The Lenham Coop, RAMAC’s Variation in Sustainable Code

The co-op development is a very good example of how the planning approach has developed over the last few years in seeing what will certainly happen with the major developments around Lenham.

In summary, RAMAC / CoOp have requested a variation in their planning consent to reduce the “sustainability” of the flats in the roof of the new building.  The reduction is effectively from 4, the minimum required in London, to almost 3 the absolute minimum requirement.

Simply said.  Quote a reasonable code to get planning approval and then ask to reduce it having started to build.  I have no doubt that the planners will agree.

So, what is going on?

Looking at the recent application to vary the flats from code level 4 to level 3, ( these codes are indications of the ”sustainability” of the homes. the higher the value the higher, supposedly, the better )

The argument proposes that the flats are being developed distinct from the rest of the building and that the rest of the buildings’ structure defines the quality of the structure of the flats, and their hands are tied. Of course this is the case – but the developer is asking for a variation with the proposal that these flats are constrained by the structure of the shop, and cannot comply with a code of sustainability that is now a legal minimum requirement in London and wishes to push their compliance down. [to a level that is a minimum requirement for affordable homes!].

But its all one building, built by the same developer based on the same set of plans.  If the proposed flats can’t be built to the agreed standard, then leave the roof void empty!

And the Noise Issue.

Associated with this, is the noise levels that Lenham is about to be subjected to. Not just the occasional visiting lorry and clank of trolleys being unloaded, but the constant running of what will be very powerful fans and pumps for both air-sourced heat pumps for warming (the flats) and air-sourced heat pumps for cooling (the Coops fridges) . i have no doubt that these systems, the warming for the flats and the cooling for the shop’s refrigerated areas, will be separate and running almost constantly.  I will get to the separation in a moment, but the various codes for sustainability propose that electric heating in a domestic property effectively implies sustainability.

And the cost of running these heat pumps

There is no consideration of the potential very high financial cost in running these systems – pity the flats occupants. The developer comments that they are going to put solar PV panels on the roof and that this will mitigate the cost of running the heat pumps, however the heat pumps will have most use in the winter when there is minimal to no solar gain. Stating that the solar and the heat pumps are a great idea as a combination is disingenuous. A heat pump potentially multiplies the energy delivered by the electricity possibly 3-fold. a solar water heater is between 3 and 5 times as effective at drawing energy from the sun as solar PV.

Having solar water heating rather than solar PV on a roof where space is limited is by far a better solution than solar PV.  The developer might well state that, with the payments under the Feed-In Tariff, the system becomes economically viable, however I would state, with a level of certainty, that the lease-holder (the flat occupier / owner) will be the last person to gain this added income.

Going back to the separate heat pumps – one for heating and one for cooling. Has there been any consideration of a system combining the 2? Personally, I doubt it. also, going back to the stated maximum space available being sufficient for 4-kilowatts of PV , this seems to be more a coincidence [that 4-kw gives the maximum per kW Feed-In Tariff, which is most likely going to the freeholder or the Co-op].

Were there a serious interest in the use of solar, the roof would be covered in it regardless of the fact that this will knock the tariff down by one level [has planning stopped them putting up more panels?]. Again I would say that the whole solar installation is more of a stunt than a serious attempt at building a sustainable set of ”eco-flats”.

Looking at the flats as somewhere to live, unless there is a significant barrier between the flats and the shop they will potentially be a horror to live in – despite complying with all the relevant regulations. [note the consultation exercise with govt and the industry probably didn’t have a consumer on it, ie somebody who might be expected to buy and live in these ”compliant” properties]. In summer being difficult to cool because of the heat coming up from the shop floor, the windows  certainly for a couple of the flats needing to be kept closed to avoid the noise from the various heating and cooling pumps and fans. In winter being expensive to heat for reasons stated previously. However it might well be that the effects that the shop itself generates sufficient heat that goes up that they need minimal winter heating. That being the case, I expect the flats will be quite noisy. As to the noise levels in the surrounding properties, the developers have stated that when there is lots of traffic on the Faversham and Maidstone Roads, those current noise levels are as high as the additional levels that can be expected from these heating and cooling fans and pumps – thus that noise is ok. But the heating and cooling fans and pumps will likely be working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Are heat pumps worth it?

I personally considered putting a heat pump into my property – I am still looking for the optimum position so that it is not an irritation for my neighbours. But then, I like to consider myself a ”good