Wind turbines the size of the London Eye

A question of scale?

The Swindon Advertiser reported last week on an upcoming planning meeting that was going to draw a lot of locals out in protest at the siting of 3 wind turbines, at the Honda plant site.

Residents who reckon they’ll be within 320 metres of the 400ft turbines aren’t against renewable energy, just the suitability of the proposed site.

Noise and ‘flicker’ are a real concern, according to one resident.

If passed, the 3 turbines would be the tallest structures in Swindon.

What’s interesting is the comments the story generated with both sides (for and against) claiming scientific knowledge proves or refutes many of the local residents fears.

You can find the full article and read the comments left by readers of the Swindon Advertiser here.

photo credit: jukka zitting

Conservatories & extensions plans affected by new drain & sewer adoption rules.

Many households will have had a letter explaining the changes due to come into force from October this year, when Water Authorities take over shared drains and sewers The ‘shared’ drains effectively become public rather than private.

This means that in the future, should a shared drain or sewer need work, that work will be carried out by the Authority at their expense. Previously, it would have been up to the affected homeowners to arrange repairs and payment between them.

Certain house purchases might have required extra legal documentation to ensure access to and the right to enter land to repair a shared drain. Certainly where work was required on shared facilities, it may have been difficult to get all affected residents to agree to work or pay their share. Hence repair work in the past could easily become a messy and private legal affair, costly for all concerned.

The new adoption rules will do away with all that uncertainty in the future – especially for prospective house purchasers, previously put off by the thought of shared sewers and all the ‘legal’ problems that could have entailed.

One other effect of the changes will be the building of conservatories and extensions which are sited over shared drains or sewers.

Documents suggest that the permission of the drain owners (in this case the local Water Authority) will have to be gained first but how will that work? Will it delay projects and do the Authorities have any mechanism in place for such ‘requests’?.

It sounds like such building work will be extremely limited.

Although it’s unclear, it’s not unreasonable to expect the Authority to compensate for any damage or demolition to access a shared drain, if the structure was built before the 1st October 2011 date. Property experts are warning homeowners to carefully document build and installation dates of extensions and conservatories etc if they believe their home extends over a shared drain or sewer.

Current legislation states you must not build over a public drain or sewer without permission.

So if your planning a conservatory or extension, and you think it may be built over a shared drain / sewer, then the time to act is now, before the new regulations come into force.

The new bureaucracy could provide lengthy delays to such home improvements, especially as there’s little apparent preparation for how such requests, after the 1st October, will be dealt with.

Those installation and building companies that have already tackled projects involving public sewers / drains report that it’s normal for a minimum 3mtr easement distance, and that some have been asked to excavate pipes for visual inspection prior to permission being given.

The double glazing industry is already calling for some form of self-governed members scheme to allow ‘members’ to carry our drain work themselves. Presently, only Water Authority approved contractors can carry out sewer work – expensive and of course you’re project’s timeframe is then at their mercy rather than your own installation company’s.

This story first appeared in our regular weekly homeowner newsletter, dated 11th July 2011. Click here to read the full newsletter.

photo credit: david blackwell

48% of all onshore wind farm applications rejected

Even if you’re not a tree hugging environmentalist, you can’t have failed to notice that much of the energy headlines are being dominated by the push for renewable forms of energy production.

The Governments practically ramming solar energy down homeowners throats with pay back tariff incentives, which has also caught the eye of investors, who’ve started offering free solar panels, in exchange for the homeowner renting out their roof to the installation companies.

But there’s more to renewables than just solar.

On-shore and more noticeably, off-shore wind turbines are also producing measurable amounts of clean energy for the UK.

These large scale (and small scale) producers are critical if the UK is to meet it’s carbon reduction targets – agreed limits with the rest of Europe with a strict deadline (which looks every further in jeopardy).

However, all is not well.

The Birmingham Post revealed how nearly half of all on-shore wind turbine installations were turned down at the planning stage last year – the exact figure being 48%.

This is a significant and worrying increase from the 33% rejected in 2009.

Most of the rejections stemmed from public opposition to what is seen as an unwelcome blight on a local landscape.

Now a commercial law firm has warned that ‘Town Halls’ may not be seeing the bigger picture, when upholding local interests and denying wind turbine applications.

Development companies are not lying down though, concerned that they’re not getting a “balanced hearing”. “National interest is being over-ridden by local concerns”.

What do you think? Have you recently fought to get a proposed wind turbine application refused? Should all turbines be sited off-shore?

photo credit: incase

Campaign to reduce planning red tape on solar panels

The “chaos surrounding solar panel installations” could soon be cleared up as Ministers pledge to tackle the planning red tape.

That’s according to an article on Heating and who cite several local councils who’ve insisted homeowners obtain planning permission for solar panels, where none was required.

Government guidance currently states that planning permission is not required unless the property is a listed building or within a conservation area.

Building regulations are not needed as long as Government Competent Person Scheme contractor is used.

Solar companies are welcoming the news that Ministers are finally getting involved, and hope that once and for all, the confusion for homeowners, installers and local councils will be cleared up.

