In the UK the requirements to build sustainable homes become more and more onerous. Proposals for medium and large development have been subject to strict environmental and sustainability requirements for some time now. However, recently even planning applications for small development such as single houses need to be accompanied with a raft of documentation, such as evidence that a certain level of the Code for Sustainable Homes will be achieved, an energy statement and a flood risk assessment.
The trouble is that most of the requirements have been written with large development projects in mind. The complexity of the matter makes buying in specialist advice inevitable. The consultants that provide the advice are also used to dealing with large developments. All this originally meant that the cost of the advice required to prepare the supporting documents was out of sync with the size and complexity of the proposed development.
It is now a few years since the first of these requirements were imposed on all new development proposals and the sector, both planning officers and consultants, has now learned how to address the sustainability requirements of small development proposals effectively. For instance the advice required to submit an adequate energy statements is now streamlined and standardized and the cost has come down from around £2000, to under £300 for the smallest proposals.
The same is true for flood risk assessments. Where the cost for the most basic advisory report in a low risk area would be around £1500 a year ago, today it is possible to get a basic report for a one unit residential plot in a low flood risk area for under £500.
I believe this is a good thing. For small development proposals the cost for these supporting documents used to be out of proportion. At last it becomes possible for promoters of small developments to build highly sustainable buildings and obtain appropriate advice at an affordable price.
Paul Giesberg is principal director at Planning for Sustainability: a firm that provides advice on how to achieve a high standard of sustainable development in land use project. Recently the firm launched a specialized service to help developers of small scale projects with meeting the sustainable building requirements.