‘Earthship’ house cannot be justified say planners

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AN Aberdeen woman will find out later today (Tuesday), if she is to get full planning consent for the erection of a house with recording and teaching music studio at Oldtown of Meikledens, Blackhills.

An application from Mrs L. Wilson of 18 Dempsey Court, Queens Lane North, will go before members of the Buchan area committee when they meet in Peterhead later.

In a report to today’s meeting, planning officer Bruce Strachan says the proposed house is of a ‘highly innovative’ design with a single glazed elevation and otherwise would be built back into the slope.

“It would adopt principles of design, energy efficiency and other environmental standards established in similar proposals across the UK and seldom seen in new build houses in Aberdeenshire to date,” he says.

“The proposal would also provide a recording and teaching music studio for the prospective owner, although this is considered an ancillary use as there is no dedicated space within the floor plan.

“The proposed house is strikingly unusual and of a type very uncommonly found in that it is built into the ground rather than above ground. It is a contemporary design of a single, glazed frontage around 32m in length with the only other visible parts being natural stone retaining walls at either end. “

Members will hear the application is supported by a report detailing the two other ‘earthship’ developments in the UK and some detailed information on the choice of site, construction techniques and technical information on site servicing.

The supporting document describes this proposal as follows - the principles of Earthship design, which is a passive solar house made of natural and recycled materials; for example old tyres filled with earth. It further states that only two such earthship homes have been built in the UK, in Fife and at Brighton.

One other feature is the lack of reliance on public utilities as they are largely self-sufficient in terms of energy and water use and disposal,” he says. “No business case associated with the teaching studio has been submitted to attempt to justify the house and indeed the supporting report acknowledges that the proposal does not comply with this policy. This point was made to the agent during pre-application advice,” says Mr Strachan.

“The report goes on to suggest that this is an appropriate development for the rural environment and that this is such an innovative project that support for it would not set a precedent for other houses in the countryside. It is also questionable whether it may ‘create a precedent for inappropriate future development patterns’.”

“Finally, this proposal will do little to ‘support existing community services and facilities’ and nothing to ‘provide affordable access to land or housing to people in need’,” says Mr Strachan.“On balance therefore, when assessed against all criteria, it does not meet the requirements of council policy.

“The planning authority supports high standards of design and this proposal meets most of the policy tests and despite the scale and modern appearance of the house, it will be largely invisible in the landscape from most viewpoints.

“The exception being the proposed landscaping to form a shelter belt, which may perform that function well but may equally appear rather alien in this open landscape.

“The planning authority wishes to support high standards of design and proposals such as this that embrace low carbon technologies.

“However, while the house itself may be an exemplar it is simply located in an area that is distant from services and facilities and cannot make use of available public transport.

“It also cannot be justified as a necessary dwelling in the countryside and for these two reasons must be recommended for refusal,” he adds.