Thursday 28 January 2010

Chichen and Egg

As we all know planning authorises are currently cash strapped and properly will be for the foreseeable future and as a result are not able to invest in infrastructure.  Without the infrastructure in place their hands are tied in permitting development, which in itself generates income for the Local Authority through Development Contributions... money that is meant to be used for the maintenance and provision of the said infrastructure.

We recently had a case, where a client wished to undertake a development in a reasonable sized town; from a planning perspective the proposal ticked all the boxes and was looked on favourably by the planners and sorted out many of their problems within the area, however a problem arose when it came to the infrastructure or the lack of capacity within the existing infrastructure. The Local Authority haven't the funding to upgrade the infrastructure, the client can't afford to, nor has access to funding to undertaken the necessary works to increase the capacity of the infrastructure to the required level of the Local Authority. The end result is no planning permission for the client, no contribution towards the upgrade of the infrastructure for the Local Authority meaning neither side wins.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Cottage Refurbishment

During the summer, we were asked to review an existing cottage located within the mountains, with the view to preparing some sketch plans for an extension and the refurbishment of the cottage. The brief required one double ensuire bedroom, a single bedroom, the retention of the origional sitting room, with its open fire and a large open plan  living space. The property was uniquely positioned in that it had spectacular views of the local mountain ranges in all directions, which the client wanted to capture.

We had proposed a contemporary style extension, which was well recieved by the client, unfortunatley the project hasn't proceeded any further to date.

Friday 8 January 2010

Development Land

Looking forward to 2010, I can see more planning applicants for undeveloped zoned land, as landowners try to ring fence zoning, particularly in anticipation of the revised Planning and Development Act/Regulations requiring justification of zoning of land and also NAMA.

During recent discussions, a planner advised that they felt there will be pressure put on to dezone lands not within control of NAMA, with a view to maintaining a higher value of the NAMA controlled lands. How that will work, will be quiet interesting,and I am not sure. I would image that there will be some lands that will end up under the control of NAMA, which are currently unzoned and to recoup some of its value, it will need to be zoned. I understand that there was significant amounts of unzoned land purchased around the country for substantial money by individual business men whom unfortunately now are insolvent.

While developers may be strapped for cash, it will be a case of them or their banks progressing things, and getting planning permission, otherwise they could be looking at, best case, a piece of very expensive farmland with a significant debt attached. Any site with a grant of permission for development on it, will be difficult to justify de-zoning of it, with possibly on exception, lands at high risk of flooding, but that's another days debate.

I also see more objections from local communities to developments or proposed developments on zoned lands, particularly were there is an oversupply of houses or unfinished developments, in fact the tread has already started.

I do expect that planning applications will become more complex for developments and won't be just a case of making an application with just architectural and engineering drawings and reports.

Developers and their agents will need to be innovative with their proposals. Low density serviced sites is one option, particularly in the more rural areas and appears to be acceptable to most planning authorities, in that it also allows a stick for the planning authority to further tighten restrictions on one off housing in the open countryside, as serviced sites become available for the self builder.

Thursday 7 January 2010

twenty ten

I returned back to work on Monday last and if I were to go on the first 2 hours in the office, as a sign of how things are to go for the coming year I’m in for a bad year. Firstly the heating wasn’t working, so you can image how cold the office was with temperatures of -4 C outside… old Georgian houses, aren’t noted for the insulation properties you know… it was a case of wearing my woolly heat for a few hours. To add to this I discovered the email was down and then none of printers were on line so I couldn’t print. I forgot to add that went I called to the local shop to get the local paper, containing two planning application adverts, they were sold out.

However by mid morning everything was sorted and I was back in Business… ok the office was still on the cold side, but temperatures were rising… well inside anyway and the technology was back on line and I had got copies of the local paper. All sorted.:)

Prospects of work for the year ahead were improving too as the day went on. Its looking like 2 projects of significant size (in today’s terms anyway) and budget are going to go ahead :)

Furthermore there’s been a few enquires about potential projects also already this week… OK nothing major, but still every little helps to quote one multinational’s catch phrase.

Yesterday I lodged my first Planning Application of 2010, an extension to the side of a dwelling. It will be interesting to see its reference number and if it will have been the first lodged to the planning authority for 2010, I would be very surprised if it’s outside of the first 3. It will be interesting to see the statistics for the amount of planning applications lodged last year….well done on 2007 and 2008 figures I would image.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

the last 10 years Part 4

So in the last of the review of the decade, I decided to look back on some of what I worked on over the last 10 years. Much of the decade was spent working with developers; Housing Schemes in Clonmel and Cashel mainly, two large Business Parks and a number of mixed used developments. There was a few one off houses and extension also added to the mix along with many reports, various submissions and masterplans.

