Interview with leading Harrogate Architect Joel Smith of SSA

October 2019

Alex Goldstein’s interview with leading Harrogate Architect Joel Smith of SSA asks Are TV property development shows worth watching? What is ‘permitted development’ and what do you have to be aware of? And how do you make sure you keep the local authority on your side when developing your home? How do you get planning permission and what is the process?

Interview with leading Harrogate Architect Joel Smith of SSA

Full transcript below:

Alex: We are honoured indeed to have Joel Smith here in the studio today just to talk through architects, both on the residential side and indeed the commercial side and just to demystify what these actually do. Now Joel, it’s a big hot topic at the moment, you’ve very much got Grand Designs, dare I say Small Spaces and good old George Clarke in there and they’re making extending and building look mighty easy. How do you rate these programmes? Do they have a point at all?

Joel: Yes Alex, simple answer is I do rate these programmes and actually I think they’re really valid. One, they’re enjoyable and informative, but two I think they help elevate the role of the designer and how we can affect the spaces that we live in. I think the consideration for any extension for instance should always be how can I improve the space that I dwell in? Certainly, Kevin McCloud has championed that to such a high degree that he’s really helped the industry. I’m not 100% sure that they make the process look easy though, in fact in many cases they focus on the pitfalls, the challenges and in a sense of course they have to increase the drama which often leaves me voicing my opinion should we say at the TV. But as I say Kevin McCloud specifically has done an incredible amount to raise awareness.

Alex: It’s helped you in terms of an architects practice because people are saying I’ve seen a this on TV, I’ve got this idea that I want to do to my home and can we involve you and it’s working more along those line.

Joel: Yeah absolutely, and as I say they do champion a role of architect within that and yes certainly once you see people who’ve been and got a little bit of ambition, a little bit of desire to improve their space that helps no end. And from an architect’s point of view it’s great to see what contemporaries are up to.

Alex: No absolutely and I mean these programmes often talk about the phrase or the term permitted development and a lot of people think this may be more serialised on television but permitted development makes it sound very easy to get that grand extension and off you go. That’s what these programmes tend to suggest, how does that actually work in real life terms? What is permitted development?

Joel: Right yeah, fair question Alex, and you’re right it’s certainly a hot topic and it’s a great thing actually. A permitted development rights are essentially a national grant of planning permission. They allow building work to be carried out without having to make an application for planning, however, you still need to be aware of certain aspects, you still of course need to notify your local authority and as always ensure building regulations compliance. Permitted development is as I say in principal a great idea and I believe that it has the intention of aiding a really important aspect of our economy, you know the smaller builders, the tradesmen, the designers. You know we in the UK have a very interesting approach to our homes, I find this really interesting, we have the smallest space standards in Europe, yet our homes are our castle and it turns out they’re not the biggest by comparison. But as I say you still need to contact the local authority and make them aware of your intentions. Permitted development rights are quite prescriptive so I would urge anybody considering a mid-development or any extension to look at the planning portal, speak with your local authority if you need to, obviously as I would always say speak with the designer, they have to be aware of things like designated areas where specifically in Harrogate area for instance, your conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, in some instances where you’ve extended before you may need to speak to your local authority before and there’s things to be aware of and you do need to do a little bit of research here Alex, because you’ve got existing curtilage of your site, principal elevations to your property, what’s the size of the proposed extension, what’s the height, how close are you to your boundary?

Alex: So good old George Clarke it’s not quite as straightforward as going oh we’re going to put on this lovely little extension and let’s just build it tomorrow afternoon. There’s a bit more of a process, it’s not as simple as possibly they make out.

Joel: Well I can’t comment on George Clarke because he is a fellow contemporary of course but then you always need to take some appropriate advice I would always ensure that.

Alex: Ok and in terms of I suppose, the larger extensions, just going I suppose beyond the permitted development and again this is from the private individual’s perspective, what do you actually need to be mindful of when you want to undertake such a project? I’m thinking sort of the timeframes and what’s actually involved in the planning process there?

