Private approved inspectors ‘insulted’ by Hackitt report

Copied from Building Magazine

 

grenfell

Inspectors offended by recommendation in report that they be excluded from high-rise residential

Private approved inspectors have said the recommendation in last week’s Hackitt review that they be excluded from providing building control services on high-rise residential buildings is “unacceptable in a public report”.

Paul Wilkins, the chair of the Association of Consultant Approved Inspectors (ACAI), which represents the profession, said its members were “insulted and highly offended” by the report’s implication they would approve sub-standard work in order to get the next job.

He added: “To have their professionalism and ethics questioned in this way, with no evidence, has the potential to damage reputations and is unacceptable in a public report.”

Wilkins plans to write to Dame Judith Hackitt to ask for the evidence that approved inspectors accepted lower standards of workmanship.

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Investigation: why so many boilers froze this winter — and who is to blame for this cold-snap scandal

This is a worthwhile story in itself, becuase I suspect a lot of householders might not be aware of this simple fix, along with the shortcoming in their boiler installation.

However, that’s not the main reason for copying this item from the Sunday Times.  Towards the bottom of the article, there’s the following paragraph:

‘In response to The Sunday Times, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that rules published in 2005 make clear that “any external condensate pipework must be insulated to minimise the risk of freezing”. It stated that it is the job of local authorities to apply building regulations and inspect installations.’

Assuming that the last statement is accurate, it shows a remarkable lack of understanding by MHCLG, of even the basics of how the building control system works in England.  So, just for their benefit.

A brief history of Private Building Control
Back in 1984, a body called the Construction Industry Council (CIC) was formed to allow the privatisation of Building Control. This central government organisation regulates Private Building Control and approves inspectors to carry out this role.
The first company to gain CIC approval was the National House Building Council (NHBC) in the 1990s. There are now more than 150 companies nationwide who offer Building Control services for residential or commercial properties.
What’s the difference between Private and Local Authority Building Control?
Your Local Authority is a non-profit organisation, so it is likely to charge less than Private Building Control. On the other hand, if you can pay a bit more for Private Building Control, you get a dedicated inspector for your project.
When taking a straw poll of other surveyors, many seem to agree that the Local Authority Building Control officers have a reputation for being more independent and thorough; for instance, with more on-site inspections than Private Building Control. Contractors may understandably prefer the ‘lighter touch’ of the latter, which can mean fewer and less thorough inspections. This can give obvious advantages to contractors but may not be in the best interests of the client.  
Reference:  http://www.grumittwade.com/private-building-control-local-authority-building-control/

Copied from Sunday Times on line

Investigation: why so many boilers froze this winter — and who is to blame for this cold-snap scandal
Bruce Millar and Jonathan Leake. April 1 2018, 12:01am,
The Sunday Times Home and garden
The flow never bothered me anyway… Unless you want to live in an ice palace, you might want to insulate your pipework
The flow never bothered me anyway… Unless you want to live in an ice palace, you might want to insulate your pipework

A simple plumbing problem left tens of thousands of households without heat and hot water when temperatures plummeted last month — just when the nation needed them most. The issue? The intense cold froze water in pipes that drain condensation from boilers — which then automatically switched off in their droves.

Cue no heating or hot water… but white-hot anger. At the peak of the cold spell, on March 1, the gas emergency helpline — which is supposed to be reserved for serious concerns such as gas or carbon monoxide leaks — received 40,000 calls in a single day.

Plumbers were the main beneficiaries. The London firm Pimlico Plumbers, owned by Charlie Mullins, the high-profile Tory donor and anti-Brexit campaigner, did record business, taking 25,485 calls in the peak week and making 900 visits on the busiest day, at charges ranging from a minimum of £100 to £220 for callouts after midnight. All of this helped the firm to earn £4m last month — £1m more than in March 2017.

It happened to one of us, too — and to about 10% of the parents in my son’s year at school, Bruce writes. When I battled home through the snow from work, I found the boiler switched off and the radiators fast losing their heat. I cursed and called a local plumber, whose automatic message informed me that demand was high, and asked me to call back when the weather had cleared.

I then spent £20 registering for an online plumbing advice line, but there was a backlog of queries. Finally I checked the website of my boiler’s manufacturer, Vaillant, which told me how to solve the problem.
The remedy turned out to be simple. In most cases, it is sufficient to pour hot (but not boiling) water on the frozen pipe, wait for the blockage to thaw out, then reset the boiler, which will fire up automatically. Being left without heat and hot water in the coldest weather is uncomfortable and distressing, expensive if callout fees are involved, and potentially dangerous. Ahead of the “big freeze” of 2010, the Department of Health and Social Care forecast as many as 30,000 additional deaths.

