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About Us

Aspire Architects Ltd is an RIBA Chartered practice founded by husband and wife team, Matt and Heather Stevens. We are based in Christchurch, Dorset, and are ideally placed to work with clients in the south and across central England.

We create beautiful homes and buildings that reflect their urban or suburban surroundings. We work closely with clients to provide built environments on various scales that fulfil their every aspiration. Whether the design requirements call for contemporary, classical or a collaboration of architectural styles, we always deliver with flair.

We have surrounded ourselves with an experienced, focused and highly skilled team – the best in the field. We place a lot of importance on nurturing our team’s talent, and promote from within. Our team are experts at creating solutions which make financial sense, and at the same time appeal to planning authorities. We consider the environmental impact of our designs, and ensure our buildings are energy efficient.


We provide a complete range of architectural services, from surveys, feasibility studies and sketch designs to planning applications, building regulation submissions and project management. We have the experience to guide your project through to completion, and can oversee the design, assist with the approvals process, manage the build and keep track of your budget. Our services can be tailor made to suit your needs and your budget. We are professional problem-solvers and can add value to your project.

• Principal Designer

“Projects where more than one contractor is involved (domestic or non-domestic) must appoint a principal designer and principal contractor & require a health and safety file.”

Choosing the right Architect for your project has never been more important. Recent changes in CDM Regulations 2015 mean the position of CDM co-ordinator has been removed & now the Client & Principal Designer hold many more responsibilities. As the client it is your responsibility to ensure the competency of those you appoint. Getting the right people for the job means your designers & your contractors need to have the skills, knowledge and experience to identify, reduce and manage health and safety risks.

A principal designer is required to plan, manage and coordinate the planning & design work. Appoint them as early as possible so they can help you gather information about the project & ensure that the designers have done all they can to check that it can be built safely. Aspire Architects are an experienced team of designers and technicians who can take your project from inception through to onsite completion. Whilst offering services such Principal Designer & Project Manager.

• Homeowners

Whether you are planning to build a new house, alter or extend your current home, employ a builder, or do it yourself, it makes sense to consult an architect. We are best placed to help you achieve your aspirations and vision. Building works can be expensive, and we can ensure your money is spent wisely.

• Planning Applications

Planning permissions can add value to any project whether it is a new building on a vacant site, new use for an existing building, extension or alteration of a building, or a change of use. Clients often use our expertise to obtain planning permission so they can then sell the building or site. We have a proven track record of obtaining consent for projects, and we will give you realistic, honest advice on what is likely to be achievable.

• Listed Building Applications and Conservation Area Consents

We have experience working with buildings that are listed or located in conservation areas. Extra care needs to be given to these special buildings to preserve their heritage, whilst at the same time achieving sensible solutions to meet modern living requirements.

• Building Regulations Applications and Working Drawings

Applications submitted to Building Control ensure that plans cover the functional requirements of buildings, to safeguard the health and safety of their users and occupiers. The proposals also ensure energy conservation, access and convenience for people with disabilities. Our applications are thorough and detailed. They often show sufficient information for builders to interpret and to build from if clients only require limited architectural services.

Working drawings are in essence very similar to building regulation drawings but adjusted so builders/ contractors can work & build directly from them. This means more detail, separate drawings for separate disciplines and specification of materials etc.

• Project Management

We can guide you through the construction phase, help you select suitable builders through the tender process, obtain appropriate prices for construction, monitor progress and standards, liaise with other specialists and oversee the construction through to successful completion. We can also take care of inspection and payment certification during the construction process.

• Feasibility Studies and Masterplanning

Often an initial assessment needs to be carried out to explore the practicalities and implications of a project before things go too far or too much expense is incurred. We can carry out feasibility studies, which may include assessments of a building before it is purchased. We can advise home owners before they commit to buying a flat or a house. We can advise developers as to the potential of their land.

