When is planning permission for four loft windows actually planning permission for two? Or simultaneously vice versa? It’s a very tricky question. After spending a week in the nine circles of hell that constitute local authority planning, I have narrowed my loft conversion problems down to two possible options.
Either I’d got planning permission for four windows and it was revised down to two, or I’d got planning for two windows and it was revised up to four.
Half the planning department at the local council think it was the former and half the latter. Building Control, meanwhile, said they always bow to planning. In other words, they think it’s two and four.
It all started with a note from my architect when the permission came through two years ago. Congrats, he said. There was only one thing I wasn’t allowed. Four roof lights became two after complaints from neighbours. That sounded about right.
Most of my neighbours have lots of loft windows. One neighbour has so many that from the street it looks like he has more Veluxes than roof tiles.
But of course nimbyism doesn’t work by letting you have what they’ve got. There are people who would put 74 loft windows in their house and object to you having even one if they could.
So I wasn’t surprised that neighbours had objected to me having two roof lights front and two back, and that the planners had bowed to their demands and cut me down to one each side.
In any case, I ran out of money and the loft wasn’t begun. But whenever I get a bit of money in, I try to start it. And the same thing happens. No one can decide what I got permission for.
The planning decision notice says four. But the architect, who is no slouch, insists this is wrong. The planners told him two. At first, I emailed the planners and asked if the decision notice was wrong. And they emailed me back very stridently: unless you put four windows in you will be in breach of planning, said a chap who turned out to be the head of planning. He ought to know, surely. The builder boyfriend was not convinced.
A few months ago, he decided to ring. In his best geezer patois, he chatted up the lady on the other end of the phone. Would she look into it a bit more for him, he cajoled.
She agreed to go away and look through the entire case file and when she came back she said she was sorry; he was right. A mistake had been made. It was actually two. There was a very well hidden revision accompanying the planning decision letter, and that revision clearly stipulated two not four conservation roof lights.
‘So if I had cut four holes in that roof on the say-so of your head of planning, what’s the betting someone round here who’s gone through all the documents would have rung in and complained and you would have done us?’ asked the BB.
‘Almost certain,’ she said. And she furnished him with some intelligence about the extent of the nimbyism in the locality which I won’t repeat — but suffice to say Mr Trump would call it nasty.
After that phone call, the money ran out again and we didn’t get started. But this week I decided we really must get those windows in, if only to hold the permission for the loft conversion, which expires next year.
And just to be super safe, I decided to ring the planners again, not least because it occurred to me that the only written proof that exists that it’s two windows not four is the architect’s email. The BB’s phone call might be neither here nor there.
What if, I thought, the real trap was to put in two when it was four after all? What if two is the red herring? What if the revision is the bit that isn’t legally binding? Or what if no one else but that lady can find the revision? I certainly can’t be relied upon to produce it.
I rang the planning department and got through to a profoundly depressed sounding employee who told me atonally, as though reading a script, while possibly painting her nails and flicking through TV Choice, that I had permission for four windows. I asked if I could speak to someone more senior.
She told me the person who had worked on my case had now left — of course he had — and I would have to email his supervisor.
I have sent the email. What I would enjoy is if he told me it wasn’t two or four, but something completely new, like three. Just to jazz things up a bit.