Tel: 01656 647780
Hazelwood House, recently awarded 4 stars by Wales Tourist Board, finally opened its doors in May 2008. Five months on, visitor numbers are increasing steadily and feedback from guests has been very positive and encouraging. Take a look at our website at www.hazelwood-house.co.uk for more details. But how did it all begin? Tony Gallagher tells us his story.
Where shall I begin? I know - forty years ago!!!!!
Not long after getting married, my wife Anne & I were looking for a plot of land on which to build a house. One day driving into Bridgend town, we passed ‘The Mount’ (as it was then known), and noticed its very large garden (3 acres), an ideal plot. We plucked up courage and rang the door bell. The owner came to the door and we asked if he would sell part of his land to us, for us to build on. He laughed and said “ Come back in about forty years time!” We left disappointed.
Forty years on, we heard that ‘The Mount’ had been sold. One of our friends had bought it, without anyone else knowing. Not one to give up easily, bumping into this friend one day in town (Bridgend) I said “ If you ever want to sell ‘The Mount’, let me know.” He also laughed - he clearly had plans for it himself.
Putting it out of our minds, we carried on with life. About six months later the phone rang. It was my friend asking if I was still interested in buying ‘The Mount’? For personal reasons, he was looking for a quick sale. We couldn’t believe it, and despite having a house to sell, we bought it. The bungalow was derelict!
NOW THE FUN BEGINS!!!!
During those 40 years, we did manage to find an old property with land, and having restored the main house, proceeded to build a large property in the grounds to accommodate the needs of our extended family - our 2 children would have space for themselves as teenagers & Anne's father would have a self contained granny flat, as he was approaching his latter years. We factored all that in to the design, but the planning took a long time and by the time the planning came through and the house was built, both children had left home and unfortunately Anne’s father had passed away. We were rattling around in a very large house on our own. At that time, the Eisteddfod was coming to Bridgend and there was a massive shortage of rooms. The council made a public request to anyone with spare rooms to rent them out to overcome this temporary problem. We weren’t keen on having people we didn’t know staying with us in our home, but during a committee meeting for the Mayor’s Charity, we were put on the spot, when the Mayor said “ Come on Tony, you’ve got a bloody big house”. Before we knew it, we were in the Bed & Breakfast business.
With 'The Mount' finally ours, we decided to build a purpose built guest house, where the guest accommodation and facilities could be kept separate from our living area. We wanted to offer spacious accommodation built to a high standard, where guests would feel the warmth of a guest house and the quality of a good hotel. Having a great deal of experience both on our own developments and as a consultant for others, I knew we had a lot of hurdles to cross before building could commence, not least planning permission. Once we sold our existing house, we moved into a 34’x10’ caravan next to our new property.
As soon as the legalities were complete, we appointed an architect to draw up plans to convert the bungalow into a guest house. At the same time we approached the planning department to get their views on our plans. Here came our first major issue. Once the planning department had established where the site was, they informed us that the land had been designated a ‘green wedge‘. They explained that trying to get planning permission on a ‘green wedge’ was the same as trying to get planning permission in the open countryside, and that our application for planning would be turned down. This was not what we wanted to hear.
What do we do now???
We were aware that Bridgend was desperate for quality accommodation and approached the Welsh Tourist Board and the Tourism section of Bridgend County Borough Council for their support. Both were most helpful and the Welsh Tourist Board said that grants were available, but that you must have planning permission before they will consider your application. So, with the knowledge that both parties were behind us, we instructed our architect to apply for outline planning permission (cheaper in the first instance), which he did. A letter came back from the planning department saying that under the circumstances, given the application was for development in a Green Wedge, they would only look at a full detailing planning application, at a fee of £1,500. With baited breath, we instructed our architect to submit for full planning permission, and waited for a response. Within days we received a letter telling us that a decision would be made in about 2 months.
Some weeks later we received a letter stating that our plans looked too institutional, and suggested that as the plans as submitted would be turned down, we should consider using a different architect, and appointing a qualified town planner to provide a planning and design statement. Taking their advice, we appointed a new architect and a firm of town planners, and arranged a meeting with the planning department. The meeting went reasonably well, and we were asked to submit new plans along with a planning and design statement. They also asked for more time to make their decision as the two months were almost up. We had no alternative but to agree.
Correspondence went back and forth for about three weeks, and finally, two weeks after the last letter we were granted planning permission, with certain conditions. What a relief - ALL SYSTEMS GO!
Having run a small construction company for some forty odd years, we had experience of this sort of building work. We knew what needed to be done to get the house built: Programme of works, insurance, subcontractors, plant hire, local tips, statutory undertakings, amongst other things. There was lots to do, and we got to work with laying foundations, building and sorting out the utilities.
When we purchased the property there was no mains gas supply, so at that time we asked the gas board to connect us to the mains, explaining that if we obtained planning permission for the guest house we would need an adequate supply for a new kitchen, six en-suite bedrooms plus our own living accommodation. ‘No problem’, they said, ’all you will have to do is change the meter‘. Trying to get organised and knowing how long it takes to get things done, we asked the gas board to change the meter straight away, so we would be ready when the building was complete. The gas board rang to arrange a site visit to see where we wanted the new gas meter situated, and this was arranged for the following week. They duly turned up on the day and the first question they asked was how big the property was going to be? When I told them that we were extending the existing dwelling with six en-suite bedrooms, a dining room, and a new kitchen, they told me that the supply pipe was not going to be big enough. When I explained that I had discussed this with their colleagues when they originally connected us to the mains two years previously, I was told ’That’s a different department to us, and we have been taken over since then. You better get in touch with head office.’ There was no more they could do, and they left.