• Surveys

We carry out some measured surveys, which enables us to prepare plans of existing buildings.

• Commercial

Good design can make a huge difference to a business. Premises should not only function properly but be a great place for staff to work and customers to visit. A building that reduces energy consumption and engages with a company ethos will bring huge benefits to the business both in terms of cost and marketing. A business that values design will send out a message that it is high quality, and that customers can expect a high level of service and care. Aspire Architects LLP can assist clients to develop their businesses through the use of carefully considered, high quality architecture. We would be delighted to discuss your commercial proposal with you, to give input to your business plan and advise on funding, and explore how design can help make your ambitions a success.

• Garden Services


To ask us a question that is not listed here, please email us or get in contact via Twitter or Facebook.

• Have you worked in conservation areas?

Yes, we have obtained planning permissions for numerous projects in conservation areas.  We have been able to gain approval through having a clear understanding of the planning issues; presenting a quality design proposal; and having a good working relationship with local authorities.

• Do you have experience of working in Green Belt areas?

Yes, we have worked on projects within Green Belt areas.  These are often complex planning permissions to obtain, and demand a comprehensive understanding of the constraints at a national and local level.

• Do you have experience of working on listed buildings?

Yes, we have obtained planning permissions for a number of projects on listed buildings.

• What are ‘party wall’ matters?

A wall is a ‘party wall’ if it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owners. The Party Wall Act 1996 provides a building owner, who wishes to carry out various sorts of work to an existing party wall, with additional rights going beyond ordinary common law rights. Section 2 of the Act lists what work can be done. The most commonly used rights are:

  • To cut into a wall to take the bearing of a beam (for example for a loft conversion), or to insert a damp-proof course all the way through the wall
  • To raise the height of the wall and/or increase the thickness of the party wall and, if necessary, cut off any projections which prevent you from doing so
  • To demolish and rebuild the party wall
  • To underpin the whole thickness of a party wall
  • To protect two adjoining walls by putting a flashing from the higher over the lower, even where this requires cutting into an adjoining owner’s independent building.

If work falls on to a party wall, it is a requirement to have a ‘Party Wall Agreement.’ You must notify all neighbours in writing at least two months before the planned start date for work to the party wall. The notice is only valid for a year, so shouldn’t be served too long before you wish to start.

• What is building regulations approval?

To comply with the Building Act 1984 and the subsequent statutory instruments known as the Building Regulations, building regulations approval is required to construct certain structures in the United Kingdom.

It can usually be obtained in one of three ways:

1. By the full plans method, where drawings are deposited with a Building Control Body such as an Approved Inspector or the Local Authority and are subsequently checked for compliance with the Building Regulations.

The various stages of the work are also inspected and checked for compliance with the relevant technical requirements of the Building Regulations; by a Building Control Surveyor employed by either the Building Control Body (BCB).

Unlike planning permission, work may start before approval has been granted. It is also quite usual for the final building to differ in some respects to that which received full plans approval, in which case amended ‘as built’ plans are often required to be submitted to the appropriate Building Control Body.

2. By the building notice method, where notice of commencement of (minor) building work is given to the Local Authority at least two days prior to the commencement of work. The various stages of the work are then inspected and approved by the Local Authority, but no plans are checked. Note that this method may not be used if the premises contain a workplace, or creates new flats.

3. Approved Inspectors must issue their ‘Initial Notice’ (stating that the Approved Inspector is the building control body for the specified work project, at a specific address and/or building site) to the relevant Local Authority before any controlled building work starts on site.

Generally, fees are paid to the Building Control Body with each application, and will vary depending on the size and value of the project. Also, local authorities across the country vary, and each Approved Inspector is free to set their own levels of charges. Some types of work may be exempt from fees, e.g. adaptations or alterations for Disabled Persons.

Some work such as electrical and heating installations can be carried out by persons who can certify work as being Building Regulation compliant, without further inspection by either the Local Authority or an Approved Inspector. Any work certified in this way must however be registered with the Local Authority in the geographical area in which the work has been carried out.

