Jillian Mitchell | Project Logistics Architecture
In May 2013, changes to the limits and process for building without the need for planning approval came into force, amidst much criticism amongst professionals and politicians alike. Media headlines heralded rear extensions at double the sizes in previous PD, but left out much of the complex matrix of Parts and Classes which determine if planning approval is required, and made very little mention of the neighbour consultation process required, if an approval is to not be triggered. See here for a technical explanation of the changes: http://www.planningportal.gov.uk/uploads/100806_PDforhouseholders_TechnicalGuidance.pdf
It is hardly surprising that, in the nine months since, there has been little evidence of change; projects take months to develop, and funding can be difficult to access. Our local Civic Society is consulted on planning applications from two Local Authorities, and as a member of the Committee, I get to see weekly lists of applications. I have only noticed one recent application referencing neighbour consultation, which made me wonder if people are taking notice of the changes, or if they are assuming that they don’t need approval so can build, without the need for any notification at all.
The Government claimed that householders could make savings on professional fees, and that more people would be encouraged to extend their homes, thus boosting the construction industry and creating growth in the economy. Ministers overtly agreed that this was very much a ‘suck it and see’ approach, as only time would reveal how the neighbour consultations might work, and whether the legislation would need tweaking.
An acknowledgement of the need to boost the construction industry (as opposed to the house-building industry) is a welcome glimmer of enlightenment, as is the understanding that householders – and by extension (pun intended) their ‘small’ builders – can contribute to the UK’s economic recovery. What is astounding is that they have clearly indicated that they do not value the input of professionals, nor do they have any appreciation for the quality of the built environment.
Encouraging home owners to wade through PD classifications, and to ‘design’ their extensions within limits, to avoid the need for planning approval, is bizarre. Obtaining planning approval is, by and large, a simple process, especially when applied to extensions which would come within the extended PD limits – we are not talking about Paragraph 55 houses, here! We are talking about one and two-storey extensions, giving home owners additional bedrooms and the obligatory kitchen-diner-with-sliding-folding-doors which add value to their properties.
If the Government want to see how neighbour consultation works in practice, they could look at Party Wall activity; in my experience, when faced with a notice, a neighbour is most likely to ‘object’, thinking that they can get another chance to object to the approved designs – they can’t – or that, in the absence of understanding the legislation, they might be agreeing to something they don’t want, so better to object anyway. And if neighbours are on agreeable but not close terms, consulting them over planning applications, Party Wall notices and, now, PD, can change the atmosphere over the fence. Remember, you can choose your friends but not your neighbours.
And where, in all the PD, is there mention of better quality detailing for energy efficiency and sustainability? In my experience, ‘small’ builders are rarely aware of air-tightness, interstitial condensation and vapour control layers, nor their impact on the success of a building’s performance. If you are very lucky to have a builders’ merchant with an interested technical advisor, builders may have picked up the idea of buying tubes of ‘gobbo’ and cans of expanding foam, to stop up the gaps when they are finished. But you try and ask small builders to consider building with thin bed joints or insulated concrete formwork. That results in, at best, inflated tenders (lack of knowledge) and, at worst, builders persuading the clients that their chosen architect is full of ‘airy-fairy’ nonsense. (That is a direct quote, by the way!).
Maybe the Government could try to appreciate the need for good quality design – aren’t we one of the few European countries who don’t insist on architectural involvement in planning applications? Maybe removing VAT on professional fees and extension / refurbishment build costs might kick-start more home owners to build (and use qualified architects). Maybe linking incentives for building to sustainability targets, without the expensive loans currently on offer through the Green Deal, might just start to line up the needs of the homeowner with the bigger-picture of the UK economy.
Imagine, growth and quality...