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The coach: ‘Should I ignore planning rules when building on my own land?’

Woodland by dustin m ramsey
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AJ careers expert Matthew Turner advises an architect who wants to build a house on an inherited plot of woodland but doubts they’d win permission

I have recently inherited a piece of land, an acre of woodland with a small shed on it. It seems the perfect opportunity to develop it as my own project, and could be my ‘calling card’ for future work. The problem, of course, is I am unlikely to get permission to build a house on this land. Should I break the rules? 

Matthew turner

Matthew turner

It is ironic that in some other countries, this wouldn’t be an issue; if you were in Australia or the States, the idea of finding a plot and designing your own house would often be very straightforward. But as we know, in the UK the self-developer is a rare thing, and consent for a new standalone rural house in woodland settings, if not impossible, is not at all simple.

But you are right to think this is a wonderful opportunity, and many architects would dream of this kind of chance; a project in a lovely location where you can be your own client. 

Part of your calling card could be your ingenuity at working with constraints

I believe it is worth thinking laterally about ways to explore this. You don’t need to build a house. After all, there are many more options – subject to your budget and successful discussion of the possibilities with the planners. You could develop the building as a shelter of some sort rather than a permanent residence. Perhaps it could be more of an installation? Approach the project like this, and part of what you could be selling as your calling card is your ingenuity at working with constraints – which isn’t about breaking rules. 

I guess ultimately, before jumping in, you might be wise to allow decisions to be ultimately influenced by what you are expecting from this, whether it is a photograph in the architectural press, or actual commissions. Or neither, just a place to explore your ideas. Either way, enjoy yourself!

AJ coach Matthew Turner is an architect and careers consultant who runs the Building on Architecture consultancy. To contact him with your questions, tweet @TheAJcoach or email him in confidence at hello@buildingonarchitecture.com

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