A Building Control Body should issue a ‘Completion Certificate’ or ‘Final Certificate’ upon the practical completion of each building project, to state that the work meets the technical requirements of the Building Regulations.

If an Approved Inspector cannot do this due to omissions and/or known failures of the building work to show compliance with the relevant technical requirements of the Building Regulations, then the relevant Local Authority should investigate and consider the need to take appropriate enforcement action.

Building Regulation ‘Enforcement Action’ and/or ‘incomplete work status’ is normally recorded in the Local Lands Charges Register, held as a ‘public record’ by the relevant Local Authority. Solicitors must search these records prior to any purchase of any building.

• What is a building notice?

You can apply for building regulations approval from your Local Authority’s Building Control Service by giving a building notice. In this application plans are not required, so it’s quicker and less detailed than the full plans application. It is designed to enable some types of building work to get underway quickly; although it is perhaps best suited to small work.

If you decide to use this procedure you need to be confident that the work will comply with the Building Regulations or you will risk having to correct any work you carry out if your Local Authority requests this. In this respect you do not have the protection provided by the approval of ‘full plans.’

Once you have given your building notice and informed your Local Authority that you are about to start work, the work will be inspected as it progresses. You will be advised by the authority if the work does not comply with the Building Regulations. If before the start of work, or while work is in progress, your Local Authority requires further information such as structural design calculations or plans, you must supply the details requested.

A building notice is valid for three years from the date the notice was given to the Local Authority, after which it will automatically lapse if the building work has not commenced.

A Local Authority is not required to issue a completion certificate under the building notice procedure, and because no full plans are produced it is not possible to ask for a determination if your Local Authority says your work does not comply with the Building Regulations.

• How does Permitted Development work in respect to household extensions?

In order to carry out work under Permitted Development the building work must conform to specific criteria, however recent changes in legislation have allowed more scope for what is allowed under Permitted Development. (See: What is the difference between Planning Permission and Permitted Development?)

You can now extend a dwelling by 8m to the rear of the rear facade if it’s single storey construction or 6m if it’s double height.

There are height restrictions. Often this means a single storey extension not being higher than 4m in height to the ridge and the eaves, and ridge heights of any extension not being higher than the existing property.

Two storey extensions must not be closer than 7m to the rear boundary.

It must be built in the same or similar material to the existing dwelling.

Extensions must not go forward of the building line of the original dwelling.

Side extensions must be single storey, maximum height of 4m and a width of no more than half of the original building.

In Designated Areas, side extensions require planning permission and all rear extensions must be single storey.

An extension must not result in more than half the garden being covered.

You can only do it once and the original building is either as it was on 1st July 1948 or when it was built.

• What can be implemented under Permitted Development?

Under Permitted Development you are able to do the following*:

  • Extend the back of your home.
  • Build a porch.
  • Carry out internal alterations.
  • Convert and occupy the loft space.
  • Install micro-generation equipment (apart from wind turbines).
  • Install satellite dishes or antennae.
  • Put in roof lights or dormer windows.
  • Put in new doors or windows.

* All subject to design constraints; e.g. porch has to be less than 3m³, roof lights and dormers must not face the highway, etc.

• What is the difference between Planning Permission and Permitted Development?

Your Local Planning Authority (LPA) – usually the district or borough council – is responsible for deciding whether a proposed development should be allowed to go ahead. This is called Planning Permission. Most new buildings, major alterations to existing buildings and significant changes to the use of a building or piece of land need this permission.

However, certain minor building works – known as Permitted Development– do not require Planning Permission. This is because the effect of such developments on neighbours or the surrounding environment is likely to be small. Under the current ‘existing Permitted Development’ rules, single-storey rear extensions and conservatories can be constructed without Planning Permission as long as they do not extend beyond the rear wall of the original house by a set distance.

