As the Briddon family re-planned its life after the death of my father, the idea came about of constructing a permanent workshop for the Andrew's collection. This was first voiced in a meeting with Jackie Statham in September 2011, when I had in mind a modest concept of maybe a lean-to structure attached to the main loco shed at Rowsley. Over the next few months it evolved into a stand alone shed to be built at Darley Dale.
When Peak Rail began, it occupied on the former goods yard at Darley and set up an open-air engineering base. When the loco shed at Rowsley was at last completed (i.e. complete with walls and doors) the engineering function decamped there, followed shortly after by the carriage department, leaving a few privately owned vehicles in an otherwise deserted yard. Jackie was anxious to see Darley made use-of - we, after some reluctance, began to see the benefits and by the time we were house-hunting, Darley was the more logical location.
Now, having never been involved with planning law before I was somewhat apprehensive when I read through the requirements to submit a planning application, for although we are attached to a statutory railway this was to be privately-funded and hence independent. Although initial approaches through Peak Rail to the council Planning Department suggested there would be no major problems - Lesson No.1 - do not believe all that a Planning Officer tells you - I realised that if I was going to do all necessary drawings with some semblance of what it was going to be when finished, I was going to have to know exactly what size of building we were going to build. Andrew was charged with finding a suitable secondhand building.
In April 2012 therefore, we went to inspect a steel framed building, or rather part of a much longer one, piled up in the yard of a dealer in Tuxford. It was bigger than I had expected (my original concept was a small lean-to with space for one loco - by now it had become 80ft x 48ft, 2 tracks and room for about six) but had the additional benefit of crane tracks for an overhead. Our initial inspection meant little to me, it was just a pile of girders, and clearly the main man thought we were just time wasters, and our questions were not really being answered with any enthusiasm. I told Andrew to ask for a pro-forma invoice to get their attention, and a week or so later, wrote out a rather large cheque.
We had innocently hoped that we could leave the building there, in store, until we had planning permission through but what with house-hunting, the 03 and other matters it was some time before I was ready to submit the application, and by then the dealer was charging us storage. Eventually we set up a lorry and in mid August brought the steelwork over to Rowsley, where it was loaded to a bogie bolster. We still hoped to be assembling the building before the winter - Lesson No.2, to all your estimates, apply a factor of at least 2.
The application had finally been lodged in July, for a steel framed building, clad in steel sheeting from about 6ft up and with reconstructed stone walls below, largely matching that of the builders merchants next door and in line with the 'recommendation' of the Planning Officer (and see Lesson 1). The first surprise what an environmental committee requested a change in construction, bringing the cladding to a mere 300mm above ground level (no problem, cladding is cheaper than masonry) and that the "stone" be changed for blue brick. Now blue brick is a material frequently found on railways, but only where locally-sourced material was not available. In the case of the Midland, all the original buildings were in local stone, so in discussion with Planning we agreed that considering only 300mm of it would be visible anyway, this was not really an essential change.
By the middle to end of August the problems really began. Of course, in the years prior to moving to Rowsley, Peak Rail volunteers had exercised their time with steam raising, needle-gunning, boiler rivetting, and the like, sometimes at hours of the day that others consider anti-social - like weekends and Bank Holidays. I was nonetheless surprised to receive a request for a "noise survey" to be carried out and a mere 10 days to do it in. Possessing a noise meter and a modicum of knowledge, but no guidance from Planning as to what was actually required (like a British Standard) I did what I could, and needless to say the Environmental Health department of the council rejected it without hesitation.
You may recall a situation at Bridgnorth on the SVR. After years of doing boilerwork in the open air, they sought to erect a building and instead of the local population saying "thank heavens, that will contain all the noise" they opposed it on the "it's intolerable, don't want it, now's the chance to stop it" basis. (A statutory railway cannot be prosecuted for noise or other nuisance). Talking at last direct with the Environmental Health department, I discovered that bluntly they didn't want such a development at Darley. They had a "file full" of complaints about Peak Rail's past time there and did not need any more. They did however at last tell me the BS numbers they required a survey in accordance with, and as a relocation of the project to Rowsley was regarded as out of the question (i.e. write-off my £1500 planning application fee and pay another one should we able to squeeze it in to Rowsley) I commissioned a firm of acoustic consultants to carry out a survey over a weekend in October. By the end of October, for a mere £1300, I had a multiple page document that demonstrated that under the strictures of BS's 4142 and 8233 we were "unlikely to give rise to complaint" from the houses that line Station Road, Darley. The location is such that on one side is the aforementioned Builders merchants, on the other a Derbyshire CC Highways yard - in practice very few houses are affected.
Environmental Health's response was to question noise radiating from the roof of the building - the consultants pointed out that this was above the window line of the houses and therefore immaterial and reluctantly the Department accepted the report. [They actually said they were "quiet satisfied" sic!] In due course they advised the Planning department that they would remove their effective veto from our application provided we only used the building weekdays and 9-1 on Saturdays! This was astonishing. We had specifically carried out a survey over a weekend to obtain such background levels (there is also a transport haulier's yard a short distance away so much HGV traffic passes along Station Road on weekdays) yet Environmental Health were still determined to prevent us. We had reached an impasse.
In the end, after advice from Jackie Statham, I wrote both to the Chief Executive of the Council and my local Councillor who is also on the Planing Committee for the area. At last, and we may assume reluctantly, Environmental Health agreed to our plans provided we did not exceed the estimated noise levels at the "nearest existing noise-sensitive property" and with certain limits of working into the evenings, both of which we were happy to accept. Planning Department said they would ask the Committee members whether they wished to 'delegate' authority to proceed or debate it at the next scheduled meeting (April 9th). We were left to wait until after Easter to find out the result which was that the Committee members had given it the "nod" and that we could proceed.
Meanwhile we had been sorting out a formal agreement with Peak Rail. Eventually an original 2 page draft grew into a 3 page revision with a 5 page Appendix and is now back with the Board. With track modifications and site clearance to carry out, it is unlikely to be much under way before the autumn. I have watched 'Grand Designs' over the years and marvelled at the sums of money expended and the fortitude displayed by inexperienced house-builders faced with unforeseen problems. Let us hope that by comparison, our little development is straightforward. Wish us luck.