Remember if you’re planning a solar panel installation to take advantage of the Governments feed-in-tariffs, you must use a FiT accredited installer, or at least get the installation ‘signed off’ by an approved installer.

photo credit: liz west

Why so much negativity over Wind Power?

I can’t be the only one?

I’ve noticed, of late, that there seems to be a lot of stories and articles regarding wind turbines, that have really called into question the usefulness of wind power as a viable renewable alternative to our energy problems.

On the face of it, what could be simpler?

The wind blows, turns the blades which drive a mechanism which converts revolutions to electricity which is then sent off to the Grid.

The reality seems to be far from simple.

For starters, there’s been lots of headlines about the small amounts of useful energy actually produced by wind farms with some suggesting that energy production has fallen.

This has been blamed on too much (or too little) wind, too much and the turbines overload the system and have to be switched off. Too little and well, that’s pretty obvious.

Then there’s the costs involved of siting large scale installations off-shore, and the dangers of working in such environments.

On land, wind turbines fair little better, having planning applications routinely objected to or denied.

And some are even claiming detrimental health caused by living too near to existing wind farms.

So are the days of wind turbines numbered? With so much adversity (both human and logistical), it would be easy to assume that.

What do you think?

photo credit: lance cheung

Planning permission for solar panels.

Generally, (your solar panel installer will be able to advise you further), you won’t need planning permission for solar panels on the roof of your property, providing they don’t extend beyond the original plane of the roof or exceed the height of the original roof at it’s highest point.

But what if you live in a conservation area?

You’ll have to apply for planning permission, but providing the panels aren’t visible from the main highway or thoroughfare and don’t extend beyond the original plane of the roof, you shouldn’t have too many problems.

Many councils are committed to increasing the usage of renewables and cutting CO2 targets. So if your original application is turned down, it may be worth appealing against the decision.

The appeal process can be lengthy but ultimately rewarding if your application is upheld.

If your property is a listed building, then you’ll also need listed buildings consent, which is usually based on whether the panels are detrimental to the appearance or character of the property.

Solar Panel Quoter can help by not only providing you with an instant online installation quote, but also by recommending local installation companies that will have an in-depth knowledge of the areas particular planning issues, and if necessary, be able to help you with your planning application.

*This article first appeared in our weekly homeowner newsletter dated 23 May 2011. Click here to read the full newsletter.

Permeable paving doesn’t limit your options

Permeable paving has come very much to the fore as local authorities insist on any new driveway or hard standing surface between your property and the highway being constructed of a permeable surface.

Permeable surfaces allow rainwater to drain through rather than run off into already over-pressed road and verge drainage systems.

Non-permeable surfaces increase the risk of localised flooding and carry any driveway spills of pollutants – oil and other mechanical fluids – directly into local waterways, posing a threat to wildlife and the environment as well as making water filtration plants work harder.

However, being permeable doesn’t mean your choice of surface is greatly reduced. These days, there are a number of professionally fitted options including permeable block pavers, concrete blocks and even permeable ‘tarmac’.

Gravel and so called grass pavers (where the grass/soil is contained within a concrete cell structure) are also excellent permeable surface choices.

Some resin-bound surfaces are also permeable.

If you’re interested in saving and retaining rainwater, then permeable driveway construction can still include traps to feed into your water storage tanks. If you don’t want a permeable surface, then drainage and disposal of surface water will be key elements – especially as you’ll need planning permission for a non-permeable surface.

SInce 2008, rules have been in force regarding permeable surfaces. Even if you’re replacing an existing area of driveway or hard standing (like a patio), you’ll need to use a permeable solution.

Latest guidelines suggest any non permeable hard surface area over 5sq metres will require planning permission – something your preferred paving contractor should be able to help you with quite easily. Permeable surfaces allowing rainwater to drain through naturally will not normally require planning permission but if in doubt, check with your preferred driveway/paving contractor or local planning authority for guidance before starting.

Failure to adhere to planning regulations could come back to haunt you in the future – especially if you come to sell the property.

It’s worth noting that Scotland and Wales may have their own regulations – the planning regulations referred to in our article applying to England only. As far as we are aware, the regulations in England only apply to driveways or other hard standing areas on the front of your property or land between the house and the public highway.

Don’t forget, you can get an instant online driveway, patio or path quote from Paving Quoter – salesman free quotes.

This article first appeared on our weekly homeowner newsletter dated 16h May 2011. Click here to read the full newsletter.

Adding a conservatory to a listed building

Owners of listed buildings will be well aware that certain restrictions will probably apply to any major home improvement like fitting double glazing etc but there are also regulations in place for conservatories too.

It seems the chief areas of concern are the size of the planned conservatory (in relation to the existing floor-plan of the house barring any previous extensions) and the appearance being in keeping with the overall property and in particular the elevation that the conservatory is joining onto.

You may also find that permission is only given for wooden conservatories, however it’s always worth checking with your local planning office in advance or indeed your local conservatory companies. They may have experience of installing on similar properties to yours in the area, and as such may well be able to suggest designs and features that will gain planning consent.

