Ecologist Report

The biggest remaining hurdle for planning consent was the bat activity survey and bird nesting check. These took place last weekend at dawn on Sunday and the report was quickly produced on Monday. Thankfully no bats or birds were recorded entering or leaving the buildings although some bat activity was recorded in the vicinity. We have had a tense few weeks keeping the birds out as there are so many holes in the barns; in the roofs, walls, windows and doors. Daily inspections have been made to check for the pesky blighters and when you think you've stopped all the gaps you find that they have somehow got in again. So, then you have to go round doing a fingertip and torchlight search to find the tiniest little holes to bung up with some scrunched up chicken wire or tack up some netting. Talk about stressful, but this herculean effort has paid dividends. I speak as if I've been doing the searching and gap filling, but actually I've mostly just been sharing the stress. The final hurdles are for the planning officer to approve our choice of brick and tile  and for the structural engineer to design the foundations (for any rebuilding that is required). Actually, the final, final hurdle is bringing all the planning and structural stuff together and passing it to the building society so that we can get our mortgage. Then we can heave a collective sigh of relief and get on with the work, or more accurately the builder can get on with the work, although he has already advised us that his original projected start date of last Tuesday has been put back for 3-4 weeks due to delays on his current projects. Aaaaarrrrrggghhh........will this project ever begin................

Now the fun begins........

......well at least it will when we've passed the planning conditions. Unfortunately, one of the conditions is to have a bat and bird survey......in May. What a pain in the proverbial. We had a bat and bird survey last year but it was on 19th April and is therefore no good according to Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, so another bat emergence survey has been booked. Another planning condition was from the Coal Authority. Apparently, their records indicated a seam of coal 2 metres thick only 5 metres deep and directly beneath the barns. We tried not to panic but the cost of drilling, the potential cost of filling a mining void and the uncertainty of it all caused more than a few anxious moments.

drilling

Drilling was organised pretty quickly and whoop-de-do we have no coal mines and in fact minimal coal layers were found and only one hole at 30m deep was required. Big collective sigh of relief (including from our bank balance too). Having said that it still cost ÂĢ2k. How much would it have cost if a mine had been found? Doesn't bear thinking about, so we won't. 

The next huge hurdle was to get finance. Only one building society, the Ecology Society, would contemplate giving us a mortgage for our project. All other building societies shied away because we have 3 properties in total and not just a single domestic building, even though we only want to mortgage our own property. Anyway, we thought it was all in place pending the decision on planning until unexpectedly I was made redundant in September last year. Horror of horrors, this meant that we couldn't get a mortgage until I got another job and passed the probationary period, all within the mortgage application window. OMG what a mess. I kept having a Kevin McClould 'Grand Designs' soundtrack running through my head................you know, the bit where they cut to the adverts and he says things like "Will the project fail?...With no finance, no planning, and the possibility of a mine below these barns, is there any hope of these barns ever being completed?".  Fortunately, I got another job pretty quickly (with a 3 month probationary period) and some redundancy pay to add to the building fund, so it was all starting to look up until the Ecology sent an email in Feb to say that we had exceeded our application period and they would give us to the end of the month to finish off our application after which we would have to re-apply. However, after the end of February due to the popularity of  self build mortgages they wouldn't be able to offer a mortgage on a conversion. Basically, if we didn't get our planning and employment sorted out, we were without a mortgage. Stress alert. Stress alert. Well, after some urgent phone calls to Amber Valley planning and a probationary period completed, we managed to get the planning approval and then after a valuation on the property we received a mortgage offer letter. Phee-eeew. We are not out of the woods yet, as we now have a raft of mortgage conditions to meet as well as planning ones, but at least it looks more promising than it did in Feb! 

Some of the planning (and mortgage) conditions:-

  • mining survey
  • bat and bird survey
  • planning consent to building materials (bricks, tiles, windows)
  • planning consent to landscaping
  • bird and bat replacement housing (bird boxes, bat boxes)
  • life insurance
  • site insurance
  • legal searches - rights of way, water, electricity, boundaries
  • redemption of an endowment policy to provide additional funds
  • passing places and road repairs on the access lane

It goes on and on........seemingly endlessly. We are getting samples of bricks and tiles sent for matching to the originals and estimates for windows, wood pellet boilers, mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems, bathrooms, kitchens.........etc. There is such a lot to think about, so never a dull moment. What will we do with ourselves if we ever get it all finished? 

We had a busy hour one morning hefting a load of brick samples around the buildings and taking photo's to try and match up the bricks. We don't want to use reclaimed bricks for the patching up if we can avoid it as they are relatively expensive and don't have any guarantees regarding frost proofing or salt leaching. Hence the samples from brick manufacturers using traditional methods.  

Brick matching session

 

 

Planning at last....

Whoop Whoop we finally have planning permission (again). It's taken a bit of verbal prodding to encourage the planning department to finish the job, but we actually now have a green for go. We have quite a few conditions to meet before we can actually start work, including a mining survey and yet another bat survey. The mining investigation is required by the coal authority as the area is riddled with mines, including some unrecorded ones at shallow depth. Damn those miners. The batty bat survey has us banging our heads against a wall as we had a survey last year by a bat expert who said that over the course of his three surveys at the barns since 2005, he has not found any evidence of roosting bats and the barns have become so increasingly decrepit that even bats wouldn't want to live in them anyway because they are so draughty. Bah and double Bah. However, despite all the conditions, we have actually been allowed to make all the changes we requested which is a very welcome positive note.