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  • in reply to: Effective plans for our future #49184

    Great stuff Tim but we have no hope of changing the minds of the idiots that are forming our planning policies which enable housing developers to throw up Band D, non-sustainable, non-affordable homes as long as they are near a bus stop. As politicians buckle under the pressure of lobbying from the UK construction industry, they have no understanding at all of real sustainability across the life of a dwelling. The planning policies enable planners to refuse consent for a Band A passive house on a residential site in an established village solely because it is 800m from the nearest bus stop. This distance from an intermittent, polluting, diesel bus service (last bus at 7.00pm and none on Sundays) means that the site is “isolated” and therefore the new home is not “sustainable”. As recently as 21 September 2018, I have a letter from a Planning Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) in which he says, “imposing a building code that would prevent the construction of all homes that fall short of Passivhaus standard is not seen as a practical proposition at present. In refusing our application and appeal, the planners asserted that Passivhaus is not sufficiently exceptional or innovative to meet the requirements of the NPPF Para 78.
    Apparently, according to the MHCLG, we have to wait for the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy which has the ambition to halve energy use of new buildings by 2030. The recently revised NPPF made absolutely no progress whatsoever towards this aspiration and just kicks the sustainability can down the road.
    I have tried (and failed) to hold a meeting with four successive Ministers of Housing & Planning and none of them have even had the courtesy to respond to my letters and e-mails. We are banging our heads against a closed door and I just despair of ever being able to effect some real change

    in reply to: Local authorities and Sustainability Standards #47186

    What is becoming increasingly obvious from Tom’s article, the follow-up comment from Adam and from my own passive house planning refusal is that, owing to the absence of clear guidance from Government legislation, Local Councils do not have a clue what “sustainable” or “affordable” housing looks like. All I know is that the current guidance allows greedy housing developers to throw up leaky, Band D homes near a bus stop while a Band A passive house cannot be built 800m from a bus stop because the site is classed as “isolated” and the development is not “sustainable” as it “relies on car use” to access the site. This is environmental madness

    in reply to: Passivhaus planning refusal #47185

    UPDATE
    After a year and many attempts to meet with three successive Housing & Planning Ministers (Gavin Barwell, Alok Sharma and now Dominic Raab, to name and shame them) to discuss this matter, we are still no further forward. What is even more astonishing is the almost complete absence of any comment or support from the low-energy building community on this matter. I can only conclude that everyone agrees with the decision to refuse planning consent for a Band A passive house on an established residential site simply because the site’s distance (800m) from the nearest bus stop makes the development “unsustainable”. Either that or nobody reads these forum articles any more, in which case the website needs a bit of an overhaul. My refusal to use social media also has something to do with it, I fear.
    We have now been promised an announcement from the Government on Monday 5 March 2018 with changes to planning laws to encourage more house building. I can’t wait!

    in reply to: Passivhaus planning refusal #39252

    I thought the case we were making was clear. What we don't understand is the case that the Council has made. They are perfectly happy to grant planning consent for unexceptional Band D homes to be built on a greenfield site near a bus stop (which may one day disappear) at one end of the town but refuse to allow a Band A Passivhaus home to be built on residential land at the other end of the town simply because the site is 800m from a bus stop. Both the Council and the Planning Inspectorate claim that the reasoning behind their decisions relate to sustainability and harm to the environment. They both claim that an established residential site which, as a result of the Council's decision to remove the local bus service subsidy and is now 800m from the nearest bus stop, is “unsustainable”.
    Our site will not accommodate an “isolated home in the countryside”. It is an established residential site in a small group of dwellings on the edge of town. The proposed new dwelling is an exceptional design with exemplary environmental credentials but planning has been refused simply because the NPPF allows the Council to claim the site is “isolated” purely because it is 800m from a bus stop.
    This is an abuse of the legislation and which, at best, shows misguided application of planning guidance which was drafted to prevent isolated residential development in the countryside. At worst, it is a spiteful and stubborn refusal to permit any development within an established rural community and when there were no objections from local residents to the design or objections from highways on access, the Council decided to prevent the proposals by claiming that any site more than 400m from a bus stop is “isolated”. This is environmental madness on so many levels

    in reply to: Re: Stop Dragging Your Feet on a Materials Standard #39141

    Excellent article Gary but what did you honestly expect from the Greenest Government Ever?

