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.

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Network Rail has no interest in our traffic issues

Recently the local press published a letter suggesting that South Holland District Council could somehow have required the rail companies to do something other than what they eventually did with the line through Spalding.

I did send the newspaper a response, as the writer did raise a number of valid questions that needed answering.  To date, this has not been published.

Dear sir,

Further to Mr Delve’s letter re traffic grid lock in Spalding being caused by increased use of the rail line. He refers to a rail loop proposal and asks why the council didn’t require Network Rail to build this, rather than carry out the upgrade work that allowed for the increased rail traffic.

If only it were that easy. The ‘rail loop’ he refers to, was in fact a protected corridor identified by the district council in an early plan. Its inclusion was more in hope than anticipation, that the rail company would see the logic in bypassing a town centre with four level crossings and no bridges, at some point in the future.

As the local planning authority, South Holland would never have been under any illusion that it could compel Network Rail to do anything other than the Railways Act allows it to; upgrade the existing line, whatever the impact. Even our encouragement for the development of a Rail Freight Interchange, failed to prompt the company into becoming more engaged.

Since the original upgrade proposals became known to South Holland DC, the council has made every effort to reduce the impact. First in meetings with Railtrack, when proposals included the potential for level crossing closures of up to 40 minutes in the hour. We also looked at the potential for a road bridge on Winsover Road. Then with Network Rail, a company that regrettably, has been somewhat less forthcoming.

We are now working in partnership with Lincolnshire County Council and local developers, to progress the delivery of the Spalding Western Relief Road. This road is one of only four strategic road projects in the county council’s local transport plan.

Working with LCC we successful bid for £12m from central Government, to support major housing delivery projects, a crucial element of Spalding Western Relief Road scheme.

Cllr Roger Gambba-Jones
Cabinet member for Place
South Holland District Council

Ministers’ ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude to councils must end

Copied from LG online
8 MARCH, 2018 BY NICK GOLDING

COMMENT
All too often the government’s attitude to local government can be categorised as “out of sight, out of mind”. The shadow of Brexit’s cloak of doom obscures most things right now.

However, local government made a high-profile sortie to the front of the collective ministerial consciousness earlier this week – when Sajid Javid and Theresa May lambasted the sector for its apparent failure to ensure homes get built.

While some councils do block too many new homes, scores of headlines relating to “nimby councils” were not a fair reflection of where culpability lies for failure to address the housing crisis. “Land-banking developers” and “ineffective ministers” surely merit far harsher headlines.

In her showpiece housing speech, the prime minister legitimately espoused the benefits of homeownership among the (relatively) young. However, she has become increasingly blind to the plight of more vulnerable younger people. Many have basic unmet needs as a result of austerity.

Warning more top-tier councils could follow Northamptonshire
LGC analysis shows an astonishing 63% of area reviews of special educational needs and disabilities provision undertaken in the past year have uncovered weaknesses. It is not that councils do not regard these services as important, but they simply lack the proper resources to offer the service levels they desire. SEND services, like a myriad of other areas of council provision, are deteriorating due to funding cuts – but the government continues to look the other way.

Ministers need to be a willing to accept responsibility for the tough stuff as they are willing to dole out the blame.

Evidence of the scale of local government’s financial crisis comes today as the National Audit Office reports on the sector’s financial health. The spending watchdog reveals that more than a fifth of top-tier councils are running through their reserves at such a rate that they are set to follow Northamptonshire CC in issuing a section 114 notice within the next five years. Authorities are in an impossible situation, buffeted by rising demand for services on one side and reduced funding on the other.

Councils’ plight is growing ever greater, as is the government’s inability to appreciate the scale of the challenge. In response to the NAO review, a government spokesman trotted out all the usual lines about the recent finance settlement striking “a balance between relieving growing pressure on local government and ensuring hard-pressed taxpayers do not face excessive bills” and how councils are getting “a real-terms increase in resources over the next two years”. The NAO’s research suggests a far more negative picture.

We need more straight-talking honesty from our ministers. They need to be as willing to accept the responsibility for the tough stuff – the devastating impact on services of austerity – as they are willing to dole out the blame.

