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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Are we ready to scrap democracy when it comes to local services and just pay as you go?

Interesting comment piece lifted from today’s Times (thank you).  It only discusses refuse collections, but should it be applied to every service we receive?  If the public just paid the going rate for the services they receive, with the private sector running things for profit, there would be no need for any political involvement.

Just as you now complain to ‘the company’ when the service isn’t up to scratch, you would then complain to the organisation that runs the refuse collection service, or whatever other service it is.  What response you get, is of course another matter.  After all, the person on the other end of the phone is in a ‘job’, not elected to a seat you can either vote to keep them in, or not.

However, the bigger problem for me with this proposal, is the same as happens whenever you outsource any public facing service – loss of flexibility and control.  Once the private sector get their hands on the contract,mother customer can so easily become the lamb to slaughter when it comes to changing circumstances.  Anything that’s not in the contract comes with a price tag.  There’s nothings wrong with that in itself, after all they are running a business not a charity.

So as long as the public understand that’s how things work and there’s very little politicians can do about it without increasing the budget for the contract, it’s fine.  Unfortunately, the public seldom do and the politicians are therefore get the flak.  The alternative of course, is that the contract ends up being more costly than it needed to be, just to build in the contingency funds needed to cover for the unknown and offer the desired flexibility.  What follows of course is the potential for the contractor to exploit that flexibility whenever the opportunity arises, more often than not to their own ends.

I take particular issue with one of the commentators suggestion.  That having taken away the ability to provide the service to a standard that is universal and consistent for the local community, the council’s role would then become that of enforcer against those who refused to conform to the new arrangement and in fact chose to save money by not disposing of their rubbish often enough.

If nothing else, two things are clear. This gentleman has never been a councillor, he’s a business man first and first foremost with little, or no understanding of the public service ethic.

Dump the idea of council-controlled bin collection, it’s time to privatise

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Pundits and politicians have been seeking to interpret the results of last week’s local elections. This has increasingly involved contorted meta-analyses whereby the challenge is not so much to look at the electoral outcomes themselves, but to compare the tallies with the degree of optimism or pessimism expressed by each party before polling day.

“Expectations management” has therefore become a necessary tool in the armoury of every spin doctor. If your party’s result is mediocre, but you persuaded people it would be pathetic, this is notched up as an electoral triumph. The consequence is that no one seems to agree objectively on who did well and who did badly or what Thursday’s poll means for the national political picture.

In one area, however, there has been an unbreakable consensus. The central explanatory force for many of the results was, apparently, the quality of local refuse collection. “Bin collection is fundamental,” Tom Brake, a Lib Dem MP, asserted in a television interview to knowing nods from his fellow panellists. “This was about bins not Brexit,” insisted Anna Soubry, a Tory MP, without challenge from the BBC’s interviewer. If the English electorate really did cast their ballots in an attempt to optimise the efficiency of the emptying of dustbins, they have acted in a rational, albeit rather narrow, fashion. Our local councils do not have any direct influence on whether we stay in a customs union with the EU, but they are responsible for picking up our rubbish.

What we should be asking is whether we really need refuse collection to continue to be a competence of municipal government at all or whether we can rely on the open market providing a better service. We don’t troop down to a church or school hall every four years to vote on how our council should provide us with an electricity supply or a telephone connection, so why should we entrust them with picking up our bins?

Perhaps this core responsibility of local government has been with us so long that we have become inured against questioning it. The Public Health Act 1875 first made it a legal obligation for councils to empty bins. In 1936, this statutory duty was strengthened to insist collections must be weekly. That specific requirement was relaxed in 1974 and the frequency with which our bins are emptied has continued to be a highly charged campaigning issue. Latest figures show that about 1 million households, and over 2.5 million residents, are forced to accept rubbish collections only every three or four weeks. The proportion of homes receiving weekly collections has fallen by more than a third since the turn of the decade. Many will point to the squeeze on local government financing, but surely improved technologies should be enabling councils to achieve more with less?

On the face of it, there are some credible reasons for refuse collection to be run by the public sector. First, it has the standard features of a natural monopoly. If a dumpster is travelling around a particular district anyway, then the associated costs of picking up all of the rubbish, rather than just from a proportion of residences, is fairly minimal. Second, there are obvious negative externality effects in play. Typically, I don’t much care how my neighbours arrange their household budgets, but if they do start to save money by allowing stinking refuse to pile up in their front garden, then my quality of life is impacted. The key question is whether new technologies and more imaginative public policy can overcome these inbuilt problems and allow a competitive market to solve the problem of collecting and disposing of household waste. The evidence is that they can.

About ten years ago, before the explosion of the gig economy, a research report by the neoliberal Adam Smith Institute concluded that moving to a privatised “pay as you throw” approach would have widespread benefits. Rather than relying on their council tax to pay for local government bin collections, households would pay privately in broad proportion to the waste they generate and the frequency with which it is collected. The report concluded that the impact on incentives would lead to an increase in recycling by 50 per cent, a reduction in the need for landfill of about 16 per cent, a cut in carbon emissions of millions of tonnes a year and a reduction in average bills. With the enhanced ability to transmit and collect data that we now have in 2018, these improvements would be likely to be even greater today.

New technologies could also help overcome fears that some people might be tempted to save money by fly tipping or allowing enormous amounts of refuse to build up before arranging a collection. Households could be charged with a specific minimal legal duty akin to the requirement for drivers to have basic motor insurance. It would be far easier to spot which homes had gone for many weeks without their rubbish being picked up than it would have been a decade or two ago. Councils might still be charged with carrying out appropriate enforcement processes, but this doesn’t mean they should be in control of the practicalities of collecting waste.

In a world in which we can book a taxi or order a takeaway meal and expect delivery within a matter of minutes, we can surely find a way to unleash the forces of the market to find cheaper and smarter ways to handle waste collection and disposal.

Politicians of all stripes have been insisting that a key driver of last Thursday’s vote was the electorate’s approach to “bread and butter issues”. The catchphrase is, of course, a misnomer. Fortunately, our bread and butter are provided through market mechanisms and not by local government bureaucracies. In a more rational world, we would be treating bin collections in the same way.

Mark Littlewood is director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Twitter: @MarkJLittlewood

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.

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.

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

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.