    If it weren't for the vociferous lobbying of Ministers by the Government's wealthy pals in the construction and energy industries, Part L of our Building Regulations would have been ramped up to require Passivhaus standards of thermal insulation and air tightness. As a result, we do not have a snowball in Hell's chance of our de-skilled construction industry getting anywhere near building zero carbon new homes by 2016 or zero carbon non-domestic buildings by 2018. Just like all the other “Green Crap” that this Government has jettisoned to keep standards low and profits high, these aspirations will quietly be done away with over the next couple of years, along with the CfSH

    In common with many other Building Designers, I will not mourn the passing of the CfSH as it has made a negligible contribution to energy conservation. Anyone who thinks that having a bike rack in your garage and a clothes line in your garden is going to save the planet is, at the very least, misguided. As a voluntary code, the housing developers think they are doing us all a favour by offering badly-built, Code 3 “affordable” homes with tiny rooms and energy demands which will plunge their occupants into fuel poverty in just a few years. I have avoided this fate by self-building my own Code 5, Band A, (non-certified) passive house which costs less than £100 a year for heating and hot water

    Anyway, back to materials. While I would, in general, support some form of environmental standard on all building materials, for the reasons outlined above, this is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. The UK building industry is at least 25 years behind the rest of Europe in so many ways and now the catching up process is so expensive and disruptive, it is not going to happen anytime soon. The car industry has enforced strict standards of labelling on vehicle components so that they can be recycled more easily at the end of a vehicle's life. Following on from that, most of us will consider paying more for a car (or washing machine or fridge) that uses less energy but for some unknown reason we are not prepared to pay more for a home that uses less energy, thanks partly to the RICS for placing no value at all on the EPC. The great unwashed are even less likely to pay more for a building constructed of “environmentally friendly” materials until we have some form of punitive levy on builders that encourages a change in behaviour

    Finally, we must remind ourselves that 90% of the carbon footprint associated with the life of a T-shirt is in the washing, drying and ironing. A similar percentage of the carbon footprint associated with the life of a building comes from energy consumption in use, mainly for space heating, lighting and hot water demand. While considering embodied energy and polluting elements in building materials and components (such as PIR insulation), we must not throw the baby out with the bath water and ignore performance in use. It is significant that the Passivhaus standard takes no account of the carbon footprint of the materials and components themselves, just their performance in use

    in reply to: Re: FiT and ECO are never going to solve fuel poverty #38346

    Absolutely spot-on Kate. It does not seem to matter how many learned people try and explain common sense to the Government on energy conservation and fuel poverty, their clueless Ministers keep turning up with more and more creative accounting initiatives like the FiT and Green Deal to hoodwink us into thinking they are doing something about climate change

    The main reason that bullets are not being bitten is that, behind the scenes, furious lobbying by vested interests in the energy, construction and renewables industries ensure that nothing will be done that would harm their obscene profits. Nothing so crude as bribery and corruption is going on here (?) but just watch all these Ministers waltz into highly paid directorships with the successful lobbying companies when their parliamentary careers are over. We have not got a hope of cracking this problem as it has been going on for decades, if not centuries. This is why we have massive subsidies for renewables and 20% VAT on building fabric alterations to improve energy consumption. We really do live in a mad, mad world

    in reply to: Green Deal consultation documents published #38228

    Kate et al,

    As you will have read in my Soapbox article, I am afraid that the Green Deal (and all the other supposedly energy-saving initiatives) are just Government con-tricks devised to make the UK electorate and other countries think that they are doing something about climate change. I know that the AECB is an adult organisation that has to be seen to be offering constructive input but in my forty years in the construction industry I am still waiting for the first Government action that will make a significant contribution to reducing energy use in the built environment. The buildings we are erecting now to current regulations are, with a handful of admirable exceptions, badly designed and badly constructed by a de-skilled workforce, poorly insulated and full of holes. I agree that we should offer comment on the Government's hollow, short-term proposals but we should not lose sight of the fact that the current benchmark for construction standards in the UK is abysmally low and that lobbying by vested interests in the energy and construction industries will always carry much more weight with millionaire Ministers than anything proposed by those of us who actually want to make a difference. Recent attempts to overhaul planning regulations have shown us where the real power lies.