Recently the government has introduced new legislation in relation to Permitted Development. In a temporary measure, it is now possible to build more under the remit of Permitted Development. For a semi-detached property, the previous limit of three metres from the face of a building for single storey extensions (9ft 11ins) and for detached homes four metres (13ft 1in) are doubled, meaning that many extensions which would have required Planning Permission can now be built under Permitted Development.

Permitted Development rights apply only to a ‘private dwelling house’ as originally constructed, or as the dwelling stood at a certain point in time. Flats are excluded, as are listed buildings, whilst properties in designated areas such as conservation areas, Green Belt, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and The Broads have restrictions on their Permitted Development rights.

While it should be possible in most cases to decide whether or not a proposed project qualifies as Permitted Development, there will inevitably be instances where the decision is less clear cut. If there is any ambiguity or question over whether your proposal passes the Permitted Development tests, you have a number of options. It may, for instance, be possible to alter your plans to ensure they meet Permitted Development limits and conditions. For peace of mind you may choose to apply for a Lawful Development Certificate. This is not the same as Planning Permission but is proof that your household building work is lawful.

This option is recommended even if you are sure your project falls within the constraints of Permitted Development. If you should later want to sell your property a Lawful Development Certificate may be helpful to answer queries raised by potential buyers or their legal representatives.

An increasing number of Local Authorities offer a consultancy service for a small fee, and will confirm in writing whether or not a planning application is required. This can be very useful when it comes to reselling the property within the first four years of completion.

Please note that Building Regulations approval is a separate matter from obtaining Planning Permission for your work.

• Can you recommend other consultants?

Aspire Architects LLP works alongside a wide range of consultants and with many building contractors.  We have established good working relationships with these companies over a number of years on a wide variety of projects.

We have excellent relationships with a variety of outside consultants such as Structural Engineers, Timber Frame Manufacturers, Landscape Designers, SAP Assessors, M and E Consultants, and Arboriculturalist, and this is key to ensuring a successful outcome. We can advise the client on their selection.

Our experience of working with contractors on various scales and types of project allows us to recommend building contractors with whom we have worked with on previous projects. The selection of a design team and contractor with whom we are confident of delivering a successful project is of utmost importance to us.


Sovereign Housing Association

Aspire Architects and Sovereign have been working together on the delivery of affordable housing schemes in Christchurch for the past 3 years, during this time Aspire have achieved successful outcomes on all planning applications submitted to date, resulting in the delivery of high quality, much needed new affordable housing for the area.

With the successes achieved in Christchurch, Aspire Architects have been appointed by Sovereign to progress planning applications in other strategic local authority areas for the business.

As well as planning architect, Aspire have been involved post planning producing detailed design packages for each of Sovereign’s developments. The ability to retail the planning architect gives Sovereign the confidence all aspects of the project from inception to completion are being fully considered such as build ability, value for money, future maintenance and a quality living environment for residents, principles that are key in an ever changing sector.

The team at Aspire give you confidence that as a client your requirements and vision are being fully considered at all times. We are in the business of providing high quality affordable housing and Aspire Architects are a key partner in achieving this goal.

Sovereign Housing Association own and manage over 36,000 homes across the south and south west making us one of the largest housing associations in England. Over the next 5 years we plan to develop over 5,000 new affordable homes. 

Creating homes, Shaping communities, Changing lives.

Adams Integra Housing and Planning

Adams Integra Ltd is a Housing and Planning consultancy who have worked alongside Aspire Architects from their very first beginnings. We find Aspire both innovative and reliable which is essential to our work for a range of clients and Matt and the team are very user, friendly approachable and professional too. The whole team go out of their way to help us and our clients achieve value for money design solutions and have a very commercial approach to design which assist our clients particularly when viability is tight. Alongside commercial awareness is a skill in finding the right solution for each site with no preconceived notions which may or may not suit our clients.

