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Planning …. The times they are a-changin’

As Bob Dylan once sang “The times they are a-changin’…” and for Householders, Architects and other design consultants this is certainly true with the Planning rules governing ‘permitted development’ (that is, whether or not planning permission is required) for ‘householder’ developments set to change significantly from 6th February 2012 as a consequence of the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Scotland) Amendment Order 2011 .

The overall effect of the changes will be to relax the current controls so that many types of domestic development that currently require planning permission will no longer do so.  Ever the optimist, I remain hopeful that many clients will still see the value in employing an Architect to realise their vision . The act falls short of insisting clients employ the services of an Architect or other building design consultant however and so may lead to development on the cheap with little or no design other than basic space planning, external form and material.  The services of an Architect or building design consultant will still be required to prepare building warrant drawings so this will hopefully minimise such development.

The intent of the changes are two fold;  1) to release planners time to work on other larger planning issues with approximately 20% less work being anticipated, and 2) to make life easier for householders and save them some money.   Householder permitted development will now rely on measurements which establish the relationship of the proposed development with the original building, boundaries with neighbours and the street scene.

Within specified constraints, the new rules will allow a range of works – including extensions, access ramps, sheds, garages and decking – to be built without applying for planning permission.

Key points

• For the first time, alterations (excluding enlargement) may be made to flatted developments without permission.  Replacement window frames and doors will for example be permitted development.

• The maximum floor area of any extension, or separate building in the curtilage or garden, will be limited primarily by the floor area of the original house and the available garden area (50% instead of the previous 30%).  The previous limits of 16, 24 and 30 square metres have been dropped.

• A single storey development may however not be built within 1 metre of the boundary if it projects more than 3m for terraces and 4m for detached dwellings.

• An extension of more than one storey may not be built within 10 metres without permission.

• Roofs may be altered or extended within certain dimensions but not on the ‘principal’ or street elevation. This will permit small dormers, whereas the current rules permit only roof lights.

• There are specific restrictions on development which might overlook neighbouring properties such as balconies, raised platforms, terraces or decking above 0.5 metres.

• Small porches will be permitted development, even on front elevations.

• Access ramps have their own class of permitted development within certain dimensions.

• Permitted development for hard surfaces is now subject to the condition that they are permeable.


Most of the new permitted development rights do not apply in conservation areas. Listed buildings also require to be the subject of separate listed building consent applications but the order makes clear that some small buildings in the curtilage of listed buildings may be permitted development.

The Scottish Governments simple guide can be found here .  Fuller details of those categories of development which are conditionally exempt from the need for planning permission are contained in the Schedule to the Amendment Order  .

So do you need Planning Permission?  Consult an Architect and don’t leave “The answer blowin’ in the wind”.


Solar Energy – a slap in the face!?

The feed in tariff (FIT) is a great incentive for homeowners to instal photo-voltaic panels and earn money for generating electricity.  True its an expensive option for most but with the feed in tariff the payback was circa 7-10 years and then there was a guaranteed income beyond that for up to 25 years.  The Government announced this week it will slash feed-in tariffs for new installs by half which will make homeowner investment in solar energy less attractive.  Some may view FIT’s as a tax from the most vulnerable as  the cost is effectively covered by higher mainstream energy bills, so it’s a poor-to-rich subsidy but this decision will likely lead to a slowing of micro generation at a time when we should be encouraging it’s increase.

There have been rumours of a reduction in the FIT payment but it was not expected until next April and not by nearly as much.  It hits on or after 12 December hurting those who’ve already ordered and all future orders. In a nut shell here’s a summary of how FITS work and the changes….

• Photo Voltaic Solar Panels save the typical home £90-£180/year in electricity. Yet the real draw is that the Goverment guaranteed for 25 years you’d get a high ‘feed-in tariff’, ie, be PAID to generate energy (even if you use it yourself) at over 3x what we pay, meaning £1,000+ a year for typical panels.

• With the feed-in rate to be halved, the new rates completely change the maths. The feed-in’s being cut by just over half from 1 April 2012 for panels installed and registered after 12 Dec (those who already have them keep the high rate). This means the profit over 25 years plummets.

