Bert and Ernie, two Arduino-powered robots, offer the participants a chance to program self-driving ‘Mars Rovers’. Destined to auto-pilot around the surface of Mars. Functionality is developed using Agile methods and a series of stories. Starting from scratch, developing Bert and Ernie’s auto-pilot capabilities over 4 days.
Participants work in teams: mob-programming C++, creating breadboard circuits to replicate Bert and Ernie, using GIT*, managing a budget (paid per story), and developing on Rasberry Pis. It was great to see participants working together, learning and having fun. All in a very professional manner. A lot of progress was made, at a rewarding pace, over the 4 days.
My learning points:
It’s a great way to learn to code and improve programming skills. A challenge for any level of programmer, beginner to advanced. Mob programming helps the team develop a solution and learn from each other. Bert and Ernie add tangibility, allowing participants to see their work in action.
Not just programming, the course offers softer skills development/practice and simulates a professional working environment.
Just do it! I’ve not programmed for 7 years, and not touched C++ for the best part of 13. As the lead mentor will attest, I was nervous. This soon faded as the tasks became more and more engrossing, and challenging. With a good level of competition between the teams. I’d forgotten how much fun programming can be.
I’m overly dependant on IDEs, auto-saves, auto-completes, and development environments. It was interesting to use a basic editor, and we suffered a ‘classic’ IT moment when our Raspberry Pi crashed. 6 hours of work ‘lost’ because no one had saved (* yeah, we didn’t commit either)… Thankfully, recovery wasn’t too painful and we managed to assign blame on the lead mentor. As everyone in IT knows, if you can shift the blame it significantly ‘lessens’ the issues…
A new way to conduct retrospectives! Brainstorming using the grid / 6 boxes shown below. I’ll pinch this for the team and our end of sprint retrospectives.
Next time I will:
Focus less on the solution, and more on coaching the participants. It was hard not to get sucked into making the rover ‘perfect’. I forgot how much I missed programming and in some places over complicated things e.g. the rover needed to move forward 2m and I was driving the kids to make it programmable as a procedure that accepts a direction (forward/reverse) and a distance in MM. The objective isn’t a perfect rover, and a perfect rover shouldn’t be at the expense of the participants’ learning.
“There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker
Risk an OO approach, and set it up from the start. Our C++ was very procedural. I will do my best to coach the participants in OO programming concepts next time. Creating motor, robot and other sensors / real world object classes, and some design up front to assist with this.
I’ll brush up on my C++. Just the syntax, structure, and basic keywords would have helped. Thankfully the course lead was very patient.
Massive thanks to Bluefruit for the use of their office, and for Byran (course leader), Ben, Harvey and Tyler’s time. Harvey and Tyler are apprentices at Bluefruit who’d attended the easter school the year before! Thanks to Glen and Lyssa from headforwards. Please get in touch via Software Cornwall if you’d like to attend, like your kids to attend, or if you’d like to mentor (if I can do it, you can!). Can’t praise either experience enough. DO IT!
Thanks also to IBM, my manager, Jon and his manager, Anita, for their support in being a mentor.
For more information see the Software Cornwall website. Bert and Ernie are regulars at the Saturday Tech Jams. If you can’t make one of the Easter/Summer schools look out for them there and at the Royal Cornwall Show.
With the roof on and better than expected weather in the colder months work carried on outside. Our original plan entailed cladding the first floor in wood. As part of our Cornish-New-England theme. Allowing it to age naturally. In theory, this is low maintenance. In reality, I had visions of having to regularly pressure wash and treat it.
The architects were flexible in their specification of how we’d clad the house on our planning application. However, a planning approval condition required us to submit example materials to be used before building could commence. At this point, our builder spotted a potential issue.
Building regulations require wood cladding to be treated with a fire proof coating if another property is within three metres of the build. The theory being that if the other property sets alight the fire could easily spread to our property via the cladding. Not a huge issue in itself, lots of fire-proofing techniques and options exist. Sadly none of them would achieve the look we were after.
Enter the new contender. Despite it being cliche and overly popular on new-builds, I really wanted Cedral Lap Weatherboarding: Zero hassle, great range of colours, never needs to be painted, resistant to rot and things growing on it, and only needs rain to clean it. What’s not to like!
Massive thanks to Carly and Charlie at Ocean BMW for the loan of their i3. It’s fair to say our recently acquired 10-year-old Audi A3 hasn’t filled the big hole left by our departing BMW 1 Series. I loved that car way too much.
IBM’s not so great company car scheme, UK company car tax, and building a house put an end to ordering a replacement. However, enter the BMW i3 as a possible new contender. With a £5000 contribution from the Government’s green motoring initiative, and only 5% benefit in kind (BiK), it’s a good value way to drive a BMW company car.
Preconceived concerns can be summarised as range anxiety and charging hassle. Our car usage is fairly typical for Cornwall/more rural dwellers. My better half commutes 40 miles a day, and I mostly work from home. At the weekends, we tend to average around 60 miles. We only need the i3 for commuting and short trips. We’d keep our 5 Series for longer journeys (and towing duties).
BMW offer the i3 with a range extending petrol generator (REX). The REX increases the i3’s range to over 100 miles, and would be essential. If we missed a charge the purely electric i3 wouldn’t work. We’re too far from a fast charge network to risk no backup. My occasional work trips also wouldn’t work, Hursley and London are both too far to consider. Even with rapid charging points at Cornwall Services and Exeter. Therefore, for the i3 to work it has to be the ultimate commuter and ideal for our shorter journeys.
