**Cohousing series**: We got planning permission!
One of the partners in our community-led housing team is currently developing her own cohousing project in Cumbria.
She is writing regular updates about the project for us, and this is the latest instalment.
For previous articles in the series, please see the following:
“We were utterly thrilled to receive planning permission for our cohousing project a couple of weeks ago. It means we can finally crack on with clearing the site and laying the groundwork to allow building to eventually start. But what a journey to get here.
Although the site had outline planning permission when we bought it, it wasn’t quite what we wanted. We therefore decided to submit a new application for planning permission, on the advice of the local planning authority. We thought it would be a simple tidying up process, as we weren’t asking for anything radically different from the permission which had previously been granted. Oh, how naïve could we be.
Over a year after submitting the application, we finally managed to engage with the planning officer to whom our application had been assigned. We were fortunate enough that he liked the sound of what we are trying to achieve, so he agreed to talk us through his issues with the application to give us the chance to put our case forward.
After several rounds of discussions (including a horrifying few weeks where he argued that the site had been abandoned and so wouldn’t be eligible for planning permission at all), it finally went before the planning committee.
Although the planning officer recommended that permission be granted, he also proposed a cap on the size of each dwelling’s floor area. A general principle of cohousing is that individual houses are smaller, as residents can make use of facilities in a shared common house as well. However, this is not a fixed principle and the cohousing spectrum incorporates a huge variety of models.
In our case, our individual houses had been designed to include substantial study/work space, to meet future accessibility needs and to incorporate enough space to store equipment and process produce which we intend to grow on the land. They are also designed to be as environmentally sustainable as possible: at least two are aiming at Passivhaus standard and all are aiming to be net zero carbon in operation. This means our houses were bigger than the cap on floor area which the planning officer proposed. We preferred this approach because as a small group, we will find it difficult to finance the construction of a large, elaborate common building. The large amount of land we are responsible for, including a hay meadow, woodland and river banks, acts as our common space and our shared stewardship of that binds us together more strongly than any building could. It also feels like a sensible approach in light of the last few months, when we have all been so house-bound, and we wanted to design homes which are as future-proof as possible.
Thankfully, the planning committee agreed with the planning officer’s recommendation to grant planning permission, and we were delighted to finally obtain permission after such a long wait. However, they also approved the condition which capped the floor area of the properties, which was somewhat disappointing. We now have to decide what our next steps are, but overall it feels so positive to have finally made some concrete progress.
Navigating the planning system has been a huge learning curve and we were reliant on our planning consultant to help us through it. If you are considering setting up a cohousing scheme, I would certainly add planning consultant to your team of professional advisers, especially if the application will be at all contentious.
The other invaluable lesson we learned is to ensure the local community is on your side. We held an open day in the local village hall (it feels like a lifetime ago), at which we presented our plans over tea and cake. We were so fortunate that many of our neighbours and local contacts were willing to write letters of support to the planning committee for us, and even to speak on our behalf. It has really strengthened our connection to the local area, hopefully ensuring that we will become an open and welcoming part of the local landscape.”
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The information in this article is necessarily of a general nature. Specific advice should be sought for specific situations. If you have any queries or need any legal advice please feel free to contact Wrigleys Solicitors.