• If you were looking to sign up and get installation before the deadline, this announcement effectively slashes the subsidy for all new sign-ups as fitting panels might take say two months or more and if you’ve ordered panels but they’re not fully fitted you may still be a victim as not only must panels be fitted, but the energy supplier must also have received a ‘Microgeneration Certification Scheme’ certificate, only valid once the system is working.

The Government consultation on this issue is continuing so lets hope that sense is seen on the issue, but dont count on it!

Renewable Bling #1 – Voltage Optimisation

We all want to save money for a rainy day…or a holiday…or just a few beers or glasses of wine.  So the simple technologies that can help us do this and not cost a lot are worth a look.

Renewable, green and sustainability – 3 words that are constantly used in today’s world and no more so than in construction. There are ongoing changes to legislation on energy use, generation and conservation as we try as a nation to honour or better our commitments to the Kyoto agreement. This has resulted in a plethora of products being introduced to the Market place which claim to save energy and us money. This ‘renewable bling’ can never replace the simple methods of conserving energy I have written about before like by ensuring we build well insulated homes and are sensible with our use of energy. Renewable bling does however have its place and Volt Optimisers seem like a simple add on to our home electrical supply which can save us money and energy.

Electrical equipment is designed to work across the UK, Europe and world at 220v. Harmonisation means that with most UK supplies varying between 230v & 245v, equipment often runs at a voltage much higher than needed resulting in wastage in the form of heat!! Now whilst this heat it could be argued assists space heating slightly it mainly wears out our appliances, reducing their lifespan. Ohms law states that volts x amps = watts and we pay for this heat wastage as it is wattage in the form of kwh that we pay for in our electricity bills.

A voltage optimiser will set the supply voltage at 220v and can be installed for your whole house or for each individual circuit. The amount of energy saved is device specific, for example: testing by supplier VPhase on fridges and freezers shows 17%, 15% on normal light bulbs and 10% on energy saving light bulbs. One digital cordless phone showed an extraordinary saving
of 44%. Savings will vary dependent incoming voltage and individual devices.

Further savings can be made on washing machines, tumble driers, dishwashers, televisions and numerous other electrical appliances across the whole house. Typically, whole house savings are in the region of 10% – which means, household electricity bills will be around 10% less each year. Put in context that’s typically about 40 pints of beer boys or 20 bottles of pink bubbly ladies.

UK suppliers VPhase and VO4HOME offer units varying in price up to £600 + the cost of an electrician installing the unit alongside your meter. Both have savings calculators on their websites. Want to know more, check out the video explanation here

Rain, rain, and more rain…

The recent heavy rainfall has caused flash flooding and left existing historic drainage systems struggling to cope with the intensity of the water flow.

With our increased car use and ownership, paving front gardens for parking has become the norm.   Although paving over one or two gardens may not seem to make a difference, the combined effect of lots of people in a street or area doing this can increase the risk of flooding.

You may have heard of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems or SUDS which are a sequence of water management practices and facilities designed to drain surface water in a manner that will provide a more sustainable approach than what has been the conventional practice of routing run-off through a pipe to a watercourse.

Such facilities include:

  • Permeable surfaces;
  • Filter strips;
  • Filter and infiltration trenches;
  • Swales;
  • Detention basins;
  • Underground storage;
  • Wetlands;
  • Ponds.

In a domestic situation permeable surfaces and storage offer simple SUDS solutions that can both reduce the pressure on our already overloaded underground drainage systems and reduce our reliance on water use form statutory water authorities.

Permeable driveways are often more attractive than an expanse of concrete, adding value to the property. These types of surfaces can also be better for the environment and do not necessarily cost more or require a lot of maintenance.  There are three main types of solution to creating a permeable driveway:

  • Using gravel or a mainly green, vegetated area;
  • Directing water from an impermeable surface to a border rain garden or soakaway;
  • Using permeable block paving, porous asphalt or concrete.

Modern permeable surfaces work by allowing water to soak through the surface into the ground below.  Soakaways can be located along the edges of impermeable driveways or in the garden area to collect water and allow it to soak into the ground. On clay soils it may be necessary to connect to the house roof water drain.

