Our Grand Design in Montemboeuf, Charente, France

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The builders have started on site – Les constructeurs ont commencé sur le site

Building access on to the site

Building access on to the site

I never thought i’d be so excited by a picture of a digger, but I am.  The picture above shows a digger on our site, starting work on the access road.  Stuart from SLM Construction kindly sent these through so that we could see his progress.  It night not look like much at the moment, but it is the first sign that we have that work has started and that we really are building a house!  The building of the foundations should take about 6 weeks and then the timber frame can start – just as long as we finalise the designs!  We will be signing the contract with Marandat next week, so we need to stop tinkering soon!

The sign to the left of the picture must be displayed as part of the planning process and is therefore a legal requirement.  Unfortunately, for the first two months that it is displayed our planning permission can be contested by third parties.  Hopefully, this will not happen, but I will have my fingers crossed until mid-November! The photo of the sign is just as important as seeing the digger.  If we did not have this sign in place, and the proper form, potential opponents would have the right to contest the planning decision.  The obligation to prove that the notice was placed on the site in a correct manner, and for a sufficiently long duration, lies with Tom and I  – so hooray for the photo as proof.

The new driveway looking    north

The new driveway looking north

We wrote to Grand Designs about our project but unfortunately they are only covering projects in the UK.  They only ever did one season of Grand Designs Abroad and I think they should think about doing another one!

Now that we’ve started on site, more posts and photos should appear, keep you eye, we’ll keep you updated as much as possible!


New French words I have learnt  (I will expand on this as the weeks go by);

Baies coulissantes – Siding doors

Casque de chantier – Hard hat.
Sous-sol – basement
La Renouée du Japon – Japanese knotweed


Planning permission is granted! – Le permis de construire est accorde!

Today we received a very exciting letter from the Mairie in Montemoeuf telling us that we have been granted planning permission for our house! Our only planning condition (accord avec prescriptions) was in relation to the drainage (more on that below).   It took them under 2 months to decide, so probably a lot less than you would expect from planners in the UK.  We were worried that they wanted more information about the drainage and that this would hold things up, but it appears as though this was sorted out for us.  We were also concerned that we were going to have to put in an application for a septic tank, but seeing as there is a drainage system right by the land, we are able to connect directly in to this.

The letter we have been waiting for.

We have both been very impressed by the service that we have received from the planners in Confolens and the speed in which they got back to us.  We are also pleased that they have approved something that isn’t typically ‘French’ and seem have embraced the designs that Tom has come up with.  Then again it does appear as though there are a few timber framed houses in the Charente and near to where we are, so maybe things are changing.  Also with organisations such as Futurobois building in timber frame is no longer seen as ‘out there’.  Futurobois which is an inter-professional association of timber companies in the Poitou-Charentes region, including all firms, from logging, to architects, to sawmills, coopers and carpenters.  They also assist. professionals in the responsible and sustainable development of their business, through collective or individual actions.

There are still a few legal matters that we need to get through first though.  Once consent is granted a public notice procedure follows.  We have to display a notice on site, which must remain during the whole of construction period and must be clearly visible to the public.  During the first two months in which the notice is displayed, the planning decision can be contested by third parties!  The Mairie also places a decision notice at the town hall  for at least two months, although a failure by them to do so does not delay start of the period for contesting the consent.

The Mairie also have a period of three months when they can withdraw the planning consent that may have been granted, on the grounds that is was granted illegally although this is not common! A similar right exists for the local préfet for a two month period after the consent was granted.   Tom and I are not too concerned by this, but it is good to know where we stand and the possibilities that could hold us up.

We are now obliged to start work on site within two years and we must proceed in a reasonably regular manner, or risk having the consent rescinded.  I don’t think that there is any danger that we will not comply to this, it is just a question of finding the right builders to do there work.  Tom is hoping to pay a visit at Easter, but this will slightly depend on our impending arrival….All the more reason to apply to Grand Designs, they like nothing more than a pregnant woman working on site!

