Planning restrictions successfully negotiated for an oak frame dream home

Oak Frame Building Costs

House Size: 188m2m2

This was a project I was introduced to by Oakwrights back in 2013 and from the initial enquiry information I had, I knew it was a replacement dwelling, the site was in a Green Belt and also in a Conservation Area. As I approached the site, it became apparent that this one could be a little ‘out of the box’. Yes, the site was in a Green Belt but not that you would know it. It sits on a built-unpresidential street and the only immediate object that was green was a huge 20 metres high oak tree right at the front of the plot. I will come onto this in more detail later but for now, let’s get back to this plot. The Conservation Area designation was a bit of a strange one too as the mix of housing was extremely varied and nothing of any immediate interest in terms of historic importance.

The site is constrained by Green Belt policies and further constrained by Conservation Area policies and these had to be understood right at the start of the design process if we were to achieve a planning approval for our clients Johnny and Jane.

An oak framed home presents an unassuming face to its neighbours:

As we got into the initial meeting, we discussed in some detail about the fact that Johnny and Jane had been trying to get planning permission for the whole of the previous year or so with two failed applications and a dismissed appeal behind them. This got me thinking as to why could this be? Upon reviewing the failed designs, it was apparent that the architects had tried to apply the same logic to this house being demolished and replaced similar to other sites locally which had been recently developed with large 5/6 bedroom imposing houses. This is all well and good if the site and the policies applicable to the site allow such development. Going back to the constraints I mentioned earlier, being Conservation Area, Green Belt and also that large oak tree which had a root protection zone covering almost half of the plot, it was clear that a much more detailed analysis was required together with an appropriate design response. The designs prepared previously were never going to be successful and it’s a real shame when this happens as the client is given false hope and it’s just a pointless exercise when the site is clearly constrained.

So, what did we do? We shook the whole thing on its head, started all over again and promised our clients we would get a planning approval on the site but to do so, we will have to approach things from a much more detailed and methodical perspective and work with the local authority and operate within the confines of the relevant policies.

My initial advice was to fully understand that the general stance taken by the local authority for replacement dwellings in the Green Belt is that they 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 that 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.

Because I was able to assess the background on this site and more importantly the reasons for failed application, I was able to enter into pre-application negotiations with the planning authority because I was able to assess the background on this site and more importantly the reasons for failed applications. I had the intention of explaining how we were going to approach the scheme from a new perspective, taking on board the constraints. It was a delicate balancing act as our clients 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 that we had the opportunity to build something really special, and that we should strive to produce a contemporary interpretation of the site rather than just another black boarded barn which was the planners general stance.

We did manage to reach an agreement in principle with the planners after a fair bit of back and forth with sketches, reviews, meetings, more sketches, etc. which is a natural part of the process and after submitting the formal planning application, I was able to deliver the planning permission to Johnny and Jane on Christmas Eve 2014 which was 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.

Over the years, I have been asked so many times 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. Dave is the absolute organiser, strategist, researcher, negotiator, you name it. Dave and I had talked about this business concept probably for the last 4 years or so and we both knew it could work. Not only did we know it could work but what better clients could we have hoped for than Johnny and Jane, our first ever full project management contract.


A Bespoke Project Management Team, described by Dave Tonks

When we set up PJT Custom Build, we made the commitment to ourselves and the business that we would be different to the mainstream project management culture that seems to exist and that at the core of our values would be client transparency. All too often, clients will be confused by jargon and terminology which is alien to them and as a result, the wrong decisions get made.

We therefore always look to explain everything in clear and concise detail and will often back this up with drawings produced in-house to ensure we are taking full control of the process. As project managers, the cost is critical at every decision-making point and with our involvement. We can ensure the right decision is made based on being in receipt of the right information at the right time for the right job.

Our first process with our clients is to ensure all pre-commencement planning conditions have been discharged together with applying for any additional applications such as Building Regulations and demolition notices if it’s a replacement dwelling project. Running alongside this, we will be setting up the project parameters to include specification schedule, budget appraisal, visual expectations, labour analysis, health and safety, site insurance, build warranties… the list goes on. Only when all of these aspects have been put in place can you start the fun, which is building the house.

We will attend the build process itself a number of times per week as this is vital to the smooth running of the project and if I am out on site myself, Pete is often in the office which works really well if we need to make snap decisions during the build process. No matter how well you pre-plan your build, there will be many decisions to make on a day to day basis and as a project management company; this is where we can excel. I was very often on site either with Johnny & Jane or the different contractors and making on the spot decisions to keep the programme on schedule. With Pete being in the office, I am able to relay situations back to him and he can do the necessary appraisal combined with some sketch and specification work. This will then get emailed back direct to site to allow an agreement to be made and the 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 it was our first official contract. As a result of the successful completion of this project, we have secured 4 more projects to manage for clients through 2017 into 2018 which is fantastic news for everyone.

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