Two weeks…?!

There’s a running gag in The Money Pit, the 80s comedy in which Tom Hanks and Shelley Long buy their dream home at a rock-bottom price. They are told the house is a bargain but needs a little work, when actually it needs to be condemned. Construction crews arrive to do their best to keep the house from disintegrating. As the scaffolding reaches ever higher and the holes in the walls multiply, they are assured throughout it will only take ‘two weeks.’

We are two weeks into our building work and have been told there’s another two weeks to go. That immediately brought The Money Pit to mind so we’re reserving judgement, but a lot has been done by our very capable team of builders, electricians, plumbers and plasterers.

Old walls have come down, new walls have gone up, wiring has been replaced, pipes have been plumbed in, the skip has been filled to the brim and as you can see the former fire exit has reappeared. Every day sees a new delivery: basins, lavs, bottle coolers, glassware have all started to arrive. Once the dust settles we figure it will take another two weeks to decorate, kit the place out and organise our first stock deliveries.

All being well we should open before the first day of autumn. That is about a month later than anticipated, but if there’s one lesson we’ve all learnt from watching property shows like Grand Designs it’s that building projects always end up taking twice as long and costing twice as much as anticipated.

Partly this is because we did not fully realise how much work would be involved in order to comply with the building regulations. My first bit of advice for any potential micro-pub owner out there would be to involve an architect from the start. We were able to put together our own preliminary floor plans when submitting the paperwork to the licencing panel and the planning permission team, but we were unaware of the amount of work and detail required by the council’s Building Control department.

Now, anybody can read up on building regulations and find out (as we did) things like a front door should open outwards, but the Building Control team will want to see where things like emergency lighting, fire alarms and extinguishers are to be placed. Oh, and fire strobe lights too, which we’re guessing are for deaf people who can’t smell smoke.

It was while wading through the building regulations that we happened upon a local architect, James Darwent, who has designed a number of pubs including one converted from a hairdressers in Matlock. He was able to come round almost immediately to measure up and we had the first draft of his detailed floor plans a week later. The next step however was to obtain approval from Building Control and although the architect had a very good idea of what to expect from them, they pointed out a few changes which involved quite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, to the point that the floor plans were only finalised last Friday (by which time we’d had the builders in for nearly two weeks).

One thing which did save us some time and money by using an architect was that he had close connections at Derbyshire Dales council. We were surprised to learn that our own local council did not necessarily have to sign off the floor plans of our micro-pub. Our local council will do the inspections and provide a certificate upon completion, but through a ‘partnering’ arrangement a different council can advise on and approve the initial plans. In our case, it was a council that did not have a backlog of cases and had a slightly lower processing fee.

As well as getting an architect involved from an early stage, I also recommend that anyone wanting to open their own micro-pub get a reliable builder lined up well in advance. This is the third property we’ve seriously considered for our project and during that time we’ve asked a total of five builders to provide quotes. Of those, only one showed any interest. Either our project was too small or our time scales didn’t fit in with their work load, who can say, but none of the other four bothered to come back to say they weren’t interested.

Together, an architect and a builder will point out any potential obstacles that might cause setbacks and expense. Not to say we view our premises as a ‘money pit’ or regret taking it on, but it would have helped early on to be aware of things like how the front windows need replaced with toughened glass because they are a certain height off the ground. Or how the property having an upper floor means that the ground floor ceiling needs to be fireproofed. Or how we can place the customer toilets upstairs, but because there’s not a separate fire exit on the upper floor we can’t use the space for additional seating or a function room. Etc, etc, etc…

The final thing that has taken longer than anticipated has been obtaining the alcohol licence for the premises. Although it was the first thing we applied for (back in May) and it was awarded four weeks later with no objections, here we are a full ten weeks later and the council has yet to issue it despite me chasing for it on several occasions. Last I heard it was definitely going to be finalised last Friday but nothing has materialised, so I’ll be contacting them again tomorrow and will be bracing myself for the inevitable: ‘sorry, just two more weeks.’

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