Project Lacey Green

Determined to get the planning application in by the end of December, I finally submitted it around 6pm on New Year’s Eve! The entire process took place online through the Wycombe District Council Planning Portal, which can also be used to search for previous applications. Given there were two precedents for projects of a similar scale at St. John’s (a playground and pavilion built in 2009 and a timber gazebo erected in 2011) I decided not to seek pre-application advice, which can take a number of weeks and incurs a fee. There are clear guidelines which set out what drawings are needed for the application, and also information from the Chiltern Conservation Society about how to ensure new buildings engage with the vernacular tradition of the region. Given the site falls with the Chilterns ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ conservation designation, and also within the Metropolitan Green Belt, it would be very hard to gain planning permission for a large scheme or a proposal deemed insensitive.

The Conservation Society’s  ‘Chilterns Building Design Guide’, a 60-page document published in 2010, sets out a clear agenda which seeks to rectify what they perceive to be a mistaken planning policies of the 20th Century. In terms of settlement patterns, they are particularly critical of ‘ribbon development’ between the 1930s and 60s, which allowed ridge-top villages like Lacey Green to extend along roads, rather than in dense clusters. This suburban pattern not only increased distances between houses, but also gives the impression that the countryside is a lot more built-up than it really is. In relation to materials, there is a strong emphasis on using locally sources flint, black weather-board siding, red clay bricks and roofing tiles – all of which give local buildings distinctive characteristics specific to the area. The scale and form of new buildings are required to respond to the pattern of existing buildings, with pitched roofs given particular emphasis – the preference being for a steep double pitch over across a deep plan rather than a shallow single pitch. In general there is an insistence that new development accommodate the existing landscape in terms of topography and trees, and that buildings should be environmentally responsible. In light of this, contemporary ‘one-off’ buildings which are sensitive to their surroundings and incorporate renewable energy provision etc, are supposedly allowed – but it’s also clear that they ‘will require special justification’, which might be the ‘exceptional quality or innovative nature of their design…truly outstanding and ground-breaking’.

Now that the application has been submitted (along with a fee of £385) the planning authorities will visit the site, and then upload the submitted drawings onto the planning portal where they will be available for the public to view and comment on. The application will be discussed with all the other applications in the villages of Lacey Green, Loosely Row and Speen at the next Parish Council Meeting, on Monday 12th January; I should hear back from Wycombe Council with a final decision by 27th February. Although the system is quite transparent, and a lot of information is accessible online, the expense of the pre-application advice was off-putting on a project of this scale. Through his PHD ‘Making Planning Popular’, the architect and RCA tutor David Knight is exploring ways of transforming the process into something understood, liked and done by many more people – shifting the knowledge and power away from the authorities (which are inevitably tainted by party politics) into the hands of the general public. His aim is create an online platform called ‘Building Rights’, a more democratic and interactive version of the planning portal website, where information can be shared between applicants and planners in a more intuitive and informal way. This would have been a fantastic resource for me over the past couple of months, and I look forward to seeing the final version of the website later this year. In the meantime, I and the school are crossing our fingers that the application for the new canopy will be approved!