In something of a breath of fresh air, Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government minister Heather Wheeler this week said she would resign if rough sleeping worsens. If her ministerial colleagues are so certain they’re getting the balance right on council funding, they should make similar commitments to resign in the event of a spate of Northamptonshires.

At last, somebody puts in print my own thoughts exactly

Copied from Sunday Telegraph 31 Dec 2017

Let those filling up drunk tanks pick up the tab by Daniel Hannan

Shakespeare, and most likely Falstaff – played above by Sir Antony Sher – would recognise modern-day attitudes to public drinking CREDIT: ROBBIE JACK/CORBIS
The announcement that “drunk tanks” may be rolled out across the UK has prompted amused headlines around the world. I’m afraid we have something of a global reputation when it comes to alcohol abuse. “This heavy-headed revel east and west makes us traduced and tax’d of other nations,” as the poet says. “They clepe us drunkards”.
In our own day, as in Shakespeare’s, we display an unusual attitude to inebriation. In most countries, being drunk in public is disgraceful. The notion that young Brits boast about how hammered they got the night before is met with incredulity in much of Europe.
But here’s the thing. Contrary to the impression you’d get from this week’s headlines – or, indeed, any headlines over the past decade – boozing is becoming less of a problem in the UK. Take any measure you like – binge drinking, overall consumption, alcohol-related crimes. All are in decline.
Why? Partly because, in November 2005, we ended the rule that forced pubs to stop serving at 11pm. It was controversial at the time. The tabloids prophesied societal collapse. The Daily Mail warned against “unbridled hedonism, with all the ghastly consequences that will follow.” The Sun foresaw a “swarm of drunken youngsters.” The Royal College of Physicians predicted “more excess and binge drinking, especially among young people.”
In the event, the opposite happened. Binge drinking among 16 to 24-year- olds sank from 29 to 18 per cent. Overall alcohol sales declined by 17 per cent. Alcohol-related hospital admissions fell sharply. It turned out that forcing drinkers to beat the bell, racing to get a final pint in at last orders, was not a sensible way to discourage consumption. Giving people more responsibility, on the other hand, encouraged them to behave more responsibly.
I suspect the creation of innumerable virtual universes over the past decade has also played its part. Although parents complain about how much time their children spend on screens, that is time that previous generations often spent on more directly harmful addictions. The rise of online gaming and social media has probably also played a part in the reduction of teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – two other developments that bear little relation to popular worries.
The increased use of police facilities or dedicated buses as places where drunks can dry out should be seen for what it is. Not as a response to some new epidemic of crapulous misbehaviour, but as a sensible way of ensuring that A & E facilities are there for the genuinely ill and injured. Being drunk, after all, is not a disease, but a consequence of choices. It is quite wrong to load the cost onto the taxpayer. The people filling the drunk tanks should be presented with the bill for their stay after they sober up.
The Englishman may, as Shakespeare put it, drink with facility the Dane dead drunk, and sweat not to overthrow the Almain. The least he can do is pick up his tab.

Housing – not just a crisis of quantity

We will never reverse the low quality of the housing stock now being built in this country, until we confront the issues that caused it and are continuing to encourage it.

  1. Right to Buy – Since it’s introduction in 1980 by Margaret Thatcher’s government, Right to Buy has removed over 2 million social housing units from the system. Those in the most desirable areas, such as central London and the towns and villages of the Home Counties will never be replaced like for like, because the land is no longer available.  Even were any existing non-residential sites become available, given the open market value of housing in high demand areas, the private sector will always ensure that it outbid the local council. The Homes and Communities Agency, funded by DCLG, would be equally hard pressed to compete given its relatively limited budget for such uses.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/aug/26/right-to-buy-margaret-thatcher-david-cameron-housing-crisis

The impact of this loss of affordable housing has forced ordinary, working class people further and further out to the edges of our large urban areas, in virtually every area of the country.

  1. Buy to Rent – this triggered a major building programme, which in turn encouraged the developers to produce a large number of lower quality off the shelf housing units, to fill the ever increasing deficit created by the RTB policy.