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Our request for planning permission – notre demande de permis de construire

Over the last couple of months Tom has been working hard to get the planning documents together to send to the Mairie in Montemboeuf.  Having never put in a planning application in to UK planners before I am not sure how much more onerous this process was – other than the fact it all had to be in French!

Our Planning Application is finally in!

Our Planning Application is finally in!

Along with the application form itself, we had to send 4 copies of the following to the Mairie;

  • Location Plan between 1/5000 and 1/25000;
  • Site Layout Plan (with infrastructure) between 1/50 and 1/5000;
  • Elevations;
  • Written description of the project;
  • Landscape Plan (showing in cross section relation of building local landscape);
  • Photographs of site in proximity and from a distance;
  • Coloured drawing that shows building in relation to surrounding environment
Plan en coupe du terrain et de la construction

Plan en coupe du terrain
et de la construction

In January 2013, the French introduced new energy efficiency regulations called Réglementation Thermique 2012 (RT2012) so we had to submit a declaration (attestation) that our proposed works comply with RT2012.  Thankfully, we know a French Architect who has already set up her own practice near Dijon, so she was able to give us a contact for an engineer!  He was very helpful and gave us a lot of ideas of how we could make our house as thermally efficient as possible.

Once the application is submitted they have 2 months to let us know if we have been successful or not.  If we do not hear with in this time we can take it that we have received tacit authorisation! However, only today did we hear back from the local Mairie informing us that they had received our application on 16th December 2013 – so the countdown to 16th February 2014 starts….

However, they have asked us to show them how we plan to connect to the drainage system and ask that we contact the local ‘technical services’ to discuss the connection work. So once we have confirmed this our 2 month countdown starts.   At least this wasn’t a ‘No’!  So keep your fingers crossed for us.

We would like to thank everyone who has helped us get this far. Naik in Tom’s office for help with the French translation and application form.  Also to our good friend Marine at Atelier Zero Carbone Architectes who helped with the process of the French Planning system.  She also put us in contact with Athermia who did our Bbio RT2012 thermal calculations.


Almost there….y est presque

So the French Bank Account is open and we even have a French Mastercard which I think will come in very handy, even when we are not visiting monsieur bricolage or Reseau Pro!  Our certificat d’urbanisme has been approved and we have fixed our pounds sterling – euro exchange rate and we are ready to transfer the money to the Notaire.  All we need to do now is sign the  Acte Finale and the land is ours!  As we will not be there to sign the Acte, the Notaire’s clerk will sign it on our behalf.  It really is within touching distance…

View from northern side looking south

View from northern side looking south


We have also managed to fix a date to meet the planners in Confolens, (where our local préfecture) is based again to go through our final designs with them before we submit. Tom has revised our original drawings in to something that I think will work much better, but still makes the most of the views and the space that we have.  I am sure that they will change again as we get closer to submitting our plans, but in the meantime, I think what we have is fantastic.  Visit our design page where we will post the updates.

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Planners and runners

Our designs are moving on a bit and we will be adding them to the Design page soon.  In the meantime Tom has contacted the planners to arrange another meeting.  So far the fabled ‘French bureaucratic system’ has not caused us any problems.  It has all be quick and efficient.  Maybe it is just that, a fable, then again we have all seen Grand Designs…..On which note we watched a bit of a classic Grand Designs abroad the other night all about a couple who were planning to build a timber framed house in The Lot.  Our design we will very different from this, but it is still interesting to see. Anyway, we will be updating these pages shortly with more news on the planners and our designs.

A marathon through the Bordeaux vineyards?

A marathon through the Bordeaux vineyards?

On another note, we have booked our next trip to France for September. We will be combining this with the marathon du Medoc.  A crazy marathon through the vineyards of Bordeaux, where a bit of dégustation on the way round! And you ask why people love France….!