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  1. Luxury
February 7, 2012

Spear's Letters, Issue 24

By Spear's

Spear’s readers write in support of our Save Our Historic Landscape campaign and explain why it makes sense to employ an architect when renovating your home

From Max Browne
I write as a result of trying to do something more constructive than screaming at the monstrous erection which has just appeared over the fence at the bottom of our garden. Stroud Council Planning Department have granted full consent and the most distressing thing for neighbours and others concerned with conservation is worse is to follow.

The Cotswold landscape from my window is currently invaded by a solar panel array, and another monster is about to be erected — a 55ft high wind turbine. It is clear that they have been sited in the middle of our best view of the local countryside. The inevitable voltage drop from the long and relatively inefficient cable runs results, of course, in less electricity being collected than if they were closer to the owner. The Planning Office has allowed maximum devaluation of neighbouring properties and minimum generation of electricity. Why? Does it matter? Does anybody else care? Well yes they do, very much so.

The local parish council meeting was unanimously against planning consent for such structures in a designated area of outstanding natural beauty and approximately 90 per cent of the large public and expert response to the application was steadfastly against it.

Of course, we are all paying for this too via the huge government subsidies to successful landowner applicants. We are paying for monsters we don’t want, placed by people who, at best, don’t care and, at worst, are receiving official approval and subsidies for devaluing, perhaps destroying, the lives of their neighbours for the token advantage of an amount of electricity that on average would hardly boil a kettle.

We await the next phase with dread as we shan’t then be able to lift our eyes to heaven without seeing the whirling blades cutting through the skyline. Be warned — if this kind of planning aberration goes unchallenged it will inevitably mushroom elsewhere.
From RIBA Manser Medal judges Tony Chapman Hon FRIBA, RIBA head of Awards, and Peter Mackie, managing director of Property Vision, subsidiary of award sponsor HSBC Private Bank

You wouldn’t dream of performing an operation on yourself, so why is employing the professional services of an architect often regarded as an unnecessary luxury? It isn’t cheap — 8 to 12 per cent of the build costs of a new or extended house for the full service, ie planning permission and overseeing the build — but you can pay by the hour (from £55), and as Clive Aslet recognises, employing a good architect can add 15 per cent to the value.

But that is not all. If you want to live in a house, not just use it as an investment, then why shouldn’t it be designed to your needs and tastes? It is a fallacy to think architects do their own thing with your money. Just say no if you don’t like an idea; architects will have plenty. The whole thing is about the relationship between both parties — a shared vision, communication — and a drive for excellence. And if you work with your architect, then the collaboration will produce something better than you dreamed of.

The results of those dreams (and sleepless nights) form the list from which the RIBA Manser Medal winner, awarded to the best one-off house in the UK each year in association with HSBC Private Bank, is drawn. This year’s winner was a 1960s house in Highgate rebuilt by the owners, architects themselves, who believed so strongly in the added value of using an architect that they hired another to do the work, with stunning results.

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