Charging is easy, and plugging in saves a fortune at the pump. Even after IBM’s poor car scheme, the i3 would net cost us around £100 a month. Factoring in savings on fuel and assuming we charge it at home every night. By contrast the 10-year-old Audi A3 will likely cost us more than that in depreciation, tyres, servicing, insurance and road tax <<man maths alert>>.
The charging system is well thought through. Far from being a chore charging was simpler and less hassle than we anticipated. With the reassurance of the REX, our preconceived concerns were significantly reduced. For any journeys over 100 miles, we’d use the 5 series. Unless we could use the fast charge network and treat range anxiety as part of the adventure of owning an i3.
Very easy to drive, curiously requiring a different but satisfying driving technique. BMW implemented a one pedal driving system for the i3. Lifting off the accelerator causes the motors to regenerate which brakes the car. A big lift will even see the brake lights come on. After a few minutes of adjusting, the pedal is quite sensitive, this proved very enjoyable. A rewarding skill to balance the car, keep cornering smooth and try to avoid touching the brakes. Pre-planning and a further focus on road-craft reserves the brake for parking and emergency situations only. If everyone had this pedal driving standards would significantly improve, mine included.
Lots of nice touches and detail. From the carbon fibre sils to the latest iDrive, the i3 is very cleverly packed. The suicide doors and rear leg room make it easy to transport four adults. Access to the rear seats is surprisingly good, helped by the front seats sliding forward. The dash and interior are the usual high-quality BMW items, familiar across the whole BMW fleet. With the odd random material used for its green credentials rather than aesthetics. These odd materials served as reminders it’s an eco car rather than detractors from the overall quality of the cabin. YF64 GPO even came with some bamboo dash inserts I’d not bother spec-ing, but each to their own.
Torque, constant torque. Up to 30 mph not much will keep up with an i3. Certainly not much you can buy new for similar money. It’s electric *BOOM* *BOOM*. As a life long petrolhead who’s been lucky enough to drive a lot of different cars it’s certainly unique. Flat to the floor it just keeps going, and going, and going. A constant and consistent shove from the back of the seat until around 45mph. For city driving it would take some beating. Fear one if you challenge it to a traffic light Grand Prix.
The not so good
Three biggies for us:
1. The boot is too small. We’ve a dog, and that either means we’re down to 3 seats or no boot. Even down to three seats the boot is still small. Too small for our current and future needs.
2. Over 45 mph, especially on exposed roads with poor surfaces, we found it very loud. Road and wind noise seemed to affect YF64 GPO badly. My better half enjoyed her commute and time with the i3 but complained it was too loud for her to want one. The next day I did 90% of her commute and begrudgingly knew what she meant. Over 45 mph it seems very loud, even compared to our tractor Audi A3.
3. While it’s true our loan period covered a blustery few days, it left an impression of i3s being easily affected by the wind. Where the A30 is exposed in places I found myself constantly having to correct the car and adjust it. At the end of a long day, my better half doesn’t want to be wrestling a car up the A30.
I get the feeling YF64 GPO’s optional 20s do it no favours in the handling stakes, I’d like to try one with the standard wheels. The 20s might contribute to the road noise issue we faced, especially when combined with poor road surfaces. Despite the 20s it turns in very well and offered a lot more grip than the narrow tyres suggested. My friend Ross, an i3 owner and advocate, encouraged me to find some good B-roads. He’s not wrong. On a B-road, it’s surprisingly fast and fun! Especially once you’ve spent some time getting used to the one pedal driving technique. I saw the range rightly plummet as my smile widened and hedges became a blur.
This is not a car for shy people. The car gets a lot of attention. People stop and stare. I’d almost listed this a good point because some people even let us out, or gave way, just for an extended opportunity to look at it. Drive an i3 and you get noticed. For better, or worse.
A good exercise in evaluating our driving needs, and a great experiment. Glad we’ve done it. Very thankful for our few days with the future. At this stage, it’s sadly a ‘no’ from us. As a city car, I don’t see how it’s rivalled. But for our needs, it’s too small, too loud at higher speeds on open roads and too light to not be affected by the wind.
Thanks again to Ocean BMW, and thanks to Ross and the UK i3 Facebook Group. It’s a truly brilliant car, and I mean it when I say the future. If you can align it with your needs you won’t be disappointed. Book a test drive today and find out for yourself.
Roofing came with only one significant choice to make: To loft space, or not to loft space. More of a debate than it sounds given our open plan living space… Do we sacrifice storage for increased ceiling height? Yes, yes we do.
The loft space would have been tiny, costly and hard to access vs. much higher ceilings in all of the upstairs rooms. Lots of visitors have commented upstairs looks small from the outside but is actually a TARDIS. This is largely thanks to CAD’s clever design of our windows. It’s deceptive what’s upstairs and down. Keeping the proportions of the house in keeping with surrounding properties, while giving us enough space for our dream family home.
Rich opted for Travis Perkins to manufacture and supply the roof timbers flat packed, with his team fitting them. For felt & battening, supplying and fitting tiles he chose Forrester Roofing. Pleased with both choices. The roof came in less than we expected, even with the unplanned for ‘slightly big‘ garage glulam. The tiles look great and match with the surrounding properties well. Special note that the Forrester Roofing guys worked exceptionally hard and impressed us all. Rich will be using them again, and we’d certainly recommend them.