Has your boiler broken because of frozen pipes? Share your story

What is scandalous in 21st-century Britain is that this commonplace problem is predictable, unnecessary — and completely avoidable. Indeed, for the plumbing trade, it has become a regular cold-snap cash windfall.

Pimlico Plumbers, for example, noticed the red warning weather forecast , cancelled all leave and booked local accommodation so it could handle callouts around the clock. “It was stressful, but great for business at the same time,” one member of staff said.

Exactly the same problem with frozen condensate pipes was reported following icy spells in 2010 and 2014; on the second occasion, the British Standards Institute tightened up its guidelines to stress that: “Insulation does not give complete protection if the temperature continues at or falls further below freezing point. Consideration should be given to fitting a frost thermostat, which should be set to operate at a temperature of approximately 4C.” The institute can only make recommendations, however; it has no regulatory power.

Following pressure from The Sunday Times, a clearly embarrassed industry called an emergency “summit” last week to thrash out a unified response. Hosted at the headquarters of the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EAU) in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, it brought manufacturers and installers together with representatives of the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council (HHIC), the Association of Plumbers and Heating Contractors (APHC), and the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE).

In an admission of the industry’s failure to self-regulate, it was concluded that the problem was the fault of the government and a lack of oversight of building regulations. “From the feedback we have received, it has become clear that there was a significant proportion of installations that were not carried out to current standards and manufacturer’s instructions,” says Stewart Clements, director of the HHIC. “We believe it is time for the government to act.

“Greater enforcement and strengthening of the building regulations will reduce this risk of boiler condensate pipes freezing. We are calling on the government to make the necessary legislative changes.”

In response to The Sunday Times, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that rules published in 2005 make clear that “any external condensate pipework must be insulated to minimise the risk of freezing”. It stated that it is the job of local authorities to apply building regulations and inspect installations.

As the squabbling continues, thousands of householders and tenants will be left trying to avoid a repetition of the problem as early as tomorrow, with blizzards forecast in parts of the country.

The cheapest DIY approach is to buy a length of insulating foam to clad your pipe: it doesn’t look great, but then external pipework never has much aesthetic appeal. Then, when the cold bites, place your boiler on its maximum setting — turning down the room thermostats if necessary — and leave it on continuously, rather than using cost-saving on-off settings that may permit a build-up of ice.

Hot tips

Since 2005, every new gas boiler installed in the UK must be a condensing model: these are much more efficient (up to 90%, compared to 60% for older models), so reduce running costs. About half the country’s 26m households now have one and 1.5m are installed every year.

They work with flue gases at a lower temperature than earlier models – 50C, rather than 130C – and the process produces up to two litres an hour of acidic water, known as condensate, which must be carried away as waste in a non-corroding pipe.

Ideally, this condensate pipe should empty directly into the waste water system, inside the property. In some countries, including Germany, where many of the boilers are manufactured, this is the only permitted method of installation. In Britain, however, the condensate pipe can be run down the outside of the wall directly behind the boiler. This is often the easiest and cheapest way.

Pipes passing through unheated parts of a property, including attics, are prone to freeze and should be insulated. Running down the outside wall, exposed to cold winds, they are more vulnerable still. To reduce the chances of the pipe freezing, it should be vertical, at least 32mm in diameter, no more than three metres long and properly insulated or (expensively) fitted with a “trace heater” system.

National Planning Policy Framework revisions due any day now – here we go again?

Legal landscape: Let’s hope the revised NPPF can provide much-needed clarity
By Ian Graves

A revised National Planning Policy Framework could bring clarity to planning, says Ian Graves, but he fears government will avoid difficult decisions about green belt and neighbourhood planning.

Six years since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which saw 1,300 pages of planning regulations condensed into just 65, the government has confirmed its intention to publish a consultation draft of the revised framework this spring. The review will be welcomed by planners, developers and local authorities.

A lot has changed since 2012 and it’s time for national planning policy to catch up. The proposals in last year’s white paper Fixing Our Broken Housing Market, the written ministerial statements on small sites and housing land supply, and the growth of neighbourhood planning all need to be integrated into the framework.

The revised NPPF will no doubt also be a key tool in the government’s efforts to fulfil its pledge to deliver a million new homes by 2022. This is the chance for the government to have its say on contentious issues surrounding the interpretation of the current NPPF. Is the presumption in favour of sustainable development really intended to be a ‘golden thread’ running through the whole of the framework, or just paragraph 14? What are “relevant policies for the supply of housing”?

