Our first request for a topic to be covered is from a reader in County Kildare who is considering building a new house and would like some advice on the planning process. There is plenty of information available on the planning process on-line and the first thing I would recommend you to do would be to read the following planning advice documents available online at:http://www.environ.ie/en/Publications/DevelopmentandHousing/Planning/
The most relevant for our reader is number: ‘PL4: Building a new house the planning issues’. Based on my experience of preparing and obtaining planning permissions, I would emphasis the following points and schedule:
- Don’t rush into making an application. Prior to applying for planning permission examine your proposed site closely and confirm it is suitable for building a new house. At this stage it is possible to save considerable time and expense by checking whether a dwelling on the proposed site would be likely to get the ‘green light’.
- Check the site. Is the site prone to flooding or affected by severe weather, for example will the access roads be passable in cold, icy conditions? Are the road sight lines sufficient at the proposed point of entrance/ exit?
- Are all the basic requirements available at the site: Potable water supply, electricity supply, telephone, broadband, etc? If not, what is the expense involved in extending them to your proposed location?
- View the area on your county councils website to check if any large developments are planned for adjacent lands. Check the county development plan for the zoning of the area.
- Check the ground conditions are suitable by digging trials pits on the site and having an engineer or Ground Investigation Company investigate the subsoil. Poor ground conditions will add considerable expense to construction costs later.
- If a septic tank or soak pit is required for the site (i.e. no connection to the public foul or surface water sewer), as part of the planning permission process you are required to submit percolation test results. This should be carried out as quickly as possible to establish if the ground conditions are suitable. If the dwelling is to be connected into the public sewer, contact the council prior to the application to confirm there is sufficient capacity for a new house. It is surprising, but some treatment plants are at capacity and require upgrading prior to additional flow being added.
- Organise a pre-planning meeting with the council to check what type of dwelling (if any) will be permitted for the site in question, keep minutes of this meeting and post a copy back to the council afterwards for their records. Hand the minutes of the meeting to the person drawing up your house plans. If it is seems doubtful that you would receive planning permission for the site in question, you can apply for outline planning permission first. This will save the expense of getting full detailed drawings prepared. Of course you will still require full planning permission prior to building the new house.
- Anyone with drawing skills can apply for planning permission, but it would be best to engage an experienced engineer or architect to prepare plans and make the application on your behalf. When obtaining prices from architects check whether they are fully qualified or simply a drafts person. A drafts person can of course provide planning drawings but may not be able to supply construction drawings or certify the building later. See note on construction drawings below.
- The planning process usually takes 3 months from the time the application is submitted however if the council ask for further information or there are mistakes on the application it can take many months more. If the person who prepares the application is inexperienced I would recommend dropping the application into the council by hand and asking the council to do a quick check, if there is a simple mistake or something missing this will save time.
Note on construction drawings. There is a difference between planning drawings and construction drawings. Planning drawings are quite basic drawings and only show layouts, elevations, heights and sections through the proposed building, no construction details or specifications need be shown. Planning drawings should never be given to a builder for a quotation, always obtain quotations from builders based on full construction drawings (and a tender package). A quotation based on planning drawings is meaningless and you will be at the mercy of the builder and will pay dearly for it in extras. Many people building their first property have been caught out by this distinction.
Note on Structural Engineers role. Similar to the previous post about attic conversions. If you are using an architect to prepare the construction drawings you will still require an structural engineer’s input to size the foundations, floors, roof, beams (if necessary) and check the walls. To avoid confusion two sets of drawings are usually prepared, one set by the architect and the other by the engineer.
Note on Mechanical and electrical engineers. The vast majority of people who build their own houses in Ireland only use the services of an architect and a structural/civil engineer on their house designs. I would highly recommend that an M&E (mechanical and electrical) engineer is involved also. They will be able to provide unbiased advice on heating, plumbing and electrical services and ensure that all are installed correctly. In my view their input is becoming more necessary in the last few years as new and more complex systems are becoming available. Don’t be at the mercy of advice from suppliers/ installers who have a vested interest in ensuring certain products are used.