Tuesday, May 29, 2012

(Green) Deal or No Deal?

In reality the green deal has the potential to be 'a political own goal', if consumers and businesses do not make the savings they are promised.
Source: Google Images
You only need to pick up a newspaper or magazine or indeed watch the news on TV or the Internet to realise that the coalition government's 'flagship piece of legislation' (their words not mine!), the Energy Act 2011, will soon thrust upon us the Green Deal, which promises to deliver energy efficiency savings to homes and businesses. Consumers and businesses will end up saving money on fuel bills, carbon emissions will be significantly reduced and the UK will achieve its challenging emissions reduction targets and we ultimately save the planet!  So what could possibly go wrong?
It is clear that no matter how much regulation or initiatives that the Government introduces for new buildings, this will not be enough to have any major impact on meeting our carbon emissions targets, so it actually makes sense to try to do something about the existing varied and ageing building stock that we have in the UK.  The difficulty will be trying to convince consumers and businesses that the green deal will actually deliver what it promises, primarily from a financial point of view.  
As much as we may want to contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the vast majority of people will undoubtedly be motivated by the financial benefits 'signing up to the 'Green Deal' will bring to them, and herein lies a potential problem.
The Green Deal works on the principle that upfront costs for any enhancements are financed via a low interest loan, which is added to your energy bills. The 'Golden Rule' then assumes that the repayment of the loan will not be greater than the savings you make on your energy bills as a result of these enhancements.  Therefore the cost of the enhancements should not be noticed by the consumer or business.  
In order for the golden rule to work, this will require a very careful assessment of a building by the  Green Deal Assessor. As an example let us consider a turn of the century solid wall Victorian end of terrace dwelling with three bedrooms.  There are a number of enhancements that the green deal assessor may recommend, such as insulating the roof space, draft proofing, energy efficient glazing etc, possibly even the installation of renewable technologies such as photovoltaic panels, solar water heating or an air source heat pump. All of these may be deemed to be appropriate, however it is likely that improving the energy efficiency of the solid walls will be the most problematic and expensive of all.
If the dwelling described above is occupied then insulating internally will be very disruptive. When you consider that internal dry lining of walls will require clearing rooms, installing the dry lining and insulation, moving and accommodating electrical sockets and switches (what happens if the electrical system is then established to outdated and in poor condition), will a re-wire be required?, then there is detailing around door and window openings, plastering, re-decoration and eventually moving all of the furniture and fittings back into the room. How on earth does a green deal assessor ensure that the golden rule is achieved with the likely expense of this? It would be pointless recommending other enhancements if the fabric of the building is not improved first, as the inefficiency of the walls would negate any improvements made by other enhancements.  The other alternative is external insulation, however although less disruptive, this is also likely to be very expensive and will throw up other issues such as detailing around openings and at eaves levels and will not be a possibility if a building is listed or in a conservation area.
So there you have it, the success of green deal will ultimately be measured by whether it delivers what it promises.  It is going to be very interesting to see public reaction in terms of initial take up and also when the golden rule will be challenged and tested, which it ultimately will be!  The government approach in decided to tackle the problem of the inefficient existing building stock is bold, necessary and commendable.  In reality the green deal has the potential to be 'a political own goal', if consumers and businesses do not make the savings they are promised.
(Green) Deal or No Deal? - Only time will tell!
Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

In the dark about Permitted Development?

Permitted development rights take no account of a neighbour's 'rights to light'.

The UK planning system allows certain types of development to be made without the need to apply to your Local Authority for planning permission, this is referred to as 'Permitted Development'. Information relating to permitted development can be found on the Planning Portal

Planning applications often require professional advice in order to produce drawings, submit the application in the correct format, liaise with the Local Authority, all of which, in addition to the planning fee itself can prove to be expensive. There is also the possibility that the application may receive objections from neighbours/local residents, which will be taken into account by the Local Authority when making a decision on the application. All of this expense, stress and uncertainty can be avoided if the development is deemed to be 'permitted development'.

Whilst the advantages are clear for the party who proposes to undertake a project under permitted development, what about the rights of adjoining owners who may be affected in some way by the proposed development?  For example, take a single storey side extension to a semi detached dwelling.  The extension will be only 1.5 metres from the neighbours external wall (not the boundary), however the height of the extension will be 2.8 metres at the eaves (the junction of the top of the wall and roof).  Although the extension will impact on the available light from the neighbours kitchen windows, this is classified as permitted development. The photograph below shows the new extension on the left hand side.

Permitted development rights take no account of a neighbour's 'rights to light'.  Therefore it is currently acceptable under UK planning laws for a development that does not require planning permission (as it may be permitted development) and is therefore deemed as acceptable, to adversely affect the right of an adjoining owner.  This, surely cannot be acceptable.

Any adjoining owner who is affected in this way will receive little help or guidance from the Local Authority because as far as they are concerned this is permitted development and there is nothing they will do apart from unhelpfully tell you to complain to the Secretary of State. 

All is not completely lost however, as there is a law that may provide a way of  challenging 'loss of light' (Prescription Act 1832).  If a new building limits or reduces the amount of light coming through windows and when measured the level of light falls outside 'acceptable levels', this could then be deemed to be an obstruction. If this is the case then you may be able to take legal action against the party who created the obstruction.

If you think you may have a case in respect of the above you must first think very carefully and weigh up the possible benefits of starting legal proceedings.  Do not be under the impression that if you are successful that your neighbour will be required to remove or make significant alterations to their development.  This is only likely to happen in extreme circumstances where the developer has constructed outside the requirements of permitted development, or has breached other statutory requirements.  The general outcome of cases of this nature is that the development will remain and the court may apportion a certain level of compensation for the general reduction of light.

In conclusion, in certain circumstances permitted development appears to disregard the rights of adjoining owners, and at present there is very little that can be done to stop this happening.  In a 'free' society like the UK this does seem to be unacceptable, and maybe it is now time for permitted development guidelines to be amended to close this loop hole.

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Introduction to Blog

The main purpose of this blog is to provide information relating to common building and property related issues.  This will include subjects relating to Building Defects, Professional Work such as Building Regulation, Planning and the Party Wall etc. Act 1996.

The aim is to post information to help support students and members of the public, as well as to tackle topical issues as they arise.  Also, those undertaking professional qualifications such as Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) and similar accrediting bodies, may find postings of interest.

I have been working as Chartered Building Surveyor for over 12 years and prior to my current role at Coventry University I worked in Private Professional Practice, dealing with a wide range of professional activities and projects. Even so, information posted on this blog should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice.

If there is a particular topic or problem you would like covered please let me know.