The garage glulam makes a big difference. The garage’s roof is now joist free. Giving a much cleaner airier look, and leaving more space for my ramp. Watching Grand Designs suggests glulam are a pretty vogue thing. Given what they offer us in the garage and bedroom it’s not hard to see why.
Getting the roof on was a great milestone. I’m finding it hard to get excited by individual milestones, and don’t step back enough to take it all in. As soon as one task is done the next tasks are rapidly upon us. Milestones blur into an amorphous blob of progress, challenges, and slowly but surely our dream house. Credit to Rich for his project managing. Keeping tasks lined up and flowing far faster than I can blog about them. Our non-fixed cost and agile approach hopefully helps. I get the feeling we’re not nightmare customers from hell… Yet :D.
Hang on a minute, none of this sounds very Eco? Where are the Eco features?
As with the block work we’ve gone heavy on insulation: 175mm of Celotex in the roof, and the ceilings are further insulated with rockwool. In addition to the insulation the garage roof’s pitch is deliberately 35°, and the roof is south facing. Making it ideal for Photovoltaic Solar power (Solar PV). After getting a few quotes we elected to go with local firm Natural Generation. They proposed 12 LG panels, and optimisers allowing for the panels to work independently as some could be in the shade at various parts of the day. More on these in a later energy related blog post. Ideally after they’ve generated some power and we can fully review them. Conveniently the panels are hidden from view on the back of the garage roof. In addition to solar PV I’m eagerly watching the Tesla Powerwall. What a genius idea. Hope they’re as good as they sound.
So, getting out of the ground was far easier than anticipated. A refreshing and novel change to the stress of getting the land, and issues dealing with planning. Four years of nothing but bills and hassle vs. three weeks from ‘waste ground’ to foundations. Karma perhaps, or another reason to be grateful for my great-great-grand-father’s shrewd investment.
The majority of UK houses are built around the concept of a cavity wall. Two four inch block walls separated by an insulation filled cavity. Timber framed houses are also gathering momentum thanks to their speed to build, and lower cost of development. Combining a heatpump and living in Cornwall’s, slightly less extreme temperatures, we are gambling there is a more energy efficient way to construct our house. Building single six inch block walls externally clad in insulation, creating a cave like effect. In summer months the insulation reflects higher outside temperatures, helping the block stay cool. In winter months the heatpump and underfloor’s heat soaks into the block were the insulation helps retain the heat, and protects it from the outside elements. Creating our very own heat store.
Low intensity heat required to maintain a core temperature, ideal conditions for a heatpump and underfloor heating.
Six inch block provides a larger thermal mass to store heat.
Insulating the outside, not being limited for space by a cavity or framework, allows for significantly more insulation.
Twice as expensive to build.
Complex to build, especially where we’ve used stone cladding.
Slow to finish.
Even slower to initially heat (or change temperature).
In our case, were we are not building for profit, the upsides far out weigh the down. The concept of the heat store and easier to maintain temperature should require a lot less energy to keep the house warm. As long as we avoid completely losing the core temperature in the house. Getting heat into the floor and block is no small task, and can take over 24 hours to heat.
In theory (hopefully to be proven in practice) by heating the block work and floor of our house, using it as a heat store with extra insulation on the outside, means for less energy we’re warm in winter, and cooler in summer.
Credit goes to our structural engineer, and my Father-in-law, for pioneering the approach in our current house.
Initially our heat store approach is far quicker to build. Thanks to only building single six inch block walls. The extra cost and complexity creeps into the latter stages of the build. Two layers of 50mm insulation are battened horizontally and vertically to the exterior of the block. This is then clad in 9mm marine ply, a damp proofing layer, mesh, and finished with render.
Complicating things nicely, where we are using stone to finish the house doesn’t work with our chosen construction technique. To get around this we’ve attached 75mm of insulation to the outside of the block work, and combined it with Surecav damp proofing. The stone has ended up costing us fourteen inches of interior space, a fair bit of head scratching and a few headaches. Here’s hoping it looks good when done. Local Cornish stone at least.
Cornwall’s rich mining heritage is one of the reasons we have our land. It is also a cause for concern when it comes to what’s hiding underneath. Fears of contaminated soil, mining features, mining spoil, undocumented offshoots of known/unknown mine shafts, and more.
All of the above could negatively impact chances of getting a mortgage, and easily cost tens of thousands to fix. To better face and prepare for potential issues we arranged a full mining survey from Wheal Jane Consultancy. Our planning application included an environmental search that suggested the land was contaminant free. However, the search was merely a desktop search: ‘Computer says No’. The full mining survey included digging inspection pits horizontally and vertically through where the footings will go. Offering our first insight into how easy or hard it would be to get out of the ground. ‘Sadly’ this is when the wall came down. Our friendly mining consultant suggested it was unsafe, and needed to come down sooner rather than falling on someone’s head later.
The inspection trenches revealed no nasty surprises and good quality ground: “Ideal for building”. With planning permission granted the ground work finally began. We’d been warned earth expands when taken out of the ground, and were fortunate in not needing to dig too far to find suitable ground for the footings. Even with this good fortune a small 300 tonnes of top soil had to be removed from the site.
