6 Dec 2006

Not too long ago, an average middle income couple living in a two up two down semi-d in the suburbs of a mid sized city decided to extend their home. Not having a very large budget, their proposals were modest: a two storey element creating two rooms, one on each floor, measuring no more than 200 square feet each or 400 square feet in total. They consulted a reputable architect who did a very nice little design for them. The result was exactly the kind of application which you’d expect would get through planning with the minimum of fuss.

But wait. As the date approached for the Planning Authority to announce it’s decision on the matter, it issued a request for information. It seemed that, in order to reach a proper decision, the planners needed to have a ‘shadow diagram’ prepared. Apparently they were concerned about the shadow the new and very small extension would cast on a neighbouring house which was almost directly south of the house for which permission was sought.

I’ll run that by you again. The issue was that they were afraid of the possible sunlight implications the new extension would have on a structure which was to the south of it.

The architect called the planner and politely pointed out that perhaps there was some misunderstanding: clearly the extension would not be casting shadows on the house which was to the south and under the circumstances such a time consuming exercise wasn’t really necessary.

But the planner was unapologetic. Rather than admitting that something small and slightly embarrassing had slipped through the system, he stuck to his guns. He referred the architect to some standards available in expensive British publications to which he said he’d like the shadow study to conform. And he insisted it be submitted before his make his decision.

The architect performed the tedious exercise which, as you can imagine, proved nothing except that at dawn in mid June there was a slight possibility that the new extension would cast a teeny weeny shadow on a part of the gable end of the neighbouring house. So, perhaps the planner had a point…

Regardless of the ridiculousness of the situation, just look at the time factor here: a planning application is lodged and sits with the local authority for seven weeks. A request goes out for information – even if it’s a very tiny matter, it takes an architect at the very least two weeks to respond. Then the planning authority sits on the response for about another four weeks. In total we’re looking at, let’s say twenty weeks (not counting preplanning consultants and validations) from lodging the application to receipt of planning permission. For a two storey extension on a suburban semi-d.

This kind of thing isn’t unusual. It’s happening on small applications all around the country.

Meanwhile, in New York City, provided it complied with the development plan, an application such as the one we described could be decided in one day. If there was a question about it, three weeks max.

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