. The census data can now be accessed online, although I used  the microfiche in the library for this purpose.

All of this I established within a hour, pretty amazing really.

Now to be able to date house any further, I will need to visit the Registry of Deeds in Wakefield.  The Registry of Deeds was established by an Act of Parliament in 1704 to allow land holders to register publicly deeds relating to property.  But this will have to wait for another weekend!

Using Google Earth to work out the layout of the property

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One of the challenges with purchasing Hagg Leys Farm is that we do not have any property details.  We bought the property before the details had been produced and once the property had been sold, there was no interest in producing these.  So we are having problems answering basic questions such as “how many sq ft is the property?”, “How big is the garden?” etc.
As it turns out, the square footage is an important factor in estimating a number of the basic costs so it is important to be able to get an estimate of this, no matter how rough.  It occurred to me that Google Earth might be a good option here.  I zoomed in on the property as much as I could and grabbed the bitmap (using the snipping tool in Windows 7).  I then pasted this into PowerPoint and drew around the outline of the buildings including other features such as the access road and outbuildings.  You can then remove the underlining satellite image to reveal the outline of the property plan.
Two important things to remember.  Firstly, if you shrink the bitmap, make sure that you keep the proportions the same.  Secondly, when you grab the bitmap make sure that you include the scale.  If you do this, you should be able to mention the outline of the buildings.  Using this approach, I managed to estimate that the square footage of the existing building is around 2700 sq feet (excluding the unconverted barn). I could also start to building some outline designs for the renovation as well as calculating the potential increase in square footage.  I used this to provide some illustrations to the architect and it turned to be a really useful process.

Well, I am glad we shared our ideas first!

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Because if we hadn’t, I think the architect would just have thought we had copied his!

We visited one of their latest projects – a renovation project that is currently up for sale.  There were so many similarities with what we want to do, it was spooky.  The bright modern interior inside a period shell, the open planning living that flows from room to room, the master bedroom that is separate from the guest bedrooms etc.

You can see the property here including interior photos and floor plans.

The property is around 2,200 sq ft so probably slightly smaller than our intended renovation.  This fact alone has us wondering about whether the overall size of our renovation is too big.  But it is still early days.

In the afternoon, we had a look at another property.  Different location. New build, rather than renovation and a lot bigger. You can see more of this property here.  Not really our sort of thing, but interesting from a design point of view, if nothing else.

First meeting with the architect

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I have never employed an architect before, so this is going to be a bit of a voyage of discovery.  However, as with everything these days, a quick search on Google reveals some likely candidates.

Just looking at the architects websites, you are see that some architects specialise either in new build or major on commercial projects.  Probably none of these are going to be appropriate to the renovation of a 18th century farmhouse!  We might be wrong in doing our initial selection this way, but it does underline how important getting your website is if you are an architect!

We came across one architecture practice that we liked.  We had also heard good things about them locally.  They are also based not far away which also helps.  ONE17DESIGN (http://www.one17design.com) are based in Armitage Bridge about 5 miles away from the new house.

We met with Mark Lee from ONE17DESIGN on a rather wet Friday morning and took him through our ideas. We were due to meet at the property, but the rain was torrential.  From the ideas that we had pulled together – overlays on top of bitmaps from Google Earth – Mark seemed to understand what we were looking for.  After chatting for an hour, the raining had subsided enough for us to venture out and walk around the property.  This seemed to confirm Mark’s suspicions that what we want to do (including changing the position of the access road) was all very doable.

Mark suggested that we had a look at a couple of properties that he had just finished working on…..we arranged to view them the following day.

It is going to take how long!?!

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18 months.  From start to completion.  That’s the architect’s estimate.  It might be a bit shorter – say, 15 months – but not dramatically different from the 18 month estimate.

So how does this stack up?
Initial designs 8-12 weeks
Planning permission 8-10 weeks
Building regulations 8 weeks

So that is 6-9 months before we can even start on the building work.  With the building work estimated to take a further 6-9 months, you can see how an 18 month estimate starts to look like a reasonable guess.

Until the designs are complete, it is going to be difficult to come up with a more accurate estimate in terms of the timing as well as the costs.  I must admit that 18 months seems like an awfully long time.

Our first visit to the Planning Dept

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I rang the Planning department at Huddersfield County Council earlier in the week.  We made an appointment to discuss the property that we are in the process of buying.  You will find the pages for the Planning Department here.

Before we went in to see the Planning Dept, the feedback was unanimous – it would be a waste of time.

I must admit that I had a whole list of questions which I didn’t ask.  Questions about what was and what wasn’t going to be acceptable.  I decided that it was too early for these sorts of questions, but better to concentrate on finding out more about the property and the planning process.

Was the meeting a waste of time?  Absolutely not!  The naysayers couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a very useful session and, while we are far from being in a position of having planning permission, we did manage to establish a number of things.

Namely:

  • The property is not Listed;
  • The property is not in a conservation area;
  • There are no current applications for planning permission and there is no record of any planning applications having been submitted (or rejected);
  • There are no planning applcations on any of the adjoining properties;
  • There are no Tree Preservation Orders (TPO) on any of the trees on the property;
  • There are TPOs on the trees on woods (Hagg Wood) that encloses the property;
  • Before we submit our application, we can make an appointment and talk through the designs that we would like to submit.  In fact, it would seem to make sense to do this before the plans are too developed as this will save time and money in getting any amendments made.

So all in all, a very useful session.  I have subsequently read that some local councils charge (around £120) for these meetings.  So top marks to Huddersfield local council!

The way we live now

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One of the things that has struck me when we were househunting is how much our lifestyles have changed over the years and how much this impacts the houses that we build.

You only need to look at large formal Georgian homes to realise that (while they are gorgeous properties) that they really don’t reflect the way we live today. Too big.  Too formal.  Drafty and expensive to heat. This ultimately affects the market for the property and it’s value – the market in our part of the UK already has it’s fair share on £1M properties that have been on the market for over 12 months and are struggling to find new owners.  On a number of occasions, I just got the feeling that the people trying to sell the protperties were trapped in their own homes.

So when I read that the RIBA had commissioned a report from MORI (yes, the survey folks) on looking at the way we live today and what that means for the homes that we should be building and buying, I was intrigued. 

You will find the report here: http://www.architecture.com/Files/RIBAHoldings/PolicyAndInternationalRelations/HomeWise/ThewaywelivenowRIBAIpsosMORIMay2012.pdf if you want to read it in full.  You can download it for free.

The major things (and there were a lot of minor ones too) that I took away from the report were:

  • Large open living spaces with high ceilings and large windows with natural light are seen as being very desirable;
  • Space for private time away from other members of the household and dedicated space for a home office was seen as being desirable.
  • Private outdoor space for socialising and for childsafe playspace;
  • Storage is seen as very important: both for short term storage (where do you put the vacuum cleaner or the recycling bin?) as well as long term storage (where do you store Grandad’s war medals or the family photo albums?). If you are going for open plan living, make sure that there is enough storage space to be able to put things away otherwise it will look messy;
  • Dedicated space for domestic tasks such as washing and drying clothes was seens as being important.

Surprisingly, a lot of the design ideas that we have for the new property ae consistent with the findings in the report.  Strange, because I thought we were unique!