300 tonnes! The trucks kept coming. We hope they didn’t disrupt our neighbours and village too much. Maen Karne provided a very professional service, with friendly drivers. Their highly skilled drivers, mostly on turn around, managed to negotiate the drive and tight space on site with ease.
The footings / foundations are a standard affair:
600-800mm deep trenches: mostly 600mm, and 750mm+ for our stone fronted walls
225mm of concrete
5 courses of tench block
Filled with hardcore: recycled 4 inch clean
Blinding sand in the garage with Damp Proof Membrane (DPM) before slab.
House is slab on top of 803. Then the DPM. Easier to do this way round and possible because of underfloor heating, and needing to have a 150mm difference between the finished floor height of the house and garage for building regs (potential fluid spills).
Only the drains caused Rich a minor headache. Tolerance for the drop from the furthest drain was tight, down to the last millimetres. Thankfully easily sorted by Rich.
Digging out lead to lots of discoveries: random pottery, medicine bottles and even a leather tap dancing shoe! Relics of generations passed. Nan is convinced the tap dancing shoe belonged to mother when she was a child. Digging the final tench Sam discovered a further ‘gift’ from the old bus depot, an inspection pit.
We’re enjoying the continuation of the inspection pit forming part of our garage’s foundations. We’d hoped to be able to use the pit but closer inspection revealed it to be poorly built. Scary to think people worked under heavy busses in it! £400 worth of additional concrete appeased the building inspector. The only additional cost suffered in getting out of the ground.
Once out of the ground we all breathed a sigh of relief. Each completed phase reduces our risks and stress levels: Land ownership > planning approval > mortgage approval > out of the ground >… Greatly looking forward to the roof being on and windows in.
2014 built on 2013’s resurgence in trackdays. Thanks to all friends and family that shared in car adventures this year.
March: Rockingham with Northloop and Circuitdays
The MX5 was easily the slowest car in attendance but it didn’t stop Dad and I enjoying ourselves. Should have kept the roof on for the faster banked sections but it was too nice, and un-seasonally warm weather. Thankfully a lot nicer weather than my last visit in 2012. Ice rinks offered more grip than the circuit on that occasion. Then my e36’s clutch met its untimely end. Leaving me 300 miles to drive home with no clutch. 2014’s visit went a lot smoother (trailers are great) with the afternoon spent chasing Matt and his 924.
April: Thruxton, and the Transit
Project tow SAAB turned out to be a disaster, and far from the cost saving Caravelle replacement we hoped it would be. Struggling to find a tow car Tyronesnell trailers came to the rescue with their Transit. For a die hard VW fan it put me in a tricky situation as it’s a surprisingly good van!
Matt also booked Thruxton and we had some more close lapping. Seen at the start of his video above. The day began wet and slippery, particularly on the exit to the chicane with lots of incidents and red flags. Slowly started to establish a rhythm and enjoy the circuit. It’s bumpy and fast, with lots of potential to have a high speed off that keeps you sharp. To further keep the pressure on you could overtake on both sides. Sadly not a lot of people wanted to let an MX5 through so I had to resort to borrowing a friend’s VLN tactic: hopping through when faster cars went for an overtake: Long session.
May: BCA BMW car auction + Tow barge purchase
In a bid to buy a tow car (pun intended), after way too much time spent browsing car classifieds, Dad and I attended our first car auction. We both enjoyed the day and learnt a lot but the prices, including buyer’s fee, were higher than cars on our local BMW dealer’s forecourt. An eye opening experience. Car after car went for thousand more than anticipated. Dejected, we went home with our tail between our legs. Any thoughts of getting a bargain BMW died this day. The budget was upped, and with the help of a good friend, the below 530d tow barge was collected from Poole, Dorset. The budget… lets not talk about the budget…
June: Bedford with Circuit Days
The 530d’s maiden tow was effortless. Comfy seats, an auto combined with a good stereo and plenty of torque makes for a pleasant place to spend time and munch miles. Even with the surprise that the 5 series’ boot is smaller than the SAAB’s. First time at Bedford with a trailer and it’s a proper faff. Trailers are not allowed in the infield paddock. The MX5 rewarded the separation of tools, trailer and tow vehicle by jamming a front caliper on.
Thanks for the roadside repairs goes to friends Iain and Jon, and other tips from ‘Loopers. I learnt a lot about calipers and Iain managed to free it up allowing for an afternoon’s lapping. First glimpses of the Plus Four Engineering Lexus powered v8 MX5 were the highlight! Even if it did get beached on a sleeping policeman attempting to get noise tested. Once home I did a full service, fitted two new front calipers and changed the brake fluid.
Two glorious days at the ‘Ring. Taking my total to 41 driven laps and, not that we were timing, driving my fastest lap to date (9:23). Massive thanks to Ray (driving in this year’s VLN, hoping to get out and watch at least one) for all the coaching. What’s better than two days at the ‘Ring? Colour coordinating team t-shirts and the hire car!
August: Glorious Goodwood and Evo Track Evening at Bedford
First trip to Goodwood, and great weather despite the impending tail end of a hurricane. Sessions based, interesting and very well organised. What a wedding venue! Congratulations to Steve and Helen. Brave move having a Northloop Trackday the day before. I wouldn’t hurry back in the MX5 (the circuit deserves a faster car), or choose to do a session based trackday. But it’s a great circuit and feels very special to lap. There aren’t many trackdays with Spitfires taking off and landing while you’re lapping. A lot of fun was had closely lapping with friends in similarly powered MX5s (thanks Simon and Hannah).
