Thursday, 28 October 2010

The planning saga

These two posts were written before we received planning permission. It would be so tempting to write a rant about the few, mean-spirited people whose intemperate and ill-informed objections made the whole process so stressful and who, by forcing a redesign and delaying the approval process, added thousands to the project's costs. But I won't. Here are two posts written before approval came through.

18 July
Our property is one of a row of three different units running north-south, within an estate with quite a strong, distinctive architectural style. The roof ridge on all three properties runs north-south. In our original design, we had wanted to rotate our roof to create a 35° south facing roof, optimised for solar hot water and photovoltaic panels and minimising shading in our garden (the house sits on the southern edge of the 550m2 site with a garden that wraps around east, north, west). Although it is not in a conservation area or listed, the planners wanted a design that conforms very closely to the shape of one of the neighbouring properties: this has translated into retention of the north-south ridge line. We will now have a 23° east-west facing roof, matching the current pitch. The change means that the 4kWp solar PV array we are planning will generate 500kWh a year less than it would have done: equivalent to 12.5MWh less over 25 years. It is annoying for us, as it means £21 a month less Feed-in-Tariff income but it is also extraordinary that one arm of the state prioritises subjective aesthetics while another is rightly concerned with replacing our ageing fossil fuel based electricity generating capacity with non-fossil fuel based alternatives. Given that we are losing an unprecedented proportion of our existing generating capacity (30+%) over a decade and that a portion of the rest is based on gas, which has significant security of supply issues, you'd think that all public policy would reflect this imperative.

27 September

I write tonight on what I believe and hope to be the eve of a positive decision to approve our revised plans. The planning process has been horrible. We took a big chance by doing so much design work at risk. This being our first Passivhaus project and a refurb, made it very hard for us to do otherwise. The planning system needs urgently to be redesigned to:
  • make local decision-making less arbitrary - decisions need to be governed by policy and much less by subjective matters of aesthetics
  • for smaller householder scale projects, which according to Wikipedia make up 60% of all planning applications, the public should be restricted to a form online and on paper where objections can only be made based on specific issues: loss of light, privacy or other amenity; or on other issues that relate to the local planning policy. The "any other comments" box should be small! Our application generated a huge number of words that took time and resources to read, analyse and read.
  • There needs to be an explicit warning to the public on the comments form that comments or attacks of a personal nature are not acceptable and will count against any point the commenter wishes to make.
  • The planning process needs to be integrated with the building control process.
  • Conservation issues seem to hold sway over sustainability issues - this imbalance needs to be addressed urgently

28 October

Well, it's now a month later and we have this week finally got our planning permission. I feel relieved but battle weary. It has been very scary having committed so much resource to the project, knowing that I could not be certain that it would actually go ahead.

We hope we have all our ducks in a row now and can get started very soon.

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