I didn’t realise when I decided to do some work on my house how much it would take me away from my writing. Of course, I’d seen all of those Grand Designs programmes where it all goes horribly wrong, but I’d done my research and I believed could cope with any issues that would come up. I was, after all, only doing an extension and a bit of internal remodelling.

All seemed well. The builders started building and I started work on my next novel. Any hiccups were easily sorted. When I pointed out, for example, that the space left for the back window was too small, it was simply a matter of checking the plans and removing a few layers of bricks. No problems at all.

Builders start work on the extension

The Wrong Department

Then came the letter from the council. It said that I was building without planning permission, that I would have apply for permission for my building work and if I carried on building there was a chance I would have to knock it all down again.

I was horrified, perplexed, furious, bewildered and upset. Because I had already applied to the council for permission. I had written to them with my plans for the building work and paid the required fee. They had written back saying that I could go ahead and they would need to inspect the work at various intervals to make sure it was up to standard. Surely, I already had the council’s permission.

“Oh no, Madam, that’s from a different department.”

What?

“You had permission from the Building Control department of the council. But you need permission from the Planning Department of the council.”

But I wrote to the council. I got permission from the council. The council can’t then turn around and saying I haven’t got permission, because they were the ones who gave it to me in the first place!!

“But, Madam, planning permission is only granted by the planning department.”

But I checked and I don’t need planning permission for such a small project. Don’t you people talk to each other?

Apparently not.

My aim had been to build within permitted development, which doesn’t require full planning permission when works are small alterations. However, hidden within the deeds to my house was a covenant which said full planning permission would be required even if the law changed (the permitted development rules were introduced after my house was built). It didn’t say it in so many words, of course (that would be too helpful), it said it in a way which you would only know what it means after someone had explained to you what it means. It also didn’t use the word ‘covenant’, so even though I looked through my deeds to check if there were any covenants, I didn’t find it.

What was left of the kitchen after knocking through to the dining room

So, despite doing everything by the book (I thought), I was suddenly plunged into chaos. I remember ringing my boss to tell her I was going to be late into work that day and bursting into tears on the phone. I was totally floored by the whole thing. Needless to say, I didn’t get any writing done that day. Or that week. Or that month.

I applied for planning permission through my architect (there went another £1000) and after two-and-a-half months of stress, the permission was granted.

You might have thought, this was it. But no. There was also the fun and games with the electrician.

 

Electrician causes sparks

The electrician comes to me and he says he’s been chatting with the plumber and there’s a problem with where I want the manifold (central pipework) for the underfloor heating. For technical reasons, it would be much better at the other end of the room, he said. I was a bit miffed about that, but if it couldn’t go where I wanted it, then it would have to be moved.

So the plumber comes to me and says: “I hear you want to move the manifold.”

I don’t want to move it, but I’m told I can’t have it in the original place.

“Because if you want it moved to the other end of the room, that’s a lot of extra work for me and it’ll cost you in extra materials and … wait … You don’t want to move it?”

The electrician had lied. He hadn’t spoken to the plumber at all. He told me he’d spoken to the plumber when, in fact, he only spoke to the plumber after he had spoken to me. His plan was to get his way by telling the plumber I wanted it moved and telling me the move was thought best by him and the plumber.

I was furious. I stood in what was left of my kitchen (four bare walls with a sink sitting on a cupboard with the doors ripped off) and said I was going to sack the electrician. “Oh, no, no, no,” said the builder. “Getting rid of an electrician half way through a job is really difficult.” To be fair, the builder was right because if a new electrician took over he would need to sign off the safety of the work and would probably rip out the first electrician’s wires to put in his own so he knew it was all safe. This would have cost me more money, and I would have the difficulty of finding a replacement electrician on short notice.

So I agreed to keep the electrician on after having words with him. I really shouldn’t have.

“I’m afraid, the manufacturer of your integrated fridge door won’t send it out because he’s in dispute with the people who supplied your kitchen.”

It’s still not over

The electrician continued to be a liability throughout the whole project. To be fair to the guy, his actual electrical work is fine; I have no problem with his actual wiring. But he created so many problems along the way that it was a nightmare dealing with him. For example, I had a lighting plan drawn up for the lounge, but he thought he knew best and convinced me to move the lights to a different configuration. A day or so later, I realised I’d been talked into something I didn’t want to do and I demanded the lights be moved back to where they were supposed to be. This caused more bother for everyone and expense for me. In fact, there is still a light in the wrong position to this day because he moved it and didn’t tell me.

These two instances are, believe it or not, only ten per cent of the issues that I had. From scratches found on a bathroom cupboard at the last minute to my fridge door being held hostage after the kitchen retailer sacked its manufacturing team. It just went on and on.

I remember, on the day I moved back in, just standing in the bedroom with a bed sheet in my hand not knowing what to do with it. My brain had been so full of crisis after crisis that I had no capacity left to work out how I should make the bed. A friend who had popped by to make sure I was moving in ok, literally had to talk me through it. Or, rather, he pretty much made the bed for me while I stood there unable to do anything apart from pop a pillow in a pillowcase.

That’s a few months back now and I’m finally settled in. But it just took ages. There were months of de-stressing, followed by getting used to being in my home and eventually to being comfortable here.

So I want to apologise for those of you waiting for my next book. I never thought my house project would disrupt my writing as much and for as long as it did, even after I had moved in. Now that I’m settled, the plan is to get back to it. I already have a few chapters completed and I’m really excited about the project, especially now that I have a newly painted office to write in.

The former bedroom turned into an office. This was relatively simple as it involved “only” knocking out the fitted wardrobe, skimming the old artex ceiling, painting and a new carpet

Note on planning permission and what I should have done

For anyone who is thinking of doing a project on their house (in England, and probably the rest of the UK), I later discovered that I should have applied for a Lawful Development Certificate (as this page explains). It’s basically a method of applying to the planning department of your local council to make sure you have the right to carry out that work and avoid scary letters from the council like the one I received.

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