Returning to Bedford without a trailer was a lot more enjoyable. Accidentally passing Bedford (thanks to taking a 200 mile detour) in my company car I definitely wasn’t tempted, in the slightest, to turn a few laps… Bedford Evo Compilation
October: Donington with Northloop and Circuit Days
After buying the MX5 at my first time to Donington this was my first solo visit / revisit. It’s becoming my favourite UK track. Certainly my favourite trackday of the year (in this country)! It also presented an opportunity to help Mission Motorsport and offer pax laps to ex-service men. The reward for which was further firming up my 2015 plans with pax laps in their Caterham Academy car.
December: Brand at Brands with Mazda On Track (MOT)
Brand for a surname and not having been to Brands seems even more silly having finally been. In the wet and cold lack of December daylight I learnt two key lessons:
1. My Federal 595s don’t work in the wet and cold
2. Paddock hill bend is scary. In fact: all of the circuit is scary with the 595s.
Fiddling with tyre pressures proved futile. A dry line finally started to form and confidence grew when an RX8 stopped play by dumping its oil over the entire circuit. After a shakey start it was still a lot of fun. I’ll be back.
Thanks for reading. Here’s to a good 2015, and another year as an Evo subscriber!
This is draft number 101, and long. My longest blog post to date! It’s taken a lot of revisions and thoughts to convey my points in anything other than a very negative manner. Our experience with Cornwall Council’s Planning department can be summarised as: stressful, miserable and unprofessional. In this post I hope to salvage something positive by sharing tips that helped us. I fear many people endure a similar experience with Cornwall Planning. They’re then so relieved to be granted planning permission, or so busy altering plans, their stories don’t get shared. If anyone else would like to blog or share their story (positive or negative) please comment below and I’ll gladly link to your experiences. This lack of feedback allows planning to brush terrible practises and poor quality of service under the carpet. In our case it cost our architects and us so much, in time and money, we simply don’t have the capacity to file an official complaint. It’s ludicrous that to officially complain you run the risk of incurring significant costs. But that is a minor point in a failing system.
Our planning journey started when our architect, Jeremy Bradley from CAD, submitted the first draft (featured here) of our plans as a pre-planning application. We concluded this was wise to get the plans in front of planning as early as possible. In theory this lets us find out if they’d have any objections in principle However, we made two mistakes:
Mistake 1: Not having a cheque book we submitted our pre-app and elected to pay by credit card. An option offered by planning. After 3 weeks of hearing nothing a bill arrived in the post. Poorly worded and claiming we owed £60. Planning wouldn’t process our application until we’d paid what we owed. A three week delay before we’ve even begun, and our first interaction is a poorly worded letter demanding money for a service not yet started. I’m considering adopting this practise too. I reckon I will go far doing nothing for three weeks then demanding money owed for not actually starting the work I’ve been asked to do…
Mistake 2: We bothered with pre-planning. After the three week delay we then suffered a further two week delay, and repeatedly had to chase for our pre-planning feedback. At one point Jeremy suggested ‘Could we just submit our full application?’. To be told ‘No, the pre-planning feedback is a valuable part of the process and we should wait’. After a further wait we received a document stating we’d paid for a desktop search. A desktop search that suggested no issues. Great!
Tip 1: Submit everything by email and follow up all interactions. Post adds a higher risk and further delays. When submitting anything call and chase it. Be proactive and ensure anything that needs paying is paid at the earliest opportunity. Planning are ‘busy’, and we speculated delaying sending out bills is a great stall tactic providing an additional buffer for their work flow. Chasing also gives confidence planning have you on their system, and your application’s dates will reflect this. Thus avoiding a three week delay like we suffered.
Tip 2: Be aware that planning officially have ten working days to respond to email, and two days to return an answerphone message. This doesn’t mean they do. It just means they should, and that they have ten days worth of email and two days worth of answerphone messages in a backlog. I imagine this isn’t relaxing or productive. It is no wonder they can sound stressed and claim to be too busy. Log everything and, as with Tip 1’s chase everything, use this log to backup when you sent things and when you are due an answer. Our experience shows if you don’t do this planning are quite prepared to ignore you, and forget you’d like to build a house this decade.
The Pre-planning (lack of) feedback meant Jeremy submitted our plans largely unchanged, and we crossed our fingers. Learning from pre-planning, the minute we received an email with a number we rang and used the application number to pay our fees (Tip 1). This meant our application was registered on the 30th May with a decision date of the 18th July.
As part of the planning process applications are sent to local Parish Councils. Each applicant is given two minutes to introduce their plans before the Parish Council discuss and vote to support, or not, the application. Both Jeremy (Architect) and Richard (Builder) offered to represent our case. But Sarah and I elected to attend and represent ourselves, with Sarah speaking. Sarah did a great job and gained unanimous approval and support on Tuesday 8th July.
