You may have read an earlier blog post or two about our endeavours to obtain planning approval for changes to the top terrace at Les Terraces. When we first viewed the house one of the few things that we knew HAD to be done was to make some changes to the top terrace so that it was possible to see the river while sitting on the terrace and, hopefully, while inside too. Jean-Pierre had told us “You make ze changes, no problems ………..” We were less sure.
The first inkling that we had that Jean-Pierre really was wrong came thanks to Catherine in the Notaire’s office, who told me (on the day I had arrived in France from the BVI for the closing) that, as the building was deemed to be of historical importance, the Mairie had the right to pre-empt the sale and that she had not yet heard from them in this regard. That, however, is a story for another post!
The next was that as part of the purchase agreement I had to sign a document that stated that I was prepared to paint all of the exterior woodwork a specific shade of grey if so required by the Mairie. We decided that as and when we were ready to start planning the work we would consult the Mairie. Good thing we did.
I set off for the Mairie armed with my français exécrable, my handy- but useless – pocket French-English dictionary and a little hope. Not a lot. The formidable lady at the “Services Techniques” desk confirmed that we would need to apply for permission for the changes we wished to make and gave me the URL for the form from the town’s web site. I returned home disheartened and, having found the form on the Internet, was doubly so – 13 pages of it. I doubted my ability to make my way through it had it been in English, and the thought of success with it in French was risible. This, I thought, could wait a while.
The long-and-the-short of the story is that our application was declined. So I had to appeal, which meant requesting an appointment with the Architect des Bâtiments de France (ABF). This request was granted and I was scheduled to meet him during his next once-a-month visit to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande, which fell on Graham’s 65th birthday!
I had prepared for the meeting by swotting upon various building terms from the dictionary of French-English building terms (thanks to my mother for this very useful tome), “photoshopping” an image of Graham sitting on the terrace to show how radically the terrace would be improved by replacing the wall with railings and producing a scale drawing of the river side of the house to show that our modern windows wouldn’t be visible from the quai, even if the wall was entirely removed.
I falteringly explained what it was that we wished to do, and why; and the ABF gently explained that our house formed part of the original bastide wall and, as such, was protected and couldn’t be removed. Desperation brought inspiration ………… I told the ABF “Today is my husband’s 65th birthday. It is his dream to be able to sit on his terrace and see the river. Is there no way that we can realise his dream?”
The ABF ruffled through my application dossier and found one of my original illustrations and started drawing on it. He sketched out a section that allowed for 2/3rds of the wall to be demolished and replaced with railings, and leaned back in his chair, twirled his pen between his fingers and asked “What colour will you make the railings?” “The colour of the railings is not important to us ……….. so, as you wish” was my reply. “Resubmit your application like this and I will review it,” said the ABF. I thanked him nicely and departed, quietly optimistic.
The revised application was submitted the following day. Last week Trudi emailed with the message “The man from Del Monte said “Yes” … planning permission approved!”