Friday, May 25, 2012

Alea jacta est

Which is pretty much all the Latin I can remember from school. Except for Caesar adsum iam forte, Pompey aderat and all that lovey-dovey nonsense with amo amas amat amamus amatis amant.*


But I digress, as ever. This isn't a post about Latin, or even about my long-gone schooldays. No, this is a post about houses. For a couple of weeks ago I finally managed to get an application in for planning permission to build a house here at the farm.


It's been a struggle, let me tell you. (no, please, let me.) I've been quite busy what with the whole getting a farm back up and running thing, and the trying to find time in the day to write thing, and the running around Fife looking for a missing black dog thing. On top of all that, because I'm a pig-headed, stubborn idiot (and also because I've got no money left) I've been designing the place myself using perhaps the most irritating piece of software known to man.**


To be fair to 3D Architect Pro, it's a heavyweight design program fully capable of producing professional plans, calculating roof structures, making 3D renders of your project and possibly taking your dog for walks of an evening. On the downside it has the second most useless user manual ever. The first comes with the bundled software, Creative Lines, that takes output from the design program and (in theory) allows you to add all manner of interesting touches to produce a really professional plan. It has virtually no user manual, and the help file begins with the immortal words: 



CreativeLines offers a simple and intuitive interface, which ARCON 3D users will use with ease.


So there you go. We're not going to tell you how it works. You can figure it out yourself.


Still, I'm a persistent fellow, and I finally managed to get both programs to produce something that I hope will be sufficient for Fife Council Planning Department to consider. Of course, those of you with long memories will recall the problems I had getting planning permission for the caravan, and the even bigger problems that beset my attempts to put wind turbines up on the farm. Due to a strange flaw in the planning procedure, I had to take the latter to appeal before a decision had been made.*** The former almost fell at the first hurdle when a letter requesting more information mysteriously failed to arrive. 


On the plus side, two run-ins with the planning department have given me valuable insight into just how it doesn't work. I know now that you have to keep reminding them of your existence, otherwise your application falls into a limbo of forgetfulness. I know now that when they say they sent you a letter, what they mean is they maybe typed up a letter but never got around to sending it. And I know that the two months that is meant to be all the time they need to process an application through to approval or rejection is considered more of a deadline for getting started. But if they don't ask for an extension, you can bypass the council altogether and take your application to appeal once two months are up.


And I also know that the clock doesn't start ticking until the application has been validated.


I submitted mine electronically on May 8, complete with electronic payment of the fee - if you send them a cheque they can claim that you haven't paid and delay things for months. Two weeks on and there's still nothing showing on the planning website. I called them earlier in the week to see what was up, so I know they've got it - they've even assigned it a reference number which the new girl gave me even though she wasn't supposed to. I've no doubt she'll learn how to be obstructive and unhelpful in time. All the rest of them have mastered it.


When I finally got planning approval for the caravan, which itself was an epic struggle, it was only temporary. I was astonished to find on double-checking, that this expires in December of this year. I doubt me they'll send around the heavy mob to drag my home away if I'm still in here then, but I'm damned if I'm going to pay them for an extension to the initial planning permission if they haven't processed my house application by then.


Other planning departments seem to be better organised. When I was trying to build a house in Wales, Ceredigion Council had my approval sorted in eight weeks - just a pity the arse selling me the plot decided to go back on his word. Aberdeen council have been known to validate applications submitted electronically in 24 hours. In the Orkneys they even let you put up wind turbines occasionally. Alas, of all the counties of Scotland I ended up in, it had to be Fife.


If they refuse me permission... Well, I'll just have to cross that bridge when I come to it.


They say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do, along with getting married and dealing with the death of a close relative. You can add having anything to do with Fife Council planning department to that list.





* and if I've managed to spell all of that correctly, then full marks to Mr Pike. You might have been an evil old bastard, but you made something stick. Or perhaps you hit me with a stick until I remembered something.
** with the possible exception of iTunes.
***interesting aside. You have to pay for a planning application to be considered - fair enough, though I'd ask what the council tax is meant to cover since just about all the council do round here is empty the bins. The regulations stipulate that all planning applications must be dealt with in two months, unless an extension is required in which case the council can ask for another two months. Time after time Fife Council planning department fail to even acknowledge this deadline let alone meet it. Put simply, they don't do their job. And yet can I get my fee back for a job not done? Like fuck I can. Do they lose their jobs? Like fuck they do. Welcome to the public sector.

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3 Comments:

Blogger terlee said...

I'm so, so sorry for laughing out loud at your difficulties, but truly, this was a really funny post.

Maybe it's a requirement that all council planning department personnel must be trained at the same inept, do bugger-all school? (Bet they can't do their Latin verbs.)

If all goes to crap by December--no house, caravan permit expired--just say you're a traveller. That way you can become a squatter...on your own property.

May 25, 2012 11:32 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

The rant rather got away with me, Terlee, so it's only fair you should laugh. I may well delete this post anyway - knowing my luck it's being read right now by various members of the planning department in question.

I may have to be like the farmer in Wales, who built his house without permission and then surrounded it with bales of straw, hiding it for ten years. The theory was he'd be able to keep it if it had been standing for that long without anyone complaining. Alas, it didn't work and he was forced to pull it down.

I'm not a big fan of planning regulations, can you tell?

May 27, 2012 11:05 am  
Blogger terlee said...

In the little village of Cramond, where I lived outside Edinburgh, there was a big construction project--opposed by everyone of course except the bloody council and the builder. They were going to cut down several trees that were well over a hundred years old, plus block the right-of-way down to the waterfront.

I protested, loudly and long; had petitions signed, etc. When I was called on the carpet (so to speak) to defend my comnplaints, I was abruptly tossed out of the meeting the minute I opened my mouth with my American voice. It didn't matter that I had lived in Edinburgh for years had permanent residency. As far as the council was concerned, I had nothing to say, so get out.

The very next day, I walked along the path and listened with a heavy heart as the chainsaws mowed down those beautiful old trees.

If you need help disguising your house behind bales of hay, let me know. I'm there.

May 28, 2012 1:08 am  

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