About now you might be considering a five week delay isn’t much of a issue, and it all seems to be going well. Even the public feedback period yielded no complaints. We thought the same. Then our planning officer (here in referred to as the planner) started ‘thinking’… Walking through the village I’m stopped by a Parish Councillor who said he’s sorry to hear our application is being rejected, and that he, our ex-Parish Councillor neighbour, and other Parish Councillors have written an appeal to the rejection. All suggesting the reasons are ludicrous. When challenged by the Parish Councillors for our Architect’s feedback the planner said we hadn’t provided any. Could this be because this is the first we’d heard of a rejection, and she’d neglected to feed this relatively important point back to us…
Before rejecting plans planners provide the Parish Council with their reasons and see if the Parish will support the rejection. Thankfully the Parish said no, and Jinny Clark championed our case. Without Jinny, the support of our neighbours, and the parish our plans simply would have been rejected. We owe them all a lot of thanks, and a big party when the house is built!
Thought 1: The wall is historically significant
Despite the fact the Council’s heritage expert is on long term sick leave our planner, and her equally unqualified colleagues, thought the falling down wallm, picture above, was of historical significance. Therefore it needed to be saved. Even though it’s not historic, had nearly fallen down, and there is no mention of it in the World Heritage’s survey of historic walls in St.Agnes.
Out of respect for planning we didn’t pull the wall down straight away. Despite being well within our rights to. Instead Jeremy hired a World Heritage Consultant who researched the wall and documented the conclusion it wasn’t of significance. With the expert’s opinion and a digger onsite we needed to have a mining survey undertaken. This involved digging a trench under the wall. On examining the wall the mining expert suggested it needed to come down, now! Before it fell on someone. Several taps of the digger bucket later and the wall was no more. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a satisfying moment. In amongst the wall’s rubble we found several ‘historic’ breeze blocks and a captain crunch cereal packet from, the very historically significant, late 70’s.
I make light of the wall as it was falling down, dangerous and not historically significant. However, we’re very keen to preserve the history of the plot. Most of the stone we’ve dug up and reclaimed form the wall will be re-used.
Thought 2: The design needs some alterations
The pre-application’s terms and conditions state you may be assigned a different planner for your detailed application. They don’t tell you planning is subjective. So while the planner who processes your pre-planning application might be reasonable, capable of performing their role, and in agreement with your plans, there is no continuation. Sadly, it just as likely you’ll be assigned a different planner who could have any number of personal issue with your plans. They may even try to redesign your house into a one bed bungalow with no garage, hipped roof, and a stupidly huge stacked chimney………. Who wouldn’t want that after spending months with an architect designing a three bed eco family home, with double garage! Especially as this was first suggested in the last two weeks of July. Two weeks before our approval was due and we hoped to start building. Sixteen weeks into the process having only previously been told it’s all fine.
Thanks to Jeremy, Parish Councillor Jinny Clark and our next door neighbours we fought this. Eventually we managed to persuade our planner’s team leader to visit the site. After being on site and submitting our plans through a ‘quality circle’ it was decided our plans ‘didn’t work‘. Not because of a planning law, or article X,Y,Z… Nope the reasons was…
“We approved 84% of plans!” a defensive start…
“If a random passer-by walks into your neighbour’s garden, looks at your property and says ‘that’s too big’ then we have a problem…..”
I challenged this with “You’re seriously saying we can’t build our house because a random person could walk into our Neighbours’ enclosed garden and think our house is too big. Despite having a letter from the neighbours calling your feedback ludicrous and offering their full support”
“…… Yes……. and it’s my professional opinion too…”
Tip 3: Be prepared to fight. With Jinny, the Parish, neighbours, and Jeremy all in support we weren’t prepared to let our house go without a fight. Our planner’s team lead asked if we were willing to compromise, and I flatly said no. This is our one chance to build here and they’d given me no reason other than an opinion as to why we couldn’t. An opinion no one else agreed with. Looking back this was a pivotal point. Had we agreed to changes planning would have continued to push, or rejected our plans and we’d of had to go to appeal.
After the planners site visit on Wednesday 3rd September, things came to a head the following Friday. We received an email from Jeremy informing us planning were going to reject our application, and we would have to go to appeal. This is where we enter a whole new tier of costs, and our case goes in front of local councillors to be determined. Planning can say what they like during these meetings, and if there isn’t enough time we might not have been able to state our case. However, the email was also CC’d Jinny Clark. Jinny rang our local councillor and explained the situation. He then rang planning, and we received an email stating we’d been granted delegated approval. This is when a local councillor tells planning it’s approved, or rejected! We should expect this to be written up and with us Monday 8th September!!!!
Certificate B and the triangle
Monday comes and goes, you can imagine I’m frequently checking my email! Tuesday comes and goes… Still nothing! Wednesday lunch time I’ve had enough, and try to ring our planner to find out what’s going on.
Tip 4: Redial! If you need to speak to someone just keep dialling. The planner only ever once answered the phone on my first attempt to call. It usually took 2-3 presses of redial to get through, minimum. I’m aware this makes me an annoying customer but I was driven to it by their unprofessional nature:
Not doing things they committed to.
Not replying to emails and calls within their allotted time.
Sending emails completely out of the blue containing major updates and issues without enough information to be able to understand what’s going on.
Not following or adhering to their own processes.
Not updating their calendars to reflect their movements. If you ring the Council’s very helpful call centre they can look up an individual’s calendar and let you know if they are on vacation, on a site visit, or in meetings etc. While this makes me akin to a stalker you try being patient after two days of being ignored when someone is ruining your house build.
If you need to speak to someone who’s trying to derail your house build with their opinion the least they could do is answer the phone, reply to emails, or correctly use their answerphone & calendar.