    As you are all well aware, many older properties that we would aspire to upgrade to reduce energy consumption have exterior materials and/or architectural features which make a significant contribution to the local vernacular. Internal insulation reduces room sizes and leaves the existing fabric cold and damp. Our draconian, conservation-based (though not of the 'energy' variety) planning legislation prevents the addition of external insulation and triple-glazed casement windows and ensures that in all but the poorest areas, we are permanently condemned to pump energy into largely uninsulated, leaky, masonry structures which are often doubly cursed with huge, single-glazed, double-hung sash windows. In fact, so popular is this practical but grossly inefficient fenestration style with planners in some areas, they even insist on fitting them in new dwellings. I am faced with this very problem with my own self-build Passivhaus project in Weardale. Until we have a drastic overhaul of planning legislation, particularly the conservation zealots who want to preserve everything in aspic, the aspirations of the Green Deal will remain just that, aspirations.

    I can understand the architectural value of Conservation Areas and Listed Buildings but soon homes within these categories will either be occupied solely by the very rich who can afford the astronomical fuel bills or they will stand empty and un-heated. Add to this the problem of semi-detached and terraced dwellings or flats in multiple occupation and you soon realise that the application of external, insulated cladding for retrofit upgrading can only be considered practical in a very limited number of cases. The prime candidates for large-scale upgrading are the streets of empty homes shown recently by George Clarke on Channel 4. In many northern UK towns and cities, whole streets of (usually) terraced and semi-detached, habitable houses have been emptied and abandoned, pending demolition, as a result of misguided and failed Local and National Government housing renewal initiatives. These substantially sound homes, most with little architectural merit, should be our main target for Passivhaus EnerPHit upgrading. The highways and services infrastructures are already there and even though they may currently be unattractive and/or in undesirable locations, the combination of a modern, external make-over and very low fuel bills would soon attract new occupants. It seems to be a no-brainer but as most of these abandoned homes belong to the Government, nothing sensible is likely to happen anytime soon.

    As Alex Hunt has already mentioned, the Green Deal will end up lining the pockets of a handful of financiers, insurance companies and other parasitic hangers-on, all at the expense of ordinary folk. As we have seen with the FiT debacle, if the various Government bodies can manage to cobble together a deal for home-owners that does encourage an increased take-up of real energy-saving measures (as opposed to energy-generating ones), subsidies and grants will be short-lived and soon withdrawn. Looking at the current (so-called) energy conservation initiatives that receive subsidy from Government (ie. you and me through taxation), they are all predicated on generating more energy (electricity) from expensive renewables rather than reducing consumption with cheap insulation. Alterations to existing buildings still attracts 20% VAT and there are no direct Government incentives currently available to construct a new building with better energy conservation performance than the pathetic requirements of Part L of our Building Regulations.

    I will continue to campaign for the adoption of Passivhaus standards for new build in the UK and I shortly hope to demonstrate, by example, how we can build real low-energy, traditional-looking homes on a tight budget. Unfortunately, this will have to be achieved without any help at all from Government energy conservation incentives. By all means let's provide our expert opinions on the likely success, or otherwise, of the Green Deal our but let's not kid ourselves that anyone is really listening in the Government.

