Navigating a technical labyrinth

The process of upgrading windows in homes that are listed, in a conservation area or area of natural beauty, can become expensive and a technical labyrinth when applying for permission, south east-based fabricator Window Designs has reported.

The company highlighted the case of Karen and Mark Cheater, owners of the Langtons Guest House on Eastbourne seafront, who recently discovered just how much of a minefield it can be.

The couple approached Tim and Andy Swain of the Swain Brothers last year to help them with their planning permission application to replace an existing wooden conservatory on the front of their bed and breakfast.

The conservatory was draughty and cold, which meant they couldn’t allow guests to use it in the winter. This had a negative impact on the business severely during the cold months.

Therefore, they wanted to upgrade its thermal efficiency to make it a warm, comfortable and functional space all year round. The challenge that they faced was that it was on Eastbourne Seafront, where it is difficult to replace original timber windows with PVCU ones.

With the support of Window Designs, architects MAC2 and the planning officer for Eastbourne Council William De’Havilland, they eventually submitted a successful application.

“The first hurdle was the Eastbourne Council website,” Karen Cheater said. “It was terribly unclear about what you do and don’t need, so it was a bit of a stab in the dark. Even though the people in the planning department know what it all means, as a general person you can really struggle.

“There is a list of so many things that you are supposed to send them and not all of them are relevant to your application. It was really difficult to find the way through that minefield. It needs to be a lot easier for a layman to use.

“The original application went in and it came back as there were things missing. Then we had to supply more drawings and more up-to-date plans. The conservation officer needed to come and have a look to make sure that it didn’t impact the aesthetic. He didn’t think that it was a problem, however it still had to go to the conservation committee. Then it was decided that it had to go to full planning and that they wanted more details. We didn’t know what else we could possibly give them.”

Karen explained that Tim Swain had been liaising with William De’Havilland and Window Designs to clarify exactly what they needed.

“Then we got to the stage where we wanted to see if we could have a site meeting with the planning officer so he could see a sample of the proposed replacements next to the existing conservatory,” Karen said. “After which they still wanted more in-depth drawings as they weren’t satisfied with the drawings that Tim had already produced – we were only given 24 hours to produce these. They also wanted to delay it for two months.”

Tim McCarthy of MAC2 was particularly helpful producing drawings within the tight timeframe, and together with Window Designs, Swain Brothers, and William De’Havilland, the application was successfully signed off.

When asked what her top tips were for approaching a planning application of this nature, Karen said: “Be patient, persistent and don’t get angry. Give as much information up front as you possibly can. Get proper architects drawings, sectional drawings, get samples made up, and contact the conservation department and perhaps get a supporting letter from them. You need to help the council make an informed decision. It’s all about communication.”

A spokesperson for Window Designs said there have been more success stories around the country where councils have granted permission to those who live in conservation areas. “This trend is largely due to the developments within the double glazing industry to minimise the aesthetic difference between traditional timber windows and PVCU,” they said.