Paraphrasing, it went something along the lines of……
Me: “Hi XXXXX, it’s Olly. I’m just ringing about our delegated approval that was due on Monday?”
Planner: “Ah, well… In light of all the support we’ve changed our minds and decided to approve the application ourselves [remember that 84% approval statistic….]. However, a Mr.XXXXXXXX (my delightful uncle) has raised an ownership complaint on Monday and I’ve given him until Friday to present his case”
Me: “Errrrrrr… and you didn’t think this was worth mentioning to us on Monday…………….”
Over the summer planning informed Jeremy my uncle had raised a complaint. However, planning weren’t allowed to tell us what the complaint entailed. Our planner’s team lead suggested we could fix the problem by confirming ownership of the land to be built on. We did this, and thought no more of it. Unfortunately on the 10th of September with planning approved but not in writing, we discovered Nan hadn’t been served notice. An oversight on our part. While we own all of the land we intend to build on, we only have right of way over the drive. Because the access is considered part of the build, and the drive is owned by my Nan, we needed to serve her notice. Twenty one days of notice from re-submitting our Certificate B form, and serving Nan. Three more ‘joyful’ weeks of will it won’t it! This was a minor annoyance. The more unfortunate issue was my uncle winding Nan up during this notice period. Over a triangle of land we’d included as the border of our plans. Nan became convinced if our plans were approved this triangle would magically become ours. This was a significant problem for her. Why, she couldn’t articulate. No matter how we tried to re-assure her, she didn’t want to know.
This small triangle of land was included by following the natural border of the drive. We don’t have any rights over it, and it was a mistake on our plans. However, the triangle didn’t feature as part of our build or access requirements. Planning suggested it wasn’t an issue. Jeremy said it wasn’t an issue. My uncle said it was and issue. Jeremy kindly drew up a new site plan without the triangle (see the orange boxes and red border lines below). For this we owe planning a thanks, they allowed us to amend the border without resubmitting our plans, or further delay. Even at this late stage they could have rejected the application, and caused further delays and grief.
Finally on the 3rd October our approval arrived! Predictably after I had to ring our planner and chase it. Our potted timeline:
2nd April – Submitted Pre-app
20th May – Receive Pre-app feedback
30th May – Submitted full plans, date acknowledged by planning
8th July – Unanimous support from St.Agnes Parish Council
18th July – Decision due date
3rd September – Site visit with planner and her team lead
5th September – Email to say it’s being rejected
5th September – Email to say we’re getting delegated approval
8th September – Issue with the triangle and ownership
10th September – Serve Nan notice and submit our amended Certificate B form
3rd October – Finally granted planning
Only 11 weeks late……
Tip 5: Don’t plan on planning. All being well our application would have been approved on the 18th of July, and we’d of starting building on the 25th. Sadly that wasn’t to be. We were fortunate our Builder is very understanding!
Tip 6: If in doubt request another planner. We were too late to this party, and gambled it would be ok. Planning is subjective. Whether it should or shouldn’t be is another topic, it is! We’ve heard lots of horror stories relating to some planners, and good feedback on others. In theory if everyone did the research and pushed for a good planner it would free up the time of the others to improve, and force the planning team leaders to address the imbalances in the quality of service offered.
Tip 7 – The most important: Have a good team. Without Rich’s patience & advise, Jeremy and Sally from CADs hard work & efforts, the support of the Parish Council, and the lengths Jinny Clark went to we wouldn’t be building now.
In the late 19th century my Great Great Grandfather returned from a cross atlantic adventure. An explosives engineer and miner, he and his brother went to seek their fortunes. Like many Cornish folk. The demand and rewards working across the Atlantic were high. He achieved reasonable success and returned to Cornwall a wealthy man.
On returning, he invested his money buying part of West Kitty mine when it ceased mining. The investment came with a number of properties including a large 2.5 storey forge and the mine’s account house. The forge was used to service and repair mining tools and equipment.
The above picture shows my Nan sat outside of the former account house, with a lean-to and the corner of the forge’s roof just visible. My Nan’s father (my Great Grandfather) used the lean-to as his workshop and the forge to found the local bus company: Harper & Kellow. Hence ‘the old bus depot’. Technically it was a coach house as my Great Grandfather ran coaches (including the coach below). However, most people associated horses with coaches, and a coach house is a different concept again. So ‘The Old Bus Depot’ it is……
The Old Bus Depot enjoyed a varied life and even became the local fire station during the second world war. Not ideal given it housed several coaches and turning up the drive required a lot of skill! My Grandfather eventually sold Harper & Kellow, and in 1970 the forge was demolished.
The land & the gift
With all of the members of our family that matter in unanimous support we were ‘given’ the land. Sadly this wasn’t quite the gift we dreamt of and 4 years of significant stress followed. Suffice to say we’ve seen the effects a poor and a very good solicitor can have. Many friends and family members (and myself sometimes) questioned my sanity in pursuing what they concluded to be a lost cause. However, this was my dream: To build on land that’s been in our family over 100 years and hopefully see other generations of our family use the land for at least another 100. It’s not something I could give up lightly. We were fortunate to have other options but this was / is the dream.