Joel: Yeah fair enough, and I can appreciate in a lot on instances for people looking to extend it can come across as provisionally quite daunting and actually there’s a few things to consider before you even take pen to paper as it were. I’d always personally refer people to the RIBA website, they do a great bit of work for the profession in the background and in the forefront in fact, you know they do many useful sections, progressive design areas but also help you find the architect who can help you start the ball rolling with you and from a personal point of view there’s a good local sub group in this area called the North Yorkshire Society of Architects, again they work to promote good design and architects and the role we can play. But enough of the professional pitch, back to your questions the first consideration should surely be what are we extending for, what are my needs? In practice we would call this determining the brief. What does the design need to reflect in terms of your requirement as the owner and client? In terms of timeframes there’s actually many factors to take into account and you know the RIBA again have a great useful guide detailed plan of work which identifies key stages to be mindful of. So I refer back to identification of need, what do you want to gain out of your project, preliminary design, you know how we start to get things on paper, how’s it look, does it reflect what we’ve got in our minds, are we getting it on paper and of course we need to amend the design to reflect those needs, ultimately finalise these proposals. Of course, then you have to go for your planning permission and planning consent, you know can take between 8 and 12 weeks but bear in mid it can take longer.

Alex: When and why would it take longer? Because of the size or complexity of the job or if things fall behind?

Joel: Well all of those parts come into it but also you know is there a challenged with the design? Is there some additional legislation you need to be aware of? So again, dialogue at that point is important and you have to be slightly open-minded to that I think from my point of view. Time to discharge any pre-commencement conditions, when you’ve got that piece of paper from the planners you know hopefully it’s the piece of paper you want, and it says granted, but of course there’s often pre-commencement conditions there, which again just looks to protect you ultimately but also ensure that it fits with the planning permission granted. That can take a little bit of time, then of course you need too cost the project, obtain suitable quotes and time to actually construct the extension. I think also in the background of that, not necessarily a timeframe questions but how are you going to have that building and who’s going to build it for you. I’d always suggest requesting referrals, those are a great bit of use.

Alex: That’s the recommended builders?

Joel: Recommended yeah, you know many people, British people, like to refer, if someone’s not referring somebody what’s the reason behind that? We all like a referral. Have a look at the work they’ve done maybe, you know sure they should be proud of the work they’ve undertaken, the designs they’ve come up with and that should be a constructive dialogue and then yes certainly do that please.

Alex: I know people are often I suppose mindful, how do you actually keep the local authority, for example here, how do you keep Harrogate Borough council on side because you do hear albeit I dare say it, serialising in the media that people have run into all sorts of difficulties with their panning application, why have they gone a miss and why have they got on the wrong side of the council, how do you keep in their good books?

Joel: Well dialogue, simple as that and in simple terms and I you know personally would never recommend approaching an application with conflict on the agenda. Do things properly, the role of the architect here is to interpret your needs, provide information and help you navigate the planning process and as I say the LA shouldn’t be viewed with the barrier, it isn’t there to be bashed down, you need to approach any development with an open mind and be prepared to discuss your proposals with them. This as you’ve touched on, they do get a bit of negative press but that’s because maybe they’ll read on a isolated basis, case-by-case basis, their position in fairness is to protect the areas in which we live so the areas which will exist much longer than we will and really they’re part of a wider policy to ensure that amenity space and positive design and construction reflects where we live.

Alex: So, if you know their rues and you’re ticking their boxes where you go you’re not going to have an issue, it’s if you want to do something I’d say that’s pushing the boundaries or possibly being slightly controversial that’s when like you said in an isolated case it may not be looked upon possibly favourably.

Joel: Yeah, it’s difficult one to answer that Alex because you know the local authority isn’t there to champion good design as well you know the positive design from their point of view, they want to progress that with you and really you that maybe areas of conservation might need a slightly different approach etc. I think in the main the idea is the better design helps everyone ultimately. Yeah, I think they’re all boarded, I don’t see any negativity when it comes to positive design.

Alex: Fantastic, Joel I can’t thank you enough. Very useful and great insight there, so if anyone needs to discuss ant of there home getting extended, permitted development, the small space type of thing or the commercial side of things, what’s the best way for people to reach you?

Joel: Fabulous, well I’d be more than happy to speak to anyone who’s got any queries. My number is 01423 856999, but you’re more than welcome to look at our website which is

Alex: Ok, fantastic Joel, thank you very much again really appreciate your time.

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