header FPN

November 2012 | PLU challenges in Mirepoix, Garden Terrace in Cognac and at the foothills of the Pyrénées.

MONDAY Slight senior moment this morning. I wonder why my mouse has stopped working and then realise I’m trying to control my laptop with the Canderel dispenser.

TUESDAY Off down to the foothills of the Pyrenees today near Mirepoix, south of Toulouse, to see clients about the village house they’ve just bought. As is so often the case, it needs a serious revamp. Built into the side of the hill it appears to be single storey from the street, but once inside you find there’s a lower floor giving on to the garden as well as a couple of attic rooms. And an attached pyrenees cottage from garden -resizedbarn. It’s a real Tardis, cute and roses-round-the-door cottage on the outside, huge on the inside. The garden’s gorgeous too, set above the village centre with a private chapel and its bell tower at eye level, and then steep cow-graced pasture rising behind. The sound of cowbells, perfect in the still air, gets momentarily drowned out by reggae music from the neighbours, quickly turned down. That’s village life here. Roy and Clive currently live in a flat in the centre of Venice, and admit it’s going to be quite a change of pace moving here. They’ve given me sketches of how they would like the house laid out and an idea of their budget, and we spend a couple of hours talking it through. Their ideas are clear but they thought it would not be possible to have the kitchen on the garden level due to drainage problems, but I explain the technical solutions available and all of a sudden everything changes. They can now have a dining terrace off the kitchen in the shade of a mature Mulberry tree and, with a study alongside in the barn ; the house and garden really come together for them to enjoy. We have a post-meeting apéritif together, glowing from the good ideas that have come out, and from the warm evening sun. I have a meeting with the Mairie at Mirepoix tomorrow morning, so head off to find dinner and a bed for the night.

 mirepoix 3 - resizedWEDNESDAY In South-West France in the thirteenth century there was a spate of new town building, following on from the religious-political wars of the period. These new towns or Bastides were built on a grid of roads surrounded by fortified walls, with a central square for markets and commerce. Where I mostly work in the Lot-et-Garonne and Dordogne they are all in stone, muted and warm in colour, but here in Mirepoix the houses and shops are half-timbered with vibrant paintwork that reminds me how close to Spain I am today. Everywhere you look, there are boldly carved timbers and vistas filled with fresh colours to delight the eye. I’m here to give a colleague a little moral support in a meeting at the Mairie. He has had a problem with a Permis de Construire for a barn conversion and is at his wits’ end. Normally converting a barn close to a house in the countryside is no problem, the Commune is pleased to have more residents as well as a little extra in property tax revenues, so everyone including  my colleague, his clients and the estate agents had thought it should go through clean as a whistle. Sadly not. It turns out the land the barn stands on is zoned as agricultural rather than open countryside in the local plan or PLU, and there is a policy specific to the Commune that barns on agricultural land can only  be converted if they are listed as suitable. The barn is not on the list. We spend a good hour with the Adjoint d’Urbanisme, the Deputy Mayor in charge of Planning, and learn many things we already know: that they would need to change the PLU to allow the project to go ahead, that this could take anywhere between six months and four years,  that the Mairie cannot afford mirepoix 2 -resizedto do this for a single project as the process includes appointing consultants and establishing a public inquiry. We also learn some things we didn’t know: that this is the first time this problem has arisen for them, that they are very keen for the project to go ahead, and that the Mayor has been talking to the Sous-Prefet who is the next step up the Planning hierarchy to try to find a way through. We come out of the meeting feeling as if nothing much has changed, shake hands and go our separate ways.

THURSDAY A slightly more enjoyable morning today as I call in at the Cognac manor house refurbishment, where the  covered terrace has just been finished and landscaped. This will double up as the supporters’ bar for the five-a-side football pitch laid over the geothermal heating system I wrote about in August’s FPN. The contractors have used reclaimed timber for the posts and it all looks very relaxing, very fit for its purpose. It’s often the smaller details that make a big difference to the way we enjoy our surroundings, and in this case I’ve made the walls just the right height to sit on with a glass of something cool and refreshing while the others are getting sweaty kicking the ball and each other.

manor house terrace complete - copieFRIDAY Well I’ll be jiggered. My colleague from Mirepoix phones me in a state of shock to say that the Mayor and his Councillors have decided to throw their PLU in the bin this once and approve the barn conversion! I ask if he’s absolutely sure. It appears the Mayor squared it with Sous-Prefet not to challenge their intention and, given everybody’s wish to get the project started, common sense has prevailed over bureaucracy. They hadn’t wanted to mention it at the meeting as they hadn’t had a response from the Sous-Prefet at the time. I’m sure this is not the first time in French history that pragmatism has won over paper-pushing, but it certainly feels like it. Bon weekend!

Neil Vesma’s architect’s practice is at Villeréal near Bergerac


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

 Tel  00 33 675 847 176