The early years were pre-occupied with tax relief developments, much of which went nowhere as the sites were quiet challenging with protected structures and flooding issues common resulting in planner’s and developers clashing, and as a result schemes ended up non-viable. A hotel, offices and a multi storey car park on Suir Island one such project.

No such problems in Cashel, problems of a different nature were encountered there. With the exception of one site in Cashel, all the projects I was involved in were taken to An Bord Pleanala by third party appeals and fortunately in each case the decision was upheld by the Board and permission granted. In one scheme of 21 residential units the planning authority granted permission, without requesting further information, a first for me anyway, only to be taken to appeal by a third party, whom delayed the project by 6 months. Another project was delayed so long that ended up shelved.

Developments in Clonmel too, have had their share of objectors too, in one case things went against us, with the Board overturning the decision, which was a shame really, as the scheme would have been quiet attractive, with a high density a “semi-non conventional” layout, where the car and driveway did not dominate. The site was later developed with a scheme of large dwellings of much lower density with no third party objections.... members the not in my backyard brigade

Other work in and around Clonmel, included a 32 residential unit design and build scheme for a voluntary housing association, a builder’s merchant’s outlet again a design and build contract, 3 substantial housing schemes and a few one off houses and a number of extensions and an substantial extension to a Business Park.

Its hard to believe that a decade has gone by since I started working on a Business Park, in Waterford: The development is circa 34,000 sq.m of floor area spread over buildings of various sizes and uses. The Business Pak includes a driver test centre, builders’ merchant’s outlet, a number of, building contractors, and even a secure warehouse. There’s still one building to be developed on the site.

In late 2006/early 2007 I regularly travelled to Wales working with a development company. My role involved preparing sketch designs and briefs for the project architects. I also looked after preparing 3d graphics for some of the prospective clients. The role was different but interesting and I would have liked for it to develop further, however the project received some setbacks with planning, delayed things eventually leading to the project been abandoned.

I’ve detailed the last 12 months in a fair amount of detail in the blog, so I won’t go back over it again.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

the last 10 years Part 3

Technology and software are the tools of the trade.... well actually knowledge is properly more important that both of them. Anyway a lot of development has taken place over the last 10 years. Email and internet were starting to be more widely used back in 2000; as were mobile phones.

However having a camera on a mobile phone was something not too common in 2000 nor was the practice of sending sms messages to clients. Even digital camera’s were not too the plentiful and very expensive and nowhere near as advanced as they are today. It was not until early 2002 before we in the office got our first digital camera as far as I remember. That camera was 1.5 m pixels, most of the camera on today mobile phones are superior. As for computers, they seem to be getting cheaper and more powerful and smaller all the time, its worth noting that mobile phones of today have as much memory as the common PC of 2000.

Of course other technology has become more readily available, things like thermal imaging cameras, blower doors for air tightness use to demonstrate compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations. Costs of that type of equipment, were extremely expensive even by today’s standards. Even survey equipment has advanced, as has GPS. not too many people had the satnav back in 2000 to find a townland or address (some might argue that the satnav isn't of much assistance in Ireland today as it is)

The internet has become an externally important and useful piece of technology, from searching for details of products to obtaining the latest legislation to checking information regarding planning applications. It’s also great for sourcing software, whether looking for software to determine u-values or size a soakway, it can be found on the net, you might have to pay for it but at least you can source it. There’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t use the internet or lets be honest Google to find some piece of information. In addition the internet has become a tool for exchanging project information through applications like NBS Perspective or Autodesk's Buzzsaw. I expect that if Google Wave develops and becomes popular it will become a key tool in the coming years.

AutoCAD is still big within the industry, with Autodesk bringing out a new release every year.... No doubt to justify its subscription, something which we cannot justify in the current climate. survival is currently more important, than having the latest software. BIM software, is still somewhat in its infancy, in terms of general use here in Ireland and one has to wonder if the effects of the downturn will stunt its growth further. Autodesk’s BIM product has been Revit and in true Autodesk style, it is difficult to get used to. For 2010 I really need to make a better effort to get to grips with it, as it is the future.

However, Autodesk did produce one piece of software, which in my opinion is worthy of praise, in Impression which has been brilliant for jazzing up ordinary drawings quiet quickly. If you’ve been following my blog recently you would have seen my praises of it.