I rang their head office and after two hours on the telephone and speaking to about ten different departments, all denying any knowledge of the situation, I knew I was banging my head against a brick wall. So, the following day I rang back and asked what size pipe I needed and an estimate of how much it would cost. Believe it or not, they couldn’t tell me, but did send me the forms I needed to apply for a new supply. Very helpful! I had to go to my central heating company for them to work it out, and then I had to apply for a new supply. Once we had the size of the pipe, we submitted the forms and two weeks later we received an estimate back for over £2,000, with a letter stating that full payment was required before they could place our job in the system. We made immediate payment and a mere five months later we had our new supply and new meter fitted. It was a good job we started the discussions so early on.
Two weeks later the new meter failed. We had no cooking facilities, no central heating and no hot water. It took a whole week for the gas board to replace the meter. It was a good job we didn’t have any guests in that week. This incident made us realise that it would be beneficial to install an electric oven, and to have electric fan heaters available, for when we opened, just in case.
At the same time as all this was going on, we were also sorting out the electricity, water and telephone supplies. Nothing is ever as straightforward as you would hope. We approached our electricity supplier, who informed us that our supply comes from an overhead transformer, and given how things were going it was no surprise that we were told it was not big enough for our needs. ‘We will have to change the transformer and put the overhead supply underground, at your cost‘, we were told. Forms were again filled in and an estimate for the works obtained from the electricity board. £7,800 plus VAT with, once again, payment required before any works could begin. However, in order to replace the existing transformer with a bigger one, the electricity board needed our neighbour’s agreement as the transformer was on a pole some 200 metres away in their field. For some reason, they objected. This increased our costs to nearly £20,000. ‘Why can‘t we be connected from somewhere else?’ I asked. ’There isn‘t anywhere else’, they replied. The cost of these works were not budgeted for, and we didn’t know where we would get this extra money from. This was a real problem. ‘Can you leave it with me, I have got to think about this?‘ At this point, I seriously wondered whether we were wise to build this guest house? Having slept on it, and refusing to be beaten, I thought there must be some other way - a big diesel generator, solar panels, wind farm, … all expensive though. Then it came to me. Below the front of our house, four hundred or so metres away and across a B road is a small industrial estate, and on the end nearest to us was a small carpentry works, now offices. ‘There must be some heavy cables going in there’, I thought. So back to the electricity board with my suggestion to connect there. To my surprise, within two days, after looking at their drawings and speaking to the owner of the factory, they said ‘yes, it was possible‘. Thank goodness for that.
We were building at the same time as we were dealing with the utility problems: Footings were concreted, drainage, access ducts for services and radon barrier (to comply with new building regulations) were installed, floor slabs were laid , and we were up to first floor level. Everything seemed to be going ok, until one morning the foreman & bricklayer called me over, looking concerned. ‘There’s something wrong here‘, he said, ‘check my measurements‘. He was right. Working to the architect’s and council approved drawings, it worked out that the ceiling height in the upstairs bedrooms would be 900mm high instead of 2.5 metres. I immediately got in touch with the architect, who said he would dig out his drawings and come back to me.
At the same time I phoned the building inspector. He was very helpful, and came to site within hours. He agreed with our measurements and said ‘there’s been a cock up’. He went off to check with building control and the planning department. Unfortunately he came bearing bad news when he returned to site the following day. ‘You will have to stop building. The planning department are not happy and if you want to go any higher you will have to re-apply for planning permission and you will have to pay the full fees again.’
In the meantime, the architect rang to say that the person who had produced the drawings had sadly passed away, and denied any error on their part. However, they agreed to produce new drawings for the planning application free of charge, which they did. Again we had to employ the town planners to do a design statement. We had to lay off all the tradesmen and labour as there was nothing they could do.
After losing three to four summer months, the planners granted us permission in accordance with the amended drawings. Although now working in the winter, work went well and before Christmas the shell of the house, roof, windows and doors were complete and fire system installed. We were fortunately working inside, and within two months the plumbing, plastering, central heating, stairs and the very expensive acoustic flooring were complete.
Our luck changes
Our daughter Elizabeth who has two very young children, asked us to meet her at a hotel in Cardiff, to baby sit while she went to the hotel gym. We met her and after her work out and a cup of coffee we got in the lift to leave - with two babies in tow the stairs weren‘t an option! The lift stopped on the wrong floor, there seemed to be lots of building work going on. I asked the foreman what they were doing and he explained that the hotel were changing 12 bed and bathrooms into conference rooms. I asked what they were doing with the furniture, and was told to speak to the manager. I did, and ended up buying all the furniture and fittings, bathrooms etc. The hotel had only been open for four years and the furniture was of top quality. What luck!
We carried on decorating, putting up light fittings and generally finishing off and three weeks later all the furniture, bathrooms and fittings were complete. Carpets were down, kitchen and dining room were complete and, above all, the building inspector was happy. The gardens were done as we had planted the gardens and driveway three years earlier, when our daughter held her wedding reception in the gardens!
We applied to the Welsh Tourist Board for our grading.
In May we opened our doors to our first guests, a crowd of Irish supporters who were coming to the area to watch Munster win the Heineken cup at the Millenium Stadium. It was a great weekend all round.
In June, we were inspected and were given a 4 star rating. We were delighted, as this is what we were aiming for.
It is now mid October, we are getting lots of repeat bookings from business people and a wide range of guests (business and pleasure) finding us through our website. We were lucky that our son designs, builds & hosts websites as the website has enabled us to attract visitors from all over the world! Our visitor numbers are increasing week by week. Feedback from guests has been really positive, and makes you think that all the hard work was definitely worth it. Comments have been made about the quality and design of the building as well as the welcome they have received. We feel very proud to have transformed a derelict bungalow into what is now a luxury Guest House, Hazelwood House.