Interpretation has thus far been left to the courts, but it is now time for the government to let us know its views and intentions. The hope is that doing so will bring much-needed clarity – although, of course, some may say that a revised document will merely bring another round of arguments about what those new policies really mean.

“Many of the most sustainable locations for new homes to be built are in fact within green belt land”

A major change is likely to be the introduction of a standard methodology for the calculation of objectively assessed housing need, following the government’s consultation late last year.

The adoption of a standard method will introduce a new level of predictability, transparency and certainty to the process, which many will see as desirable. Certainly, the current system whereby individual local authorities can choose how to estimate housing need isn’t working.

However, many commentators have suggested that the method proposed by the government will lead to large regional disparities in objectively assessed need, with big increases in the South East and reductions in some parts of the North.

It also doesn’t appear that local authorities will be obliged to plan for the full figure arising from the new methodology, with the indication being that some sort of cap on any increase in housing numbers over that in the current plan is likely.

One issue that seems unlikely to be addressed is the contradiction in policy between the focus on increasing the numbers of houses being built and the supposed ‘strong focus’ on maintaining protection for the green belt. There seems little acknowledgement from ministers that a more sensible policy on the green belt is necessary if the housing crisis is to be tackled.

Many of the local authorities experiencing the greatest demand for housing also find themselves constrained by large areas of green belt. Many of the most sustainable locations for homes to be built are in fact within green belt.

The answer should lie in a sensible reappraisal of the function and purpose of the green belt, together with a limited release of suitable land for development. Sadly, politics seems to have trumped economics on this issue.

Similarly, the contradiction between the expansion neighbourhood planning and the imperative to increase housing numbers is also set to deepen. Although the government claims that neighbourhood development plans boost housing supply, many in the development industry are sceptical.

Those with direct experience often find that the effect is to stymie rather than encourage the building of homes. Continuing to increase the importance of neighbourhood plans is likely to exacerbate that effect.

We can only hope that the government chooses to take the bull by the horns and address some of these long-standing issues. An update to national policy is sorely needed. The development industry will be watching and waiting with interest.

Ian Graves is a legal director in the planning team at law firm Shakespeare Martineau

Buying property in Britain to get tougher for foreigners

I assume this is more about London than anywhere else in the country.  Even so, one has to wonder how it can possibly help deliver a single, genuinely affordable dwelling within the M25, for an ordinary working person, or family.

Taking highly expensive scarce housing out of wealthy foreign hands and placing into the welcoming arms of our domestic rich list, seems like another form of gerrymandering.  In this case, R.A. ther than manipulating electoral boundaries for political advantage, this could be seen as the manipulation of financial boundaries for political purposes.

How this will ensure that those needing to live in London in order to work, is a mystery and can only create more work for those lawyers expert in international property law.

intriguing comments by Luke Hall MP at the end of the article.  Given his relatively youth and inexperience as an MP, one can only assume that he has either personal experience, or received significant constituency pressure in this respect.

The watered down version now in place, doesn’t seem especially effective at addressing the issue of the many thousands of empty dwellings across the country.  Many of these are in some of the more high demand areas and attempts to prise them out of the hands of absent owners, or uncommunicative lawyers, is frustrating, time consuming and expensive.

Given the limited resources of the majority of councils and the likelihood that there will be more than enough longterm empty propertiesto be dealt with, Luke Hall appears to be making a great deal of noise about issues that would simply never arise.

Copied from Sunday Telegraph 24 September 2017

Home Affairs

By Ben Riley-Smith
FOREIGN buyers will face tougher restrictions on purchasing British property under Treasury plans to help first-time buyers.
Polices could be announced within weeks as getting younger people on to the housing ladder becomes a major part of the Conservatives’ autumn 
 political drive.
“There’s an issue in London with a large proportion of new-build flats being purchased off plan by, particularly, Far Eastern buyers: China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia,” a Whitehall source said.
“They are bought when the flats are still under construction, meaning first-time buyers don’t get a look-in. That is not just in central London, but in the suburbs and other cities such as Manchester.”
Number 10 and Treasury officials will discuss housing policy this week ahead of the Conservative Party conference in the first week of October and the Budget in November.