    An absolutely excellent proposal Ken and one which ought to provide something of a wake-up-call for the Government, describing, as it does in some detail, the scale of the problem facing us. The really annoying thing about the Government's unwillingness to bite the bullet on this issue is that, apart from some obvious planning issues with external insulation, the technology and materials to achieve these energy use reductions are available to us now, albeit with varying degrees of environmental acceptability by the Deep Green brigade. By contrast, adding imported renewables with a limited lifespan or, dare I say it, building a Passivhaus using imported components, does nothing to support UK industries

    What the Government seems to be refusing to admit is the scale of financial input required on retrofit in order to achieve significant savings on energy use. I have often found myself chanting the mantras, “fabric first” and “insulation is cheap, renewables are expensive” but when you add in the replacement of external doors, windows, boilers, lighting and appliances, even though the whole thing is still much more cost-effective than adding Chinese PV panels or an air-source heat-pump, it is not what you might call cheap. As you rightly point out, £6000 from the Green Deal is not going to go very far and if we remain fixated on payback periods, most people of a certain age are going to take some convincing to spend their life savings to help save the planet, even if it does signifcantly reduce their energy bills

    If only all the playing fields were level, how much easier this building business would be. If only democratically elected Governments were actually directly accountable for their policies, how much less of a mess would we be in?

    The cause of this problem is the Government. Whenever legislation provides a bandwagon, you are always going to get a collection of shifty snake-oil salesmen (and women) trying to peddle miracle products promising free money.
    I am a mature Building Designer and Passivhaus Consultant. Together with a small group of like-minded enthusiasts, I am trying in vain to convince those involved in constructing or refurbishing buildings that we must first achieve standards of insulation and air-tightness way beyond the requirements of our woefully inadequate Building Regulations if we are to have any chance of reducing our total energy consumption by buildings or if the occupants are to have any chance of affording their future energy bills. Fabric First has to be the mantra. Insulation is cheap, renewables are expensive. At present, if you want to build a house in the UK to meet CSH Level 5/6 or PassivHaus standards and achieve fuel bills that are less than 10% of those achieved by a house built to current Building Regulations, most of the components and equipment required to meet those stringent standards have to be imported.
    This is a national disgrace and an indication of how far we are falling behind even third world countries in our commitment to reducing energy use in buildings. Even more disgraceful is the Government's refusal to offer any positive financial incentives to build real low-energy buildings. The Green Deal is a political con-trick designed to make us think that the Government is doing something about climate change. The Feed-In-Tariff encourages those who can afford it to stick some expensive eco-bling on their roof which has been made in China from fairly nasty materials and generally gives extra money to people who don’t really need it at the expense of those who are subsidising it through their electricity bills. The Renewable Heat Incentive, amongst other things, encourages the use of wood-pellet boilers that produce toxic smoke in the name of producing green energy. This tinkering on the fringes is not going to significantly decrease our energy consumption but the misguided Government seems to be pinning all their hopes on it. We need real low-energy building to become the norm, not the preserve of a handful of hippies and Architects serving up Grand Designs.
    I would suggest that we start by removing VAT from all building components and materials that improve the energy performance of a building. Then we can insist that all mortgage lenders must offer a sliding scale of discounts on their interest rates depending on the energy performance rating of the property being purchased or built. The Ecology Building Society already does this but they are the only one at the moment. Finally, we should ramp up the energy conservation requirements in the Building Regulations over the next four years to meet the PassivHaus standards while removing incentives for eco-bling. Unfortunately, all of this is the opposite of what our Government are currently proposing.
    I too attended this year's Ecobuild Exhibition in London and feedback from exhibitors suggests that there is presently insufficient demand in the UK for components and equipment that will enable us to build real low-energy buildings so nobody is bothering. So much for Mr Osborne’s pontificating in his budget speech about “designed in Britain and made in Britain”. An indication of our collective attitude to real eco-building can be judged by the fact that, when the energy conservation standards were increased in the Building Regulations in October 2010, the number of applications for approval from developers received in September 2010 was over eight times the number for the same month in 2009. That was in the middle of one of the worst recessions in the building industry since I was born, so desperate were the developers to avoid having to build to the new energy conservation standards. The big problem is that most buildings are not occupied by those who build them and so it is the poor occupant who has to foot the energy bill for the life of the building.
    Until this clueless collection of Government Ministers are shielded from intense lobbying by vested interests in the construction and energy industries and the financial sector, our wise words on “fabric first” will fall on deaf ears. We need to keep campaigning and lobbying to ensure that we have a construction industry in the future that encourages us to use less energy in our buildings, not to find ever more imaginative ways of generating more using renewables

