for Stock Woolstencroft

“Can I whinge about my self-build?” asks Nick, lighting up a cigarette. I had explained that “Building Buys A Pint” was an opportunity for people in the industry to talk about the things that were bothering them while Building kept the drinks coming. And this self-build business is clearly bothering Nick.

He bought a small plot of land two years ago as a sideline, but has since become stuck in a planning quagmire. “You build for other people the whole time and invest a lot of effort into it and you think: ‘I could do this myself’.”

His two colleagues, Rob and Elena, nod sympathetically.

Nick continues: “I remember reading that for a single dwelling in this borough it takes a year to get through planning, and I thought, yeah, but these people don’t know what they’re doing … and two years later I’ve still got an empty plot of land.”

He taps his cigarette ruefully. “There’s no objections, the neighbours are into it, but basically you find the same difficulties and timeframe as for a 400-unit scheme.”

Rob sympathises, but is also quietly enjoying his colleague’s misfortune – as all right-thinking coworkers should. “The planners are right though, mate: you’re never going to get 40 flats on to that site,” he grins. More supportively, he adds: “The planning system is such that if you go to them with a 400-unit scheme, 35% affordable, they want it because you’re offering them something. But it’s hard to get consent for a small number of houses, so for a house on a small plot of land, it’s going to be tough.”

Elena’s experiences of self-build are rather different. Originally from South Africa, she worked for an organisation that looked at housing provision after the elections in 1994. “We had the challenge of trying to provide affordable housing and also linking it to an education agenda,” she says. “We designed cartoons that gave step-by-step instructions on how to build your own house.”

With the talk turning to South Africa, Elena notes that Stock Woolstencroft is “quite an international practice”. Indeed, Rob is Australian and has been in the UK for three and a half years, and Nick has worked in South Africa and Brunei, a country that has none of Britain’s planning problems. “I was working for the Sultan, so you can build whatever you want,” he smiles. “No Building Regs – as long as you put in gold taps, you were all right.”

If Nick ever gets approval for his plot of land, he intends to take his mini empire abroad as well, although that’s not without its problems. “I’ve got a piece of land in Spain,” he says, lighting another cigarette. “But bits keep getting nicked by neighbours …”

  • Chosen watering hole: Bar Music Hall in Shoreditch
  • Ambience: Very mid-afternoon … band setting up in the corner
  • Drinks drunk: 1 whiskey, 1 bottle of Pacifico (Mexican beer), 4 pints of Amstel, 1 Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic

Those present …

  • Elena Pascolo associate
  • Nick Beard also an associate
  • Rob Nerlich associate number three
  • Nick Jones Building magazine