Other ideas in the running include accelerating the sale of government-owned land and easing the rules on building on brownfield sites to help boost supply.
Some Whitehall figures also back more borrowing to invest in housing. Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, has previously supported the move in public – though the Treasury is concerned about cost.
Theresa May wants her domestic policy agenda to dominate the party conference after delivering her speech in Florence on leaving the EU. Sources involved in the preparations said that housing is likely to become a big theme of the coming weeks as the Tories look to win back younger voters who backed Jeremy Corbyn in June.
Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, told Tory MPs at the 1922 Committee recently that he wanted to address the difficulty faced by first-time buyers.
He called for ideas to be submitted for the November Budget and – alongside student debt – identified it as an area the Tories must tackle to win back young voters. An ally of the Chancellor said he feared people in their twenties and thirties were being “left behind economically” and therefore “punished” the Tories, as the governing party, at the election.
Ministers have already announced “accelerated” plans for selling off Government land for housing, but some Tories feel that more could be done.
Land around railways, owned by the Ministry of Defence or part of the NHS estate is especially being considered by Treasury officials.
The developments come as the Conservatives launched an attack on a little-known Labour policy announced in its housing manifesto during the election.
Labour pledged to restore Empty Dwelling Management Orders – a controversial policy introduced by New Labour in 2006 but watered down by the Tories – to its full strength.
The change would empower councils to take over private homes that have been left empty for six months, rather than two years.
Luke Hall, the Tory MP for Thornbury and Yate, warned: “The return of John Prescott’s bullying powers would mean town hall bureaucrats seizing everyday homes in streets across the country, including those of recently deceased.
“Labour’s hard-Left agenda would entail widespread state confiscation of private property, targeting the elderly and the families.”

More interference in the planning system because the last piece hasn’t worked

There’s nothing here to suggest that this will cause a single new house to be built any quicker than it might otherwise be built under the system we had when we had regional plans and regional spatial strategies.

Eric Pickles must be so proud of himself.  He got a knighthood for convincing everybody to scrap something that was, admittedly unpopular with councillors in the Home Counties and high demand affluent areas.  In doing so, he effectively paralysed the planning system, leaving it to the mercies of his badly drafted developer’s charter, the National Planning Policy Framework.

Copied from The MJ.co.uk
Councils told number of homes they should build
By Dan Peters | 14 September 2017
Updated: 15 September 2017
The Government has told councils the number of homes it thinks they need to deliver every year as part of Whitehall plans to boost housing.

Proposals published by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) include a standard method for calculating councils’ housing need and an ‘indicative assessment’ for each authority.

The DCLG insisted its proposed system does not set targets but described the figures as a ‘starting point to ensure that it will be quicker for each local area to produce a realistic plan of its housing need’.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘We are not attempting to micro-manage local development.

‘We’re not dictating targets from on-high.

‘All we are doing is setting out a clear, consistent process for assessing what may be needed in the years to come.

‘How to meet the demand, whether it’s possible to meet the demand, where to develop, where not to develop, what to develop, how to work with neighbouring authorities and so on remains a decision for local authorities and local communities.’

The DCLG claimed councils in England currently spent an estimated £3m every year employing consultants to work out how many new homes were needed in their area.

Mr Javid continued: ‘This new approach will cut the unnecessarily complex and lengthy debates that can delay house building.

‘It will make sure we have a clear and realistic assessment of how many new homes are needed, and ensure local communities have a voice in deciding where they go.’

A DCLG spokeswoman added: ‘The proposed changes will help boost housing supply and improve affordability.

‘It will help ensure councils work to a consistent approach to plan for more homes in the right places.

‘This is a crucial first step in solving the country’s housing crisis.’

The DCLG also suggested that only those areas where local planning authorities were ‘delivering the homes their communities need’ would be entitled to increased planning fees.

Housing minister Alok Sharma said there would be a 20% planning application fee increase for local authorities that committed to investing the additional income in their planning department, with potentially a further 20% for councils that met demand.

Areas that struggle to meet their needs locally have been told they will ‘need to work with neighbouring councils to plan across a wider area’.

A public consultation will now run for eight weeks.

Housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, Cllr Martin Tett, said: ‘There could be benefits to having a standard approach to assessing the need for housing, but a formula drawn up in Whitehall can never fully understand the complexity and unique needs of local housing markets, which vary significantly from place to place.

‘Ultimately, we need a renaissance in council house building if we’re to deliver the affordable homes this country needs – national ambitions will not be realised without new freedoms and powers for councils.’

Chairman of the District Councils’ Network, Cllr John Fuller, expressed early concerns that a national formula ‘may never take into account all local constraints’.

He continued: ‘Our members will want to be reassured that where there are overriding environment or infrastructure constraints that this must be taken into account in the plan making process.

‘To deliver additional housing growth, district councils must be given greater fiscal freedom and incentives to truly unlock their potential.’

Sajid and Goliath – new house building targets

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-41279390

There’s a double whammy here for Sajid Javid.  I’ve said it before, and so have many smarter people than me; politicians and these days, councils, don’t build houses.