Here are a few tips to consider.

Think about a physical doorway between the conservatory and the rest of the house. If you’re thinking of a more open plan, flowing floor space, adding a doorway can help your conservatory be considered as a conservatory rather than a full extension.

Size matters. We’ve seen articles which suggest that considering the ‘flow’ of room sizes with a natural progression towards smaller rooms the further back you go can aid a planning application. Lantern style conservatories (where there’s a second tier of roof/glass) may also make your application harder.

Don’t choose an overly fussy design. Your application will be more successful if your planned conservatory is in keeping with the period appearance and features of your home. Some standard conservatory designs can appear fussy and overly detailed. Wood conservatories are usually favoured more because they usually have slimmer frames, compared to the more ‘box-like’ construction of a upvc conservatory, and detailing can be smaller in appearance, but modern upvc frames are always progressing and shouldn’t be discounted that easily.

Shop around. As we’ve mentioned, a local conservatory company may have more local knowledge, useful for suggesting designs and features which will help meet planning applications. They may have already installed similar structures on other properties in the area and be uniquely aware of what is usually allowed and what is not.

Be prepared to ‘negotiate’ on the finished size of your planned conservatory, even if that means changing the build / design style.

Window-Quoter has access to 100’s of local conservatory companies, specialising in hardwood, upvc and aluminium. You can get a rough expectation of cost based on your own measurements before having to contact any companies. What’s more, you can use our free matching service to locate the very conservatory companies you seek, without obligation.

As with any improvement or alteration work on a listed property or one within a heritage or conservation area, it’s vital to get all the proper consents before starting any work.

photo credit: Home Improvement Quotes

This story first appeared in our weekly homeowner newsletter – week beginning Monday 13th December 2010 – click here to read the newsletter in full.

Home Improvements that don’t need planning permission (usually)

If you’ve been thinking about a new porch or a conservatory, or perhaps converting your loft or building an extension, the chances are the thought of having to get planning permission first has put you right off the idea.

What you may not have realised is that many home improvement and building projects don’t require planning permission, provided a few simple rules are followed. If in doubt, your local planning office will be able to advise or ask your chosen installer / contractor – they should know what’s allowed and what isn’t.

The Government has relaxed the planning rules on what is ‘permitted development’, in an effort to remove much of the red tape surrounding home improvements. You’ll still need to comply with building regulations though.

For example, you’ve probably noticed one or two new porches appearing in your neighbourhood. The good news is that for any porch that’s under 3 square meters in floor size, planning isn’t required. The rule used to be that it couldn’t project more than a metre from the front of the house – that may have changed but always check with your preferred installer.

Converting your loft into a usable everyday family room also doesn’t require planning permission. This includes fitting Velux windows, although check with your conversion company as these may have to face away from the street facing side of your home.

If you need a little more room and have been thinking about an extension, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that a single storey extension doesn’t require planning permission if you’re extending up to 15% (70 cubic metres) or less of your home’s original floor space. This doesn’t include previous extensions. You can’t build higher than 4 metres (for a pitched roof) or 3 metres (for a flat roof) and the extension shouldn’t ‘move’ your home closer to a road.

You can also build on top of an existing garage as long as it doesn’t go any higher than your existing roof, and obeys the same boundary restrictions.

Dreaming of new windows and doors? They don’t need planning permission either, including turning existing windows into bay or bow windows. If you’re after a conservatory, then the rules are usually the same for a single storey extension, particularly regarding nearness to surrounding boundaries. Again, your installer will be able to advise you further.

So, there’s lots of improvements you can get straight on with, although it should be noted that if you live in a listed building or a conservation area etc, then there may well be a few ‘hoops to jump through’ in order to get permission to carry out any of the improvements we’ve mentioned above as well as a few we haven’t. And because there’s no guarantee that permission will be forthcoming, you should never engage a contractor or start work before obtaining permission.

You’ve heard the story of the Farmer who applied for permission to build a home on the site of a static caravan and who was refused permission? He surrounded the caravan with bales of straw and secretly demolished the caravan and built the house in its place. Much later, he removed the bales of straw.

It was only when he was overheard bragging about his achievement by a local planning officer that he was ‘found out’ and ordered to knock down the bungalow.

photo credit: gareth davies

Planning rejections could delay Norfolk offshore wind farm by a year

New Energy Focus reported that a planning application for a substation – a vital component of a proposed 560MW off-shore wind farm off the Norfolk coast – has been rejected by the local council.

This is despite the go-ahead being given to the offshore farm itself as well as the point where the power cabling comes ashore (in a separate application).

The developers will be appealing against the decision on plans which included a 20 acre woodland being planted to hide the development from the surrounding environment, and after the site had been “carefully chosen” over a 100 similar sites under consideration, for the lowest overall environmental impact.

The process of appeal is likely to delay the development by a year, developers admitted.

Read the full article here.

photo credit: tpholland. Note* Not a picture of the actual chambers or council involved in the planning decision surrounding this article.