Water from a paved surface can be dealt with using three main approaches:

  • Soaking into ground (soakaway);
  • Rainwater harvesting or storage for later use;
  • Flowing to the drains, but this should be the last option considered.

Water butts and underground rainwater tanks can be used to complement these drainage methods to reduce runoff from a property. The simplest systems are water butts where the water is used to water gardens or for washing cars. More complex systems use underground tanks and pumps to provide water to outside taps.  The underground tanks can collect rainwater
from roofs or from permeable driveways.  The water can be used inside the house for toilet flushing, but this is more complex and it is best to consult a specialist rainwater harvesting company.  Rainwater harvesting will not only help reduce rainwater runoff into the drains but will also reduce the amount of mains water used by as much as half.

Energy price rise… energy and reduce your carbon footprint

Scottish Power is set to raise gas prices by 19% and electricity by 10% from 01st August with the other big energy suppliers likely to follow suit.  It’s no surprise that
prices are rising with the wholesale price of gas (the price the energy companies pay) rising by 32% from early 2010 to early 2011 and energy markets remaining volatile.  With 5.4 million homes in fuel poverty, and with energy prices rising by 42% since 2008, now is the time to take action and find ways to bring your energy bills down!

Saving Energy and reducing our carbon footprint has never been more relevant.  When we are hit in the pocket our minds become focussed, so depending on our own personal budgets what measures can we take to reduce our costs and our carbon footprint into the bargain?

Insulate: 35% of the heat that is lost from a home is through walls and 25% the roof. This figure can be significantly reduced through the installation of simple loft insulation and save around £150 a year in bills. Cavity wall insulation can save around
£100 a year. Double or triple glazing will reduce heat loss through windows with the use of modern energy efficient glazing.  When installed in good window frames it helps to achieve the requirements of the latest Government Building Regulations using the Window Energy Rating (WER) scheme.  This scheme uses labels similar to those you will have seen on fridges and washing machines, coding on a scale from A to G with A being the most energy efficient.  As of October 1st 2010 replacement windows in England, Scotland and Wales must be a minimum WER band C.  Fitting energy saving glazing can save you around £140 per year in heating costs, as well as 720 kilograms of CO2.

Reduce Water Use: Homes use up to 1,000 litres of water a day.  Consider installing low-flush WCs and simple showers, rather than power showers.   Switch off the tap when you clean teeth, this wastes water and uses energy.  Fill the kettle with only enough water you need to boil.  If you can afford it, a rain water harvesting system can reduce a household’s water consumption by as much as a half, providing water for
toilets, the washing machine and gardening.

Generate Your Own Energy: Photovoltaic (PV) cells operate by turning solar
radiation into electricity. The average home with a large south-facing roof could
generate around half of its own electricity through this method. Prices vary but payback times are considered to be at least ten years thanks to the governments feed in tariff.  Wind turbines are another option but they are only effective in certain locations so a wind assessment should be carried out first.

Make Small Changes: Lighting accounts for some 15% of an electricity bill, so switch to energy-saving bulbs as they last up to 10 times longer than ordinary bulbs, and using one can save you around £45 over the lifetime of the bulb.  Switch lights off when you leave a room.  Switch off rather than standby, electrical appliances use approximately 65% of the power on standby that they would switched on and remember not to leave laptops and mobile phones on charge unnecessarily.  Turn down the thermostat on your heating, a room temperature around 22deg C is comfortable.  Reducing your room temperature by 1°C could cut your heating bills by up to 10% and typically saves around £50 per year.  Aim for a hot water temperature around 50°C with your boiler 5°C higher.  A high efficiency condensing boiler will save around £180 a year, while simply adding a jacket and lagging to the hot water cylinder and pipes will cover its outlay in a year.  Fill up the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher, one full load uses less energy than two half loads.  A dripping hot water tap wastes energy and in one week wastes enough hot water to fill half a bath, so fix leaking taps and make sure they’re fully turned off!  Close your curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through the windows and instal draught proofing around windows and doors.

The simple steps we can all take, the ‘green renewable bling’ depends on our individual budgets!! 

Check out the simple steps at