In September, I bought a plot to build a home in the Home Counties village where my children grew up. The 0.56 ha plot would house no fewer than 17 homes if it was in the local plan, but came with detailed permission for an off-the-shelf, five-bed, twin-garage, mock farmhouse to replace a crumbling bungalow.
I wanted to do better. I wanted to prove you could build a green house that didn't look like Heath Robinson had done the concept drawings.
I wanted the ecological design to rhyme with the area's vernacular tradition and still look bang up to date.
I found an architect with a portfolio extending to environmental design, including being part of the team that won the Greenwich Millennium Village competition in 1998. He knew his organic onions.
Then I wanted the application to be handled just so. Before he had spent any of the design fee, the architect went to see the planning authority to discuss how he intended to respond to my brief. For example, to maximise the benefits of solar orientation, it made sense to move the house to face the path of the sun. The planners pointed him to precedents that would help. Then the design was drawn up and shown to the same planners, who gave it a warm reception.
Before we put the application in, we invited the village to our house to consult them. This was done three weeks before the planning green paper identified consultation as best practice. We were on the side of the angels, we thought.
But we didn't invite the village badger. Every village has one: the kind of prickly character who takes an interest in everyone else's business – and is more than ready to object if they don't like what they see. Instead, I sent drawings and plans to the badger and offered to explain. I heard nothing.
The application was deposited. The badger got up a petition and blustered round the village because nobody would sign it. When the parish council met to discuss the application, no objection was raised.
Then the badger hit bullseye by claiming that the site was a breeding ground of Europe’s most protected reptile, the great crested newt. The application was pulled
The badger stepped up a gear, badgering locally elected members on foot and by phone, then planning officers. The badger sought to have all trees on the site protected, but the tree conservation officer could find nothing to attach a tree preservation order to.
Then the badger hit bullseye by claiming that the site was a breeding ground of Europe's most protected reptile, the great crested newt. The application was pulled from all committee hearings while an investigation was carried out.
There was no available records of local fauna to cross-check claims against. So, I offered to have the whole village surveyed – but had to wait because reptiles hibernate. Two months later, an ecologist did indeed find a small number of triturus cristatus – apparently, you'll find a few in nearly every village in our part of England.
He wrote that this particular population were holding on against the odds, and argued that the pond proposed for our run-off would give the newts a fighting chance to repopulate the village.
Only now could the application be determined. The officers recommended approval. When the hearing finally came, last-minute representations from the badger dominated proceedings. The badger claimed views out of our property would intrude on his cherished privacy. The badger's house is 120 m from the site perimeter, and with no windows in the gable end facing our plot, there was no issue about privacy between principal windows.
The officers responded by requiring that a 3 m deep hedge be planted along the 80 m boundary. (Ouch – there goes any budget for photovoltaics.) But the real blow is a threatened condition that all windows facing this "amenity" of ploughed fields and chicken coops would need obscure glazing. So, one day I might get permission to build a house in a village facing glorious countryside, on the condition that I can't see out.
The application was also deferred so that members could make a site visit to assess the badger's complaint. Privately, members are debating whether a redesign would not be the most political solution.
So, imagine a system that would give greater powers to every badger up and down the country. The system already encourages badgers to stretch the limited capacity of local authority personnel and elected members who accommodate those that shout loudest rather than those who speak most intelligently. Extending third party rights would threaten the viability of projects that deserve planning.
David Birkbeck is a director of Design for Homes, which manages a database of residential architects at www.designfor homes.org