The process took its tole as the bills quickly ran into thousands and beyond. Significantly more than the value of the land without planning. We were painfully aware it was all at risk. At risk because the land transfer might never happen, despite the mounting bills, and at risk because even if the land transfer went through we might not get planning. There were a lot of low points with this hanging over us for 4 years. My Nan even said at one of the lowest point ‘Don’t let them win’. We owe a lot to our friends and (most of our) family for their support. We also owe a lot of thanks to Tim Atkins from Stephens Scown Solicitors. Another recommendation from our builder, Rich. I’m pretty sure Tim questioned my sanity but with his help in February 2014 we finally owned the land! With a new found faith in solicitors. A good one is worth their weight in gold!
Because of the risks stated above we held off writing this blog until we had planning…. more on that to come next post…
Thanks to Stu for the grammar corrections and pointers 😀
The first picture includes three Cornish Miners. The middle one is my Great Grand Father.
The picture of the girl outside of West Kitty is actually my Nan’s Mum. Thanks to cousin Peter (who used to get the buses to school) and my Mum for this spot.
My Dad loves family history. As a surprise for my Nan and Mum he had the below commissioned by a local artist. The same bus in its Harper & Kellow colours, looking slightly more road worthy. Featuring Mum as one of the children.
Who hasn’t sat and watched Grand Designs and considered what they’d do differently. How you’d manage a budget differently, or not have put the wall there in the first place. How silly the people were to think it would only cost £XXXXXX to build, and how laugh out loud funny it is when they say they’ll be in by Christmas. The sheer glee on Kevin McCloud’s face when they utter the words “I’m going to project manage the build myself”…
Well, this our turn. The time has finally come to build. After what can only be described as a test of our tenacity, and a long journey. Massive thanks to friends and family for their support. Last week work finally began and we’re building our new home!
The plan is to chronicle the journey from ‘waste ground’ to home. Sharing the highs and lows of building, some of our rational / lack of rational, and hopefully offer an insight into building from the perspective of none-builders.
Build an Eco family home to meet our current and future needs, featuring:
Open plan living space (big enough to host a joint family Christmas)
3 Bathrooms (including a downstairs wet-room)
Family friendly, young and old
Dog and surf friendly
Ground source heat pump, solar PV, and underfloor heating
Office space (I work from home)
Double garage with space to work on cars
Taking everything learnt from over 14 years in IT, and watching Grand designs… I’m going to manage the build myself… Kidding, but IT has gifted us two carry-overs so far:
1. Hire the best / most experienced project manager (PM)
In my experience a good PM is worth their weight in gold. By good I mean: experienced, proven, someone you get on with, and an individual aligned to your values. To this end we’ve hired local builder and project manager Richard Llewellyn, of Llewellyn Design and Build Ltd. We’re fully entrusting the build to Rich. This doesn’t mean turn key. Decisions will still be ours to make while Rich project manages, and chases us for them.
In work we put our faith in the Agile Manifesto and its natural alignment with the way life works on IT projects. Lots of people practise Agile outside of IT. The build presents an opportunity to try applying it / Agile aspects (more on this to come :D). How does this apply to our build so far?
We’re not running with a fixed cost. We’ve estimates for the various stages of the build and these will be adapted making decisions as we go. A lot of articles and self build guides insist on going to tender and fixed price. I dislike fixed price in IT. It would be hypocritical to enforce it building our house. With fixed price the final finish and last stages are in direct competition with the profitability of the project. This is not to say we want to economise on the building / structural work. We’re hoping by adopting an agile non-fixed price approach to do the best we can with the funds (and time) available. Delivering the most value and best fit for our needs.
Using SCRUM principles. Accepting not all problems can be fully understood or defined, focusing instead on maximising our builders’ ability to make decisions, build and respond to the trials and tribulations building brings. For example: being on site daily to keep in contact with what’s going on, share requirements & ideas (and understanding of requirements), remove blockers, and priorities. Keeping other meetings to a minimum.
Embracing feedback and learning from the good and bad aspects each build phase delivers. As first time builders there is a lot to learn. Agile’s iterative and incremental development breaks the build into manageable chunks of learning and development points.
Should be a fun experiment balanced with a reasonable amount of pressure to get it right…
Rich recommended Jeremy Bradley from CAD Architects and our current rented home was also designed by one of their founding partners. They’ve an excellent reputation and some lovely examples on their website. After our first meeting onsite Jeremy went away to draw up our fee proposal and quote. I spent a further few hours summarising all of our requirements, thoughts, and drawings in an email. Breaking things down by room, and offering context and whys behind our thoughts.
When Jeremy sent the plans through I was gutted. I’d drawn an L-shaped building and been mentally living in its layout for 3 years. Jeremy proposed a T-shape with a very different layout upstairs and down. My initial reaction was “find a new Architect”. Predictably, Sarah loved it and told me, in no uncertain terms, “you’re not an Architect”. It took three days for me to come round. Lots of going over, and over, the plans. Discussing it with friends and family. Imaging living in the house and using its various flows: Coming in with wet dogs or wetsuit, working in my office relative to the rest of the house, and guests being able to use the wetroom as an ensuite(ish). Jeremy’s attention to detail and skills met our requirements far better than my humble drawings. Further proving Sarah’s point.
A further couple of emails were exchanged and we had a final meeting in CAD’s Truro office before submitting our pre-app plans. Exciting times!!!!!!!!! Massive thanks to Jeremy and Sally from CAD for all of their help and support. More on the thanks and nightmare that is dealing with Cornwall Planning coming soon…
For now we’re trying to source energy and powder coated aluminium windows suppliers. All recommendations and suggestions appreciated.