Before we purchased the site, we researched the possibility of applying for permission for a traditional Rectory style house on the plot. Considering the existing street scene and surrounding properties, the experts advised us that this should be just a formality and they could not envisage any problem in achieving planning consent in the usual 8 week time span. We submitted our application on 3 February and we were advised by the Local Authority of a decision date of 30 March. After discussions with builders it was decided that the project could well complete by September. A few weeks after we submitted the plans, neighbours raised minor objections which we agreed to address immediately. Response time from the planning officer was appalling, after repeated telephone calls and messages from our architect we often waited several weeks for replies. In April we were advised that before planning consent could be approved, it would be necessary to instruct an Ecologist to undertake a Bat survey.
The area is known to be inhabited by Bats and as a protected species it is unlawful to destroy a property inhabited by them. We issued instructions for a survey, thinking that this would just be a formality. Sadly this was not to be the case. The Ecologist identified a small number of Bat droppings in the loft space of the property. In the report he stated that the findings were insignificant and that in his opinion the droppings were evident of one Bat roosting in the building. Despite his findings being “insignificant” the resulting cost, frustration and delay, would prove to be very significant. Once a roost has been identified in a property, it then becomes necessary to investigate further and identify the species and numbers involved. A license is then required to demolish a property containing a known roost. Standard practice is for 3 emergence surveys spread over several weeks. An emergence survey involves an Ecologist sitting at the property for several hours at dawn or dusk, with an ultrasonic bat detector. I called the local biological records centre to seek advise and the senior ecologist advised me that in his opinion it was unnecessary to undertake 3 surveys, after all, we knew that the evidence of bats was insignificant so the procedures should take that into account, but the final decision would rest with Natural England who issue the license to demolish the building containing the roost. Taking his advise, I settled for one emergence survey which confirmed the presence of one bat, and it was then necessary to write a mitigation statement to satisfy the Local Authority that we would be taking the necessary steps to protect any bats found during the demolition. In the statement we agreed to provide bat boxes around the garden plus making the loft space in the new garage accessible for bats. Once the Local Authority had this statement they finally issued a conditional planning consent on 26 September, 32 weeks after our application was submitted. One of the conditions was that we follow instructions to be detailed by Natural England with regard to dealing with the bat. Now all that was left to do, was to submit our application for a license to Natural England for demolition of the property.
Unfortunately this did not prove to be straight forward. After 4 weeks, Natural England replied stating that they did not have sufficient data to issue a license. Bearing in mind that we had one survey which suggested that there was one bat in the loft space of the property to be demolished, and an emergence survey confirming the presence of one bat, I found this incredulous. They suggested that in the absence of sufficient data, we sent bat droppings from the loft space for DNA analysis to identify the species of bat. Further to this they asked for information regarding how we would maintain the temperature and humidity in the loft space of the new garage in the event that a bat took up residence. Despite my anger at this further request for information I found this hilarious.
The protection of bats law only caters for the worst possible scenario and that is that a nursery roost of several bats is present, and the procedure is based on that premise. As is often the case, the law leaves no room for an intelligent and sensible adaption to accommodate the situation. All concerned in issuing a license cover themselves to leave no doubt that the correct procedure has been followed as laid down by the law, and in our situation where we found one bat of the most common species, we have to follow the guidelines to the letter and suffer the cost and inconvenience incurred.
All things considered, the way in which our planning application was dealt with by the Local Planning office was nothing short of appalling, and what should have been a very straightforward procedure has evolved into a very unpleasant, costly, and frustrating experience. I have no doubt that Local Planning Offices throughout the country are hindering the economy in this way, for no good reason. I wrote to the Prime Minister, The Deputy Prime Minister and the Housing Minister to highlight this issue, and all three forwarded my letter to the Local Government Offices who wrote and suggested that I complain to the Local Council who were causing the problem! – Extraordinary
CLEARING THE SITE
Expecting that we would receive the go ahead from Natural England in the first week of November, I had arranged for the site to be cleared of all the trees and shrubs that were either in the way or overgrown and no longer attractive.
The JCB and Chainsaws arrived on the 30th October and clearing begun in earnest. The 3 man team were on site for 4 days and the JCB made easy work of it.
Unfortunately, the day before the site clearance started, I received the request for further information from English Heritage. This meant a further delay of up to 8 weeks until we received a response from them having answered their queries. We reviewed the plans and realised that the new building would sit just behind the existing building with a metre to spare, but the planning consent stated that permission was given to build the new property following the demolition of the existing. I called the planning officer and discussed this with him and he told me that while he could not sanction the building of the new house until the demolition of the existing had been undertaken he didn’t consider it likely that the council would question this.
With this in mind, we gave Potton the go ahead for the timber frame on the 14th November. Finally………we are making some progress.