Anni Mori's home in Stanton St. John is a listed building
Extending your house can bring you up against rules, regulations and red tape.
Ann Mori moved to the small village of Stanton St. John from the USA 20 years ago.
Once here she thought up an ingenious idea to get around planners by taking her extension underground!
"When I bought my cottage, which was very small... I decided I needed a garage and I wanted to have another bedroom for guests.
"So I decided to build an underground garage and guest room because... I thought it wouldn't change the look of my cottage but it also wouldn't use up the rest of my garden which had really beautiful views."
Ann was due to go back to the States and finish her PhD and had heard that it would take a long time to get approval for an extension in the village. She looked at the rules and decided there was nothing to say what she was planning contravened any regulations and so she went ahead.
What Ann did not realise was that because her house was a listed building she did need planning approval.
The village of Stanton St John used to belong to New College which was mainly a farming community at the time because they needed to provide food for their students. About 20 years ago the college began to sell off some of their properties because they were no longer needed for agricultural workers.
The person that lived in the college before Ann was the last New College gardener and his wife and when they died the house was sold by auction. "When I bought it... it wasn't registered by the land registry. It was actually registered on vellum [mammal skin] from the original sale and they had to take that... and it is now registered properly."
Ann grew up in Iowa, did a PhD in California and has lived in Japan as an engineer designing offshore platforms. "I have lived in a lot of different places and travelled to even more places but I thought when I finally lived in Stanton St John, that was absolutely the most beautiful place I had ever been."
The one bedroom cottage captivated her as much as the village itself but being American her visitors came for longer durations and she wanted to be able to have them in her home.
Her plan for her underground guest house started taking shape and local people all pitched in to help. The man down the road had a digger company and his friend was a farmer so had lorries to take away the soil. Before she knew it a concrete lined hole had been built.
Building the underground extension took a year
Her neighbours were having a more traditional extension built and they had access to their property by going through the hole that Ann had dug: "The planners were visiting them weekly and they had to actually crawl through our hole to get to their property.
"We never thought much of it and the planners never mentioned anything. Finally some big planning boss came with them and said 'What about this hole, what's going on here?'"
They had talked to our parish councillor who thought it was a great idea to have something in the village that didn't change the village, but because we needed listed planning permission they landed themselves in a bit of hot water.
"It was - at the time - quite scary, because we had visions of, you know, 'what if we don't get it, would we have to fill the hole in, how would we do that?'"
The whole process took about a year from start to finish, including a five month break while they sorted out their planning 'hiccup'.
Ann did end up getting retrospective planning permission and though it all worked out for her, she does have this advice for people:
"If you live in an area that wasn't a conservation area you don't really need planning permission [to build underground], but it's still good to have a chat with the planners.
"If you live in a conservation area you will need listed building consent or some kind of approval, even if the building has zero volume, which mine does."
The project was a huge education and was the start of a new career for Ann, indulging a passion she had, till this point, suppressed - designing buildings and interiors.
"The atmosphere and surroundings that we live in have so much to do with how we think, and having surroundings that are aspirational helps people think bigger and set their goals higher... so I think it's actually quite a worthwhile thing."
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