Planning consent for a replacement oak frame home in Hertfordshire

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


I was introduced to this project in 2013 and from the initial enquiry information I had been given, I knew it was a replacement dwelling, the site was in a green belt and also in a conservation area.


Recognising the potential of the plot

You would not have known the site was located in a green belt: it sits on a built-up, unpresidential street and the only immediate green object was the huge 20 metre-high oak tree right at the front of the plot which was owned by our clients, Johnny and Jane. The conservation area designation was a bit of a strange one too, as the mixture of housing was extremely varied and there was no immediate interest in terms of historic importance.

The site was constrained by green belt policies and further constrained by conservation area policies. This had to be understood right at the start of the design process if we were to achieve planning approval for Johnny and Jane.

When I first met with the couple, they told me how they had been trying to gain planning permission for a long time, with two failed applications and a dismissed appeal behind them. I reviewed their current designs which displayed plans for the existing house on their site to be replaced with a dwelling that was similar to surrounding local development sites housing large, five/six bedroom homes. This is all well and good if the site and the policies applicable allow for such development. However, positioned in a green belt, conservation area and also having a large oak tree with a root protection zone covering almost half of Johnny and Jane’s plot, it was evident a detailed analysis was required together with an appropriate design response.


The architectural design process

To achieve planning approval for their dream oak frame home, Johnny, Jane and I decided to start again with their home design. To do so, I explained we had to approach things from a detailed and methodical perspective and work with the local authority to operate within the confines of the relevant policies.

My initial advice was to fully understand the general stance taken by the local authority for replacement dwellings in the green belt, which are considered acceptable as long as the replacement dwelling is not ‘materially larger’ than the existing dwelling. There is nothing in planning legislation that defines ‘materially larger,’ so it was my responsibility to assess the interpretation of planning policy relevant to such proposals by the particular planning authority. Through my own research and discussions with the planning department, it appeared a general uplift figure of 30% may be deemed acceptable based on footprint (area) and also volume. Other aspects such as height, boundary distances (sky-gap) and impact on the grouping appearance of buildings within the streetscape will also be assessed by the planning authority.

Here is the rear elevation sketch of Johnny and Jane’s home, designed by Pete Tonks

The planning application process

As I was able to assess the background on this site and more importantly, the reasons why Johnny and Jane’s previous applications had been unsuccessful, I was able to enter into pre-application negotiations with the planning authority, explaining how we were going to approach the scheme from a new perspective and take on board the constraints. It was a delicate balancing act, as Johnny and Jane had accepted they would need to build a smaller house than they had first imagined but as a trade-off for this compromise, regardless of size, I had assured them we had the opportunity to build a really special oak frame home, and that we should strive to produce a contemporary interpretation of the site.

We did reach an agreement in principle with the planners after going back and forth with sketches, reviews, meetings, etc. which is a natural part of this process, and after submitting their formal planning application, I was able to deliver the planning permission to Johnny and Jane on Christmas Eve in 2014. This is the best thing to be able to do for our clients and is the very fuel that feeds my passion as a bespoke home designer and planning specialist.


Home building project management

Over the years, I have been asked to be retained on projects after planning to assist our clients in the specifying, procuring and construction phases of their build. In other words, project management. This is where my brother, Dave Tonks, joins the fold when we formed a bespoke project management company, PJT Custom Build, in January 2015. Not only did we know it could work, but what better clients could we have hoped for than Johnny and Jane on our first full project management contract.

Our first process with our clients is to ensure all pre-commencement planning conditions have been met. Dave was very often on-site either with Johnny and Jane or the different contractors, making on the spot decisions to keep the construction of their bespoke oak framed home on schedule. I was in the office, and Dave would relay updates back to me so I could do the necessary appraisal combined with some sketch and specification work. I would then email this back to the site for an agreement to be made and work to continue.

Creating Johnny and Jane’s oak frame home was an absolute pleasure and we are so grateful to them for having the belief and confidence in us, bearing in mind their project was our first official custom build contract.


Would you like to learn more about Johnny and Jane’s home building journey? Please see a link to their case study below.

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Planning consent for a replacement oak frame home in Hertfordshire

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