Saturday, 14 May 2011

Human Planners

When we started out, we were baking in our own kitchen. One of the more straightforward regulatory hoops we jumped through was to check whether there were any planning issues we needed to worry about. It turned out there weren't, so long as we didn't take on employees or do retail from the house.

Later, when we started thinking about the wood-fired oven, I asked a Development Services officer whether planning permission was required for such a structure. "Not a planning matter", I was told.

So the letter we got shortly after the oven chimney went up was a pretty nasty shock. We had carried out unauthorized development, it said. We had 28 days to apply for retrospective permission, or remove the offending chimney. Also, we would need to seek permission if we wished to bake bread for sale. The following weeks were stressful. In rare moments of optimism, I thought that we might manage to find alternative premises during lengthy rounds of applications and appeals.

The first thing I did, though, was to write back and ask for clarification. I explained that I had checked whether we needed permission. I used a lot of phrases like "sustainable development". And a few weeks later, I got a reply. No permission was required. The case was now closed. They wished us success with our business.

There are many stories about the kafka-esque beaurocracy of planning authorities, and there do not seem to be very many people reporting happy experiences, particularly amongst people wanting to do anything unusual. Sometimes aquiring such a story feels like earning one's spurs but I think I'm much happier reporting that the planners I dealt with were as straightforward and thoughtful as one might hope for.

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