Somerford Community Partnership

We had been involved over 4 years with a planning application for a development on a site in Somerford and which was originally dealt with by architects out of the area. The scheme proposed was totally out of character to the local area and unfortunately the residents who would be affected by this scheme were not properly consulted and indeed only a handful of people knew about the proposed scheme. This scheme was eventually abandoned by the applicant because of potential problems with a Village Green application and the potential costs implications of a public hearing regarding a “stopping-up order”.

We the Somerford Community Partnership were then asked to work with the applicant to try and move matters forward and to that end we insisted on using local architects and with local knowledge of the area. Aspire were approached firstly because they were local and secondly because Matthew Stevens was local and had lived in the area for many years and had considerable local knowledge.

It was agreed with the applicant and Aspire that a resident based “design team” be formed so that input for the design would come from the local residents. Matthew and his team met with the “design team” at regular intervals starting with a round the table exercise so that he could get an idea of exactly what was required and came armed with photos of local schemes which had been completed in the locality. From there each meeting took the scheme further and after making very slight changes to his designs we finally ended up with what we believed “was exactly what would fit comfortably into the area”.

Matthew and his team listened to not only our concerns and thoughts for the design but also explained why some design aspects would not work and which was very helpful to the inexperienced team that we were.

At all times we were kept in the “loop” when he was corresponding with his client and this too was great as we knew at all times what was happening.

A public consultation was arranged by Aspire and again we were asked for our input and on the day the design team were all present and were encouraged by Matthew to engage with those attending and the day was a complete success and mostly due to the very professional and inspiring way that the scheme was promoted. Very positive feedback from all who attended and his team were on hand to answer any questions raised and in fact engaged throughout the day with all who attended and believe this is because they were so approachable.

The next step was the actual planning meeting and again Matthew was in attendance and promoted the scheme in a very professional way and in view of the fact there was only one objection (as to properties being overlooked) the scheme was approved unanimously by the committee on the night. In fact there was praise from members of the committee as to the way the scheme was put together involving the local residents and a good consultation and indeed commented that were pleased that local architects were employed on the scheme – a great result all round.

The client was delighted to have got a very positive feedback from the planning committee and so were we “the design team/Somerford Community Partnership and especially as the previous 4 years had been quite traumatic for some of the residents of the area.

As a result of the great outcome of the scheme we are now looking forward to working with Aspire on the next scheme and which is very soon and hopefully on further schemes which are in the pipeline.


I have worked with Matt and the team at Aspire Architects over the last eight months and have found them excellent to deal with. We have ben extremely impressed with their forward-thinking, approachable manner and the engaging, community-focused way that they have dealt with the consultation process on Scott’s Green project. This has lead us to instruct them on other projects which we are working on together at the moment.

As a practice, they have really listened to the brief, readily taken on board the community’s feedback and delivered a planning application which achieved a unanimous approval at Christchurch Planning Committee.

We are really please that we have been part of their expansion as a practice, and look forward to future working relationship with Aspire.


Aspire Architects Ltd supports a number of local charities and community projects.

RNLI Mudeford Lifeboat Funday: A great day, with a raft race on the water, the coastguard helicopter, stalls, fairground rides, live music (and fingers crossed, an air display). Not forgetting the annual ball and auction in the Autumn.

 Heather has been an active member of the committee for a number of years and Aspire are always happy to dedicate both time and money to this worthwhile cause.


Boo Charity Ball: The aim of “Boo” is to help children of Africa disadvantaged through economic poverty. We provide help in a variety of ways, including food, shelter, health, education, life-skills and emotional support.

Aspire are proud to sponsor a child and support events.


Wessex Autism: Founded in 1968 by parents of children with autism, Autism Wessex is the regional charity providing high quality specialist services for people affected by autism and associated difficulties across the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire.

