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Planning permission

Updated: Jun 27, 2019

By Sarah Neal

I didn’t expect a lengthy administrative process to be much fun but that is exactly what it turned out to be…

Perhaps I should start with saying that I have no experience with planning permissions and started out with nothing but my enthusiasm for the project, some administration- and project experience and a good set of research skills honed in academia. I didn’t expect a lengthy administrative process to be much fun but that is exactly what it turned out to be…

I began to work on the planning permission for the Robin’s New Nest in October 2017. The permission was granted in February 2019.

I soon learned that a planning application is not just a big form to fill out: depending on your project and location you need a variety of documents that support your application. Because Emerson College is located in a Special Area of Conservation (due to its close proximity to the Ashdown Forest), we knew we needed to address the following issues: Wealden council’s concern over a potential increase in traffic and the impact our building would have on its natural environment. We did this by commissioning a traffic report (for which I got to collect data, which was fun) and an Aboricultural Report (yes, trees).

Our plot in Emerson’s fruit and flower garden is partially undeveloped land, part garden and part giant compost heaps that is surrounded by majestic blood beeches. For the Arboricultural Report I helped measuring the diameters of tree trunks (tree-hugging with a measuring tape as excuse is very enjoyable), assisted in measuring distances between trees and learned about tree protection zones.

These two reports were major milestones in the process of assembling supporting documents. However, much of my daily work was about communication and coordination. Communicating with the architects, Emerson, Wealden Council, various consultants and with Hayley Burtenshaw, Robin's Nest bursar and co-director.

It was wonderful to see how the community came together to help me out in my somewhat naïve but unbridled enthusiasm. Whenever there were questions, there were people to give answers: the helpful planning officers at Wealden Council, the local architect Nic Pople, Steve Briault and Udo Ottow of Emerson College and our architect Keith Struthers all shared their wisdom and experience with me and pointed me in the right direction. All I had to do was to ask (nicely). Cups of coffee were bought, maps and drawings of the plot shared, amended and shared again, boundaries were measured and even heritage statements were produced in an instant, like pink rabbits from a hat.

Without this support, we would not have planning permission today and I consider myself very lucky to continue working with some of these people on the next phase of nest-building.

I will spare you the details of the actual form-filling when it finally came to it in September 2018. I would however like to mention that a love of maps and architectural drawings, a customary rush of adrenaline when working to tight deadlines and an affinity to learning very complicated words for very simple things are all essential if you consider a future career in planning.

In October 2018, the art form of putting a multi-facetted real-life project into order and reduce it to small boxes on the actual planning permission form was accomplished and we submitted our application online. Wealden Council then requested an ecological report on the plants and wildlife for the site which we submitted in December 2018. Soon there were some objections to our application from the Parish Council that needed a swift and clear response. We were then told that we should have a decision by mid-February 2019. The deadline for the council’s decision was a Friday and I started to become very nervous when I didn’t hear back all afternoon. I must have checked my emails every five minutes throughout the day. For the first time, it occurred to me that we might not get this permission without going through a lengthy appeal process. That things might have gone wrong along the way and that we would perhaps not be able to build the new nest at all after all the time, work and resource that we had committed to our project. Until this day, I had always successfully managed to avoid thinking too much about the importance of my task. Sufficient to say that I did not sleep well the following nights.

I don’t know if it was luck, fate, coincidence, heavenly intervention or a combination of the above, but the responsible planning officer interrupted her annual leave to chase up our decision with the Councillor. She then took it to the Chairman of Planning Committee North because the Councillor had failed to respond on time. The good news finally came through on Monday evening, followed by the positive decision note on Tuesday. I don’t think I can adequately describe the sheer relief, gratitude and joy that I felt on Monday evening! Our planning officer had taken a personal interest in our project because of how unusual it is and we have invited her to the grand opening ceremony for the Robin’s New Nest once it is finished.

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