Then there's all the specialist forward used within the industry, specification writing software such as NBS Specification and Scheduler, the vaious engineering design packages and costing packages. All to assist us in our work, or make us lazy maybe?

Sometime around 2005 I can across Sketchup developed by @ Last, who was taken over by Google sometime later. For me sketchup is a great, simple to use, 3D package for developing non photorealistic images/models. It’s also great for assisting in shadow analysis studies. Yes it has limitations, but is definitely one piece of software I would want on my laptop if I were stranded on a deserted island.

Of course we are now in an age of opensoucre software is now fairly common for general use be it word processing presentations etc definitely a good thing.

So what will or can the next 10 years bring?

the last 10 years Part 2

Continuing on with the theme of the Building Control Act and Building Regulations, over the course of the last decade there’s been at least 3 revisions (lost count at this stage) to Part L of the Building Regulations and Technical Guidance Documents. On each occasion the thermal performance requirements of the building beginning improved. The requirements of the earlier amendments were easily accommodated within the existing typical construction methods, by solely using an insulation of higher thermal performance; however it is not as straight forward with the most recent amendment, particularly for walls, where it is necessary to increase the overall wall thickness. In addition Part L now requires provision of renewables within a dwelling, air tightness, and the use of acceptable/accredited details to further assist in the thermal performance of the dwelling and ultimately reduce carbon emissions. The days of achieving an elemental u-value to comply with the regulations are gone as are sun rooms onto the northern side of a dwelling (hopefully). Further revisions and improvements are anticipated in 2010. SEI’s DEAP software, used to determine the BER for a dwelling is also used to check compliance with the most recent Part L, relating to dwellings.

Keeping with the building regulations and technical guidance documents, Part B and Part M are the only two others which were significantly revised over the course of the last decade, although monor chances to one or two others but a number have gone for public consultation within the last 18 months, including Part M recently. With the BS 5588 suite of Codes of Practice withdrawn in the UK and replaced by BS 9999, one expects that a revised Part B of the Technical Guidance Documents will be on the way in the not too distant future. Hopefully we will see revisions to all Technical Guidance Documents which will eliminate conflicts, as is currently the case.

I’ve just learnt that Part F of the Building Regulations was amended and signed into Law on the 22nd of December, with a revised TGD-F on the way shortly.

In March 2003 the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 which had a significant effect on how planning applications were made came into effect. In those early days of the regulations invalidations were very common, as agents and planning authorities got to grips with the regulations. Almost 7 years later invalidations are still common, currently running at approximately 20%. Thankfully, I haven’t had too many invalidations of late: only one in the last year that I can recall of. One benefit of these regulations for the applicant is that in the majority of cases potential objectors have to make themselves known at planning stage, through submissions, as opposed to appearing out of the woodwork on the last day for lodging an objection to An Bord Pleanala, as commonly used to happen in the past. Part V also came with the regulations, something which is hard to know how successful it is/was, as the affordable element of it is not or has not been very workable( around hear anyway) as there isn’t or never was a significant difference in prices of affordable houses and those on the open market. The regulations made it necessary to both erect a site notice and put a notice in the newspaper; prior to that it was one or the other. Also drawings could be submitted in either a metric or imperial scale, and there wasn’t an adhered to time frame for development plans. Overall things were fairly inconsistent compared to today.

2006 saw revised regulations relating to Construction Health & Safety; putting increased responsibility on the client and designers. Some might argue this should not be the case, however we are where we are. The role of preparing the safety file has moved to the designers (PSDP) from that previously of the constructors (PSCP).If that’s a good or bad thing I’m not so sure.

One piece of legislation, which needs to be mentioned, is SI 666 of 2006 or what brought BERs into begining for the layman. It is one of the most currently hated pieces of legislation by the Architectural Technology profession, ( and others I would image) not for the regulations themselves but how it has ended up. Firstly one has to question how so many non-construction or unqualified professionals ended up as BER Assessors, the answer is of course money and some training providers only interested in making the quick buck. One has to question SEI’s role in administrating the whole thing and why they didn't stick to their guns. I recall looking at the entry requirements and the level of information/knowledge and evidence thereof required by one of the first training providers and thinking to myself I would have difficultly obtaining a place and what’s more completing the course. Yet people with no construction backround have ended up assessors, many not capable of using a scale rule or reading a drawing, which has made a complete joke of the whole thing. As for the costs of BER’s most are done well below cost judging by the rates beginning quoted: one has to question the attention to detail been paid to the preparation of the assessment. I can’t justify becoming an assessor, even though it makes logical sense to become one and offer the service as part of the overall design service... Maybe things might change in 2010.