Stephen Grant

Planned of Hope And Glory

Words by Stephen Grant

There are very few skills you pick up in your pre-child life that prepare you for the practical hurdles of parenting. But I think I’ve found one. Getting planning permission.

In Britain, which is rightly concerned about conserving our natural geographic and architectural beauty (and not repeating the errors of the last 200 years where we’ve systematically ruined it), this is tough at the best of times. But in Brighton and Hove, it’s a black art that requires you to have nous, tact, bottomless pockets and telepathy.

The problem is, that there’s no advice up front to tell you what’s OK. You know the ‘yes/no’  game where you have to guess what someone’s thinking and they can only answer yes or no? It’s like that. Except each question takes 8 weeks and costs just under a grand.

And then it dawned on me. Getting planning permission in Brighton and Hove from a planning officer is a bit like getting food into a toddler – they won’t tell you what they want, but they’ll happily tell you what they don’t want, long after you’ve gone through the cost and effort of putting something together. Oh, and they’re very unlikely to give a reason for saying no; or at least, not one that makes any sense whatsoever.

Of course, there are people who offer to get planning permission for you – ‘specialists’. Though that specialism appears to be pulling a convincing, ‘I can’t believe the council didn’t agree’ face, shortly before taking your money.

Remember, this is Brighton. Home of the artiste; a bastion of the avant-garde; a beacon for dynamism. But in the field of home improvements, originality and creativity must be punished.

Hey. I’m not blinkered enough to not realise those rules exist to stop people constructing unwanted antisocial eyesores. And of course Brighton’s a taller hurdle; the nicer the place you live, the harder it is. We should all be grateful this problem exists.

Satellite dish in Regency Square? I don’t think so. Two storey extension in Crawley? Please start tomorrow. Hell, if you suggested to Wigan council that you’d like to ‘remodel your home’ by flinging car-sized rocks at it from a 30ft trebuchet they’d probably offer you some sort of national regeneration grant.

Maybe we shouldn’t grumble. Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky that the planning permission mentality is not used in other areas of personal choice. Imagine the young lady who has elected to have breast enlargement who is then told after a six month period of submitting sketches and plans of her breasts (along with site visits from interested parties), that she can only do it to the volume and protrusion of the other breasts in her immediate area.

Facetious? Not really. Your only glimmer of hope is that some other poor sap has tried to do something similar and succeeded. This is a level of conformity only matched by the recent edict by North Korean leader Kim-Jong-Un that all male students should match his haircut. When I was 14 at school everyone got baggy, flowing, chino trousers. So I did too. With my spindly teenage legs, I looked like a clown. Looking back now, maybe that’s where it all started.

That’s why people are so keen to do interior decoration – it’s the only way they can let their creativity run riot. Unfortunately, once that creative urge has been bottled up by two year’s failed attempts at a porch alteration, it leaves them with a psychosis akin to a permanent acid flashback. Next time you visit a friend with neon Formica skirting boards, don’t scoff. Give them a cuddle and never mention how pointlessly small their kitchen extension is.