Grand Designs-style plans for underground 'Hobbit house' approved

An old underground reservoir storage tank is set to be transformed into a 'hobbit house' as part of Grand Designs-style plans. The unusual project in Biddulph was backed by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council despite being recommended for refusal.

One councillor described it as akin to where hobbits live in Lord of the Rings, while another said the scheme was something you'd expect to see on Channel 4's Grand Designs.

Planning officers had raised concerns the conversion of the old Severn Trent Water tank would be 'inappropriate development' in the Green Belt. But Biddulph Town Council members called for the redevelopment of the proposals at Troughstones Road to be approved, describing it as 'an innovative design and a reuse of an existing structure'.

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A report to the committee said: "The application site comprises a former underground/part-submerged storage tank with a floor area of 22 x 23m that was used by Severn Trent Water. The structure has an internal floor to ceiling height of 2.6m.

"It is proposed that the existing roof would be waterproofed, insulated and overlaid with a green roof system. The walls are predominately below the natural ground levels and will generally remain so, with only the south façade to be partially uncovered and exposed, to form the primary entrance.

"The proposed layout has been set out and designed to retain the prevailing structural grid form. The floor plan comprises of a central open courtyard with a square lightwell opening at the roof level.

"The walls to the perimeter of the internal courtyard are predominately glazed to maximise natural light deep into the plan form. Internally an open plan living, dining, family room and kitchen aligns with the principal entrance and the south façade.

"A circulation corridor mirrors the internal courtyard with the bathroom, gym / study utility and the four bedrooms extending the corridor link. The bedrooms are orientated around smaller open light wells to capture natural light and ventilation to the habitable rooms."

Committee members were told that a previous application for a home on the site was refused permission. The case went to appeal but was dismissed by a planning inspector after being considered inappropriate development and harmful to the openness of the Green Belt.

Planning consultant Peter Yates, who spoke in support of the application at the meeting, said: "The applicant has owned the site for many years. All the features the inspector considered to have a visual and spatial impact on the openness of the Green Belt have been removed.

"The issue of light spillage can be addressed by an appropriate planning condition requiring the use of downward-facing ambient lighting. The garden in front of the building is a sunken garden which, together with the existing trees, will screen the only elevation of the building.

"We are talking about a largely submerged building and no extensions are proposed - residential is a sustainable use. Planting of the roof area would increase openness of the Green Belt and, together with landscaping, will enhance the character of the area."

Biddulph district and town councillor Jim Garvey, who also spoke in favour of the plans, said: "Councillors wholeheartedly support this application. It's an imaginative and creative reuse of an existing industrial building, consistent with the Biddulph Neighbourhood Plan's aspiration to bring derelict industrial developments, such as this redundant reservoir, back into use.

"Not only is this application supported by the town council, it is not opposed by any of the consultees. It is also encouraged by neighbouring properties, with one resident having written to express their support.

"It is sad that such sites, if abandoned and allowed to fall into further dereliction, are subject to antisocial behaviour and may become a danger to the public. This is an appropriate and sympathetic redevelopment, with considerable efforts made to ensure the landscaping will blend into the natural environment."

Fellow Biddulph councillor Andrew Hart said: "A number of Grand Designs of similar type to this have taken place in the south west of England - it is novel and innovative. But I don't think we do novel and innovative very well in Staffordshire Moorlands unfortunately.

"It is a really good use of an old industrial building and there are several more up and down the valley that are crying out to be redeveloped under the Neighbourhood Plan. I hope that these pre-war water supply units could be looked at for reuse.

"I think it's a brownfield site in the Green Belt. It has merit - let's see if we can do novel."

Committee member Councillor Bill Cawley, who proposed the application be approved, said: "Hobbit housing came into my mind when we went through (on the site visit). Although who is going to pretend to be Bilbo Baggins is entirely up to you to decide."

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