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Edward Toomer & Mary McGrath

Edward Toomer & Mary McGrath's finished custom build project

Edward and Mary’s new build presents a cautionary tale for self builders as they discuss the access and planning issues they faced.

Floor Plans

What is the floor area of your project in sq ft or sq m?

162.4 m2 and basement 40.6m2

Edward & Mary - Floorplans.JPG

Could you tell us any interesting facts or remarkable features about your project?

Initially unknown to us was that Policy H16 from East Hants Council meant that our 1920s asbestos bungalow, with later extensions, could not be replaced by a house of a larger size. We had ordered a prefabricated house with an underground garage, later changed to a basement from a German company. Planning Consent was refused on grounds that the bungalow had been extended to its limit with a conservatory and no increase in size would be permitted. An integral garage is classed as a liveable space; a basement is not. Despite this, the German company demanded, with threats, a payment of 10% for an oversize house that could not be built. Their claim was justified in the small print and stated the sale was subject to German law. It took a German member of staff at my solicitors to resolve the situation.

The initial plans had been made by English architects to accommodate a German production system. These plans were tweaked by a local architect, Noel Wright Architects, and with the assistance of Chris Gosling Planning, passed. Andrew Waring Associates were used for engineering plans and calculations. The architect put the job to tender. Within the specifications were compliant surface water drainage and rainwater harvesting systems.

Helping the job run smoothly were: an existing outbuilding upgraded with a new power supply, toilet with handwashing, telephone and wifi thus providing a very good on site office and compulsory use of a banksman to assist with heavy deliveries

Key features are the first floor balcony, a very practical basement and borrowed landscapes. An excellent job was done by Flint Construction, Alresford, Hampshire, under architect’s instructions from us, to create an almost passivhaus with an EPC of B 84.

Experience at the Centre

How many times have you visited The National Self Build and Renovation Centre before?

About 5 in total including x2 one-day courses.

What would you say is the most helpful feature or resource at the NSBRC?

The NSBRC Training Courses and being able to spend a lot of time catching up on new trends. This was essential in overcoming our problem.

Did you use any exhibitors at the NSBRC? If so, who?

Green Building Store for Mechanical Ventilating and Heat Recovery system (MVHR). Timber Frame from Vision Development. Our architect may have selected some others including suppliers who responded to clicks at their exhibits.

What did you enjoy most about your visit to the NSBRC? 

The technical Information, getting ideas and replies to questions and updating trade knowledge.

Would you recommend the NSBRC to a friend, and if so, what aspects of the Centre would you recommend and why?

Yes and depends on their capabilities and aspirations. The NSBRC Training Courses come high on list (of note is the catering provided) as well as the Renovation House. I suggest that more self-employed builders and sub-contractors be encouraged to visit.

Edward & Mary’s Self Build Journey

What first inspired you to undertake project – what did you hope to achieve?

To choose between selling and moving to a new house, or improving our bungalow, or demolition and making better use of the site. Previously we had been  to the sales site of one well known European prefabricated house builder and were disappointed that there was no follow up. We had decided to move but then saw a German prefabricated house under construction nearby. We were invited to their factory and show houses. They were more suited for German tastes although some features were very good.

We wanted to achieve maximum use of the allowed space in an energy efficient house while making best use of the semi-rural location.  In my business, I had attended Straker's Auctions, and seen advertisements for the NSBRC. Having visited the Centre we were convinced that a supervised self build was the best option and that there were new and better ways of overcoming structural problems in our pub estate.


What was the cost & size of the land?

£240,000 in 2002 for our bungalow. Irregular plot of 680m2.


How did you find the land? Do you have any tips for others currently searching for a plot?

We already owned it. In my business we have sold surplus plots from pub renovations in Wiltshire and I am surprised at the lack of interest by private individuals not wanting to take a chance or are lacking practical skills. This does not apply to self-employed builders who work together.


Did you have any issues getting your planning permission granted or with building control? If so – why was this?

Yes. Because as a replacement, the size had to be the same. No problem with building control. Our architect appointed an independent firm for building inspection.


Why did you choose your method of construction?

It followed from the German pre-fabricated concept of efficiency.


Did you use a project manager, or did you choose to self-project manage?

We passed it all to the architect so he justified his fees. The construction company appointed a dedicated project manager.


What was your budget and were you able to stick to it?

£500,000 to include site clearance and all fees. No, we weren’t able to stick to our budget.


If you didn’t stick to your budget, what was the main reason for the overspend?

About 15% over budget due to higher specification materials, unnecessary and incorrect surveys for the initial project' and many smaller things that added up like fencing, landscaping, and the extra demolition costs due to larger amounts of asbestos.


What is the value of the property now?

About £900,000.


Did you reclaim the VAT, and if so, how much were you able to reclaim?

Construction company reclaimed all the VAT.


What aspects of the process did you find stressful – and do you have any tips on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered?

Objections to the planning application including access to the site; incorrect soil survey. Query objections and reports.  Follow opinions from qualified experts with local knowledge.


What did you find most enjoyable about working on your project?

Letting the right people take charge while I continued with my own work and holidays.


What is one of your favourite features about your project?

Balcony with views of ‘borrowed landscape’.


How did you tailor your home to suit your lifestyle?

By creating a chalet bungalow with basement and lots of storage space and garden with rainwater harvesting. Future proofing against old age with flexible ground floor accommodation.  Double hand rails on stairs. Hand rails on external steps. Lights and power points in all the right places.


Is there a possibility you would ever undertake another project in the future?



If so, is there anything you would do differently?

Yes, plan in advance for landscaping. Attempt to prevent contractors leaving rubble under future lawns and growing areas.


What would your top tip be for other NSBRC Visitors about to embark on their first self build or home improvement journey?

Look, listen and learn.