Planning consent for a replacement oak frame family home in Kent

Written by Pete Tonks – a Regional Architectural Designer within our Architectural Design team


This project holds fond memories for me as it was one of my earlier projects with Oakwrights back in 2007/2008. The brief for this home building project was to design a new, bespoke post and beam oak framed home for a family in Kent.


Recognising the potential of the plot

The site was pretty much a dream textbook scenario, set down a winding track road with minimum neighbours and in a rural location with surrounding woodland and countryside. However, the existing bungalow, clad with white weatherboarding, that sat on our clients’ site was far from perfect and was beyond economical upgrade. The dwelling was originally constructed in the 1940s and had been subject to extensions over the years to all four elevations. As a result of this, the footprint was of a decent size but the property suffered from poor levels of natural daylight and had no positive attributes in terms of thermal performance and carbon demand.

The site itself was located in the green belt and also an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), where development is resisted generally so as to protect the open rural nature and character.


The planning application process

As our clients worked within the industry with combined experience in land valuation and acquisitions as well as being chartered surveyors, it was agreed I would create the concept for the site, design the scheme and produce all of the drawn content for the application. From here, our clients would then prepare supporting statements, complete the planning forms and negotiate with the planners leading up to and during the planning application.

We had to approach the planning process in a number of phases so as to make the planning policy constraints work for us. The first application achieved a replacement dwelling at 52% greater volume than the existing which was there or thereabouts within policy parameters. Although the planning officer considered the replacement dwelling to be above the level which would typically be acceptable, the eco credentials of the oak frame and insulated encapsulation panels, ground source heating, solar heating and rainwater harvesting all added up to a sensible replacement dwelling proposal which was duly approved.

A drawing to show the front elevation of our clients' home, designed by Pete Tonks

Soon after the initial planning approval was obtained, it was our clients’ wish to construct a full footprint basement under the new dwelling to house some of the eco-hub infrastructure and components, such as the geo-thermal heat stores and central vacuum collectors. If we had gone in for the basement as part of the initial planning application, it is likely that the overall size of the above ground house would have ended up being less than the approved 52% so as to get the figures at around the same level.

This is certainly one approach but bear in mind each planning application will have a design process time attached to it as well as the process time to put each planning application through the local authority. This planning strategy worked with Tunbridge Wells’ District Council, as they considered a proposed basement did not add to the visual bulk and therefore intrusiveness of the proposal. I have had similar projects refused by other local planning authorities, which in principle have been identical to this scheme, but refused because it was felt a basement would add to the visual bulk, and therefore could be considered intrusive.

This drawing captures the vision of a side elevation

The architectural design process

Moving on to the design of our clients’ oak framed home, I worked with them to create a relatively open-plan ground floor, ensuring a good flow and family connection. The design is based on a simple H-plan, with the right-hand wing incorporating the kitchen/dining/utility and the left-hand wing housing the family’s living room and snug. These two wings are connected by the central glazed atrium with a staircase and bridge landing across to join the two wings together.

On first floor, there are four bedrooms and two bathrooms with fully vaulted roof spaces to really get the best out of the volume we could achieve via the planning process, and also this enabled the oak frame to really ‘sing’. Externally, the vision for this bespoke home building project was to ensure no two parts of our clients’ timber building were the same. I suggested mixing things up a bit with regards to ridge levels, eaves levels, roof geometry as well as classic combinations of soft clay tiles, lime render, handmade bricks and different fenestration combinations (the arrangement of windows).

The end result is a property with quirkiness and charm that will stand the test of time and only get better with age. More importantly, it will be an amazing family home for our clients for generations to come, and a legacy to us all.