Imposing revised housing numbers on councils, already struggling to see delivery targets met, seems to be no more that an exercise in saying something for the sake of it.

The article already refers to the resistance that is likely to be seen from councils with a combination of high demand and very vocal resistance from their communities.  However, what about the inertia in the industry itself, either through the lack of sufficient financial returns, a lack of skilled labour, or a lack of access to funding, for those seeking their first home.

Sajid Javid can juggle with as many spreadsheets and produce as many top down polices as he likes.  However, if  he doesn’t put any money in to it, it will just be a piece of political posturing and the housing numbers Goliath will ultimately slay this well meaning David.

A welcome statement of the blindingly obvious

Successive governments have an unenviable track record of jumping in to the middle of problems and dealing only with the here and now and not the root causes.

The planning system is very much a victim of this knee jerk approach.  Labour bulldozed into it, with its impossible to produce Local Development Framework process, remnants of which still remain with us policy wise and on the ground, literally.

The Conservatives spent all of their time in opposition, listening to their grass roots members whinging on about the Labour government’s planning system and vowing to reform it as soon as they took back control.

This promise saw the demise of regional spatial strategies and the rise of the ludicrously described ‘streamlined’, National Planning Policy Frame, the NPPF.  This was claimed to bring us everything we ever wanted to know about planning, in 52 easy to read pages.  In reality,  every page contained footnotes leading to other planning documents, containing hundreds more pages.

The NPPF was quickly followed by a technical guidence of twenty plus pages, so that professional planners could actually make some sense of its vague and ambiguous statements.  It has also been followed by a number of ministerial and chief planner letters, offering yet further and necessary clarifications.  Then of course there’s the inevitable high court rulings that have occurred, because of the poor drafting and ambiguity of this badly drafted document.

However, none of this planning policy interference, has helped to deal with the issues raised in the article below.  The excuse used as always, is that such matters are best determined locally.  What they really mean is that government doesn’t want to upset the development industry, or be directly responsible for reducing the returns on land prices that come with planning permission.

Expecting individual local planning authorities, to build the evidence base required to prove that a development should be built in an attractive and user friendly way, is a nonsense.  The public often attack planners for not listening to local concerns, or of not using common sense when approving a development, because they don’t understand the severe constraints and limitations they are required to operate under.

Ugly housing is a product of many things, lazy and greedy developers, being only one.   Lazy and expedient politicians, unwilling to create effective national standards for room sizes, a requirement for internal and external storage spaces, minimum road widths, adequate levels of off street parking and high quality amenity space, are an even bigger cause.  Likewise, the use of parking courts and private drives, no matter the housing types, all add to the drop in the quality of housing development and a trend that can only lead to the building of the slums of the future.

latterly, the use of leasehold agreements for the purchase of family homes and the buy to let initiative, have ultimately damaged the establishment of traditional communities.  Such arrangements turn housing developments into nothing more than transit camps, full of people with little, or no interest in their local community and simply waiting to move on to the area, or property they really want.

Copied from Sunday Telegraph online Sunday 3 Sept 2017

PLANNING
Ugly new homes will create more Nimbys
By Edward Malnick and Steven Swinford
BRITAIN risks creating a new generation of Nimbys unless the Government stops “ugly” Sixties-style modernist designs being imposed on communities, a senior Tory MP will warn this week.
Neil Parish, the chairman of the environment select committee, will tell ministers that a drive to build a million more homes by the end of the decade risks “killing any sense of goodwill” in local communities if the new buildings are inappropriate. The MP, a former council planning officer, will suggest that parish councils and neighbourhood forums are given funding to draw up binding “design codes” based on ­input from residents to ensure new developments reflect their views.
His intervention comes after ­research uncovered concern across ­Britain about “poorly-built” and “unattractive” new properties appearing around the country.
The Conservative manifesto reaffirmed a pledge to build a million new homes by 2020. But there are fears among some MPs that the move could prompt a backlash in local communities if the homes are unsightly.
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, warned in July that the Government needed to “avoid the disastrous design choices of the past” in order to build “local support” for additional construction.
In a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday, Mr Parish will warn that some communities are “terrified” of new buildings “because they have seen how previous developments in the last 50 years have left communities with homes totally unsuitable for their area”. “If we fill our towns and cities with housing people feel is totally inappropriate for their area, we will kill any sense of goodwill,” Mr Parish is ­expected to say.
“We can’t go back to the mistakes of the Sixties and Seventies. It damaged trust in new housing for a generation.”
Research published last month found that 60 per cent of people feel there are too many “poorly-built, unattractive new-builds”. Two fifths of people feel that newly built properties are eyesores, according to the survey of 2,000 people.