    Hi Debbie, I am in County Durham near Barnard Castle. Would the Yorkshire Group currently be the nearest to me? I think we could do with a North East England group really. Anyone interested?
    Phil Newbold
    New Bold Design

    in reply to: Re: Grade 2 star listed Manor House skeiling insulation #37761

    I used to work in a Grade II* Listed Manor House in Sedgefield built in 1707. When my former employer bought the building it already had modern suspended ceilings (installed when it was the local Council offices). We needed to make some minor internal alterations which involved covering up an original oak beam across the ceiling on the top floor. English Heritage were a bit sniffy about the alterations but when I pointed out we were spending £250k on restoration works to the fabric, not to mention the vandalism that the Council had carried out during their occupation, we were able to persuade them that, as Architects, we were doing more good than harm. They did insist, however, that any original features, such as the oak beam, that were to be covered up by modern materials had to be photographed extensively (with copies sent to EH) and the new materials could not touch or be attached to these features in any way. Hope that might be of some help

    Phil Newbold, Director, new bold design

    in reply to: Biomass – a burning issue #37450

    Fantastic debate folks, apart from some political posturing early on. As anyone with a basic knowledge of science knows, burning wood produces an assortment of poisonous substances, many of which led to the the passing of The Clean Air Act. As a boy, I remember walking and coughing my way through the streets of Nottingham in the fifties waving a white handkerchief in front of my parents' Austin 10 so we could get home in fog so thick you barely see the ground. In a simplistic way, I think chopping down trees just to burn them is bonkers, regardless of the pollution it causes. The South Americans are mustard at this habit with the heat generated simply providing a particularly grotesque version of global warming. The scale of what they are doing to their forests in the name of meat-eaters and palm oil consumers everywhere makes the UK biomass issue look like a small bonfire in our back yard. They don't even need Guy Fawkes to justify needlessly filling the skies with smoke

    If I can just skip the argument sideways for a moment, I currently live in an old stone house with an open fire. Most winter evenings we start a fire with newspaper and sticks, a small amount of coal and then feed the fire for the rest of the evening with scrap wood from building sites. As a building designer and project manager, I regularly visit building sites and rarely leave without a bootful of timber offcuts that were destined for landfill via the skip. During the summer I can collect enough scrap timber in this way to keep my fire going all winter and sawing it up saves me going to the gym. I never buy wood. I realise that burning the wood (and the paper and coal) is poisoning the atmosphere but I justify it by getting free heat from material that would otherwise be lost to landfill although is this cheating future generations of coal deposits?

    in reply to: Passivhaus off grid? #37629

    Thanks guys. I am going to challenge the quote from NEDL but I guess the nearest supplied property has an “end of line” supply with no extra capacity so they are having to bring a new overhead supply about 700m across farmland belonging to others. Another farmhouse nearby has a diesel generator and is currently occupied by a “Hannah Hauxwell” character. LPG is very expensive and diesel is relatively cheap for farm use. I guess a modern diesel generator does not tick many environmental boxes on emissions but how much better is LPG? At the risk of opening up the great wood-burning debate, what about biomass CHP? We would be surrounded by cheap wood supplies. The property does have a water supply from a spring

    At our age, we could not hack “The Good Life” living like hippies but being autonomous has attractions, especially not being held to ransom by the likes of NEDL. I understand the ecology issues around batteries but this must surely be offset slightly by not being connected to a power station burning fossil fuels. If we use PV panels for daytime power, where do we put the excess electricity on sunny days if we are off grid? If we can get the fabric right, heating demand would be low and solar hot water panels could supplement the PV daytime output for water heating. There are plenty of stone outbuildings for plant and fuel storage and the main farmhouse has a rendered finish on the outside so we would hope to persuade planning to let us wrap the building with insulation (probably local sheeps wool which the farmers cannot give away at the moment) and a dark grey render finish to match existing. The main elevation and windows face due south across Teesdale

    Keep your thoughts coming, they are much appreciated. The New Autonomous House is on my Christmas gift list

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