Matt is a keen runner and enjoys taking part in Autism Wessex’s 10k runs


Mudeford Wood Community Centre:  Mudeford Wood Community Trust was set up as an incorporated charity to act on behalf of the users and residents of the Centre. The Trust is run by a number of volunteer trustees comprising local residents, Centre users and Councillors. The community centre offers three main rooms which can all be hired together or individually: and all-weather multi-purpose sports courts suitable for tennis and other sports with a variety of equipment available to hire. The centre is the home of a number of community groups and organisations offering something for any age group.

Aspire were happy to design and produce building regulations for the much needed new kitchen facilities


Street Wise: SafeWise continues with plans to build RoadWise: a small, life sized road network, to the rear of the safety education centre.  The aim is to deliver road safety education to the local community, including cycling and basic motor cycle training.

Aspire are assisting with the preparation, planning and implementation of the Roadwise Scheme


Christchurch Christmas Festival: A community event for the whole family with highlights including a festival street market, Father Christmas and his reindeer, turning on of the lights, craft market, advent fayre, carolling, treasure hunts and lot, lots more.

Heather is an active member of the committee who organise and run the event.

Aspire are happy to offer their support to such an important event in the Christchurch calendar


cdm regs infographic - final

Garden Design Services

We understand that every client’s needs are different, so each project begins with a consultation that gives us the chance to view your garden and discuss your needs. This usually lasts around 2-3 hours, where we work together and explore a range of possibilities. During this session we listen to your thoughts, offer suggestions and advice and help you to decide the best course of action. From here we will be able to produce your design brief that reflects the requirements for your new garden.

Site Survey
Once the brief has been agreed, a detailed site survey is carried out by surveyors, which will include house, boundaries, existing features, trees, levels and all measurements required for the development of accurate design plans. This stage is vital as a proper site survey reduces unnecessary and unplanned expense during the building phase. We can do this for you or arrange for a surveyor to do it if the site is exceptionally large or complex.

Concept Plan
Before creating a full design of your garden, we will produce concept plans. These will include hand drawn sketches and accompanying mood board to help you really visualise how your new garden will be. From here we can agree on the general components of your garden, before moving onto the full design.

Full Design
The next step is for us to produce the full design that contains enough detailed information to be able to construct your garden. This includes a scaled landscaping plan with defined planting areas, the main plants to be used, and the surfaces and textures for hard landscaping. The full design will be supplied with visuals in order to bring your new completed garden to life, and offer suggestions for planting and materials.

Planting Plans
The full design usually includes basic planting ideas, however, more detailed planting plans are sometimes required. This involves working drawings to position each plant, making sure nothing is left to chance. It is important that the plants selected will not only create stunning compositions but are also suited to your soil and aspect, ensuring your garden will continue to grow from strength to strength. Our aim is to give your garden year round structure and interest, and use plants that will both complement each other but also the style of your house and garden. We also produce Planting Plans to achieve conditional approval if required.

Construction Drawings
These may be required by your contractor to show in detail how a particular part or feature of your garden is to be constructed.

Appointing Contractors
We regularly work with landscapers and there are many who we trust to provide an outstanding quality of work. We are happy to recommend companies who we believe are best suited to the challenges of your bespoke project. Once you have confirmed your contractor we will prepare and send over all necessary documentation. We will also meet them on site to answer any questions that will enable them to quote for the build fairly and accurately.

Monitoring the Project
To give you extra peace of mind we are able to oversee the project, to ensure it is running smoothly and in accordance with the design. We will regularly keep you up to date with the process, coordinate all contractors and aim to minimise delays, resolve any unforeseen circumstances and control building costs. You will be able to relax knowing your project is in safe hands.

Follow Up Maintenance
Maintenance schedule – after completion a detailed 5 year maintenance schedule can be produced. This is often a requirement of planning conditions. We are also happy to put you in contact with a number of landscapers who could assist with carrying out the maintenance of your garden.

Application for planning
We can deal with the preparation of reports and drawings for local authorities on your behalf.