How many landlord properties are there currently in the market?

Landlords – the stats

– The number of landlords in the UK increased by 7% to reach 1.75 million in 2013-2014

  • In 2014, two million private landlords owned and let five million properties in the UK (Paragon)

Tenants – the stats

– In 2014-2015, 19% of households – equivalent to 4.3 million – were renting privately (English Housing Survey)

– The number of private tenants in England reached 3.84 million in 2011-2012 (English Housing Survey)

– Some 59% of 20 to 39 year-olds in England will be privately renting by 2025 (PwC)

– In 2015 there were 5.4 million households in the UK’s PRS, a number which will grow to 7.2 million by 2025 (PwC)

– In 2015 the PRS accounted for 22% of all UK households (ResPublica)

(homelet.co.uk/letting-agents/news/article/how-many-landlords-and-tenants-are-there-in-the-uk)

  1. Help to Buy – combined with the difficulties experienced by first time buyers in obtaining finance from the normal sources, has seem public money, that should have been spent on replacing the depleted social housing stock, sucked out of the system and placed straight into the pockets of the landowners and developers who are already applying a stranglehold on housing supply via their strategic land holdings and failure to follow through on extant planning permissions.

Even worse, the rules for getting money from the scheme have now been made so lax that, according to the government’s own survey, thousands of those who have used it, didn’t actually need to and could have purchased their own home without financial help from the taxpayer.

The government now plans to compound this, by placing a further £10 billion within their reach, while putting only £2 billion into replacing our severely depleted social housing stock.

The current proposed government funding of £2billion for affordable housing and a further £10billion to extend the Help to Buy scheme, is completely upside down and will simply continue the current lack of supply and lack of delivery we are experiencing.

Social Housing waiting lists

In 2016 there were over 1.2m on council house waiting lists.  This figure is actually down on previous numbers, because of what some might suggest is an attempt by central government to use local government as a way of covering up their failings.  By requiring a tightening up of the criteria for eligibility, tens of thousands of those previously entitled to be listed, have simply disappeared.  These families and of course single under 25’s, have been forced into the hands of what can be an over-priced and sub-standard private sector rented housing market, where security of tenure virtually non-existent and standard of accommodation often a lottery.

https://www.theguardian.com/housing-network/2016/may/12/council-waiting-lists-shrinking-more-need-homes

By 2021, a quarter of the British population will be in rented accommodation.  Much of it private and with potentially many of these tenants struggling to meet the ever increasing rent bill.

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jun/12/one-in-four-households-in-britain-will-rent-privately-by-end-of-2021-says-report

Unless government allows councils to begin and then sustain a major council house building programme, the quantity of housing will always be squeezed by a profit driven market.  Not only will this continue the opportunities for exploitation of tenants, it will also ensure that developers are able to build to the lowest standards, safe in the knowledge that, no matter what they build, it will always be a sellers market.

South Staffs – A totally predictable ‘clusterf###k’ Local Plan Examination

Lots of good points in here, worthy of note for anybody working on their Local Plan now. Too late for us to make any changes (not that we need any, actually that’s up to the inspector to decide for us) as our examination in public starts on 10 Oct in Boston. It’s a public meeting so anybody can attend and listen to the proceedings.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

Amongst the names of local authorities that are heading for disaster and have plunged over the cliff despite all warning there are a few sad cases, one that always come up are the likes of St Albans, South Oxfordshire, Erewash and yes South Staffs – all of which think they have a duty to obstruct and stick two fingers up to all of their neighbors.

They have taken advantage of the fact they have a core strategy (without allocations) adopted in 2012 before any overspill form any adjoining area, Black Country, Brum, Stafford, Cannock Chase or Wrekin was set; taking advantage of recent case law (including Cooper Estates v Tunbridge Wells BC [2017; EWHC 224 (Admin)]; Oxted Residential Ltd v Tandridge DC [2016; EWCA Civ 4140]; Gladman Development Ltd v Wokingham BC [2014; EWHC 2320 (Admin)];) that an allocations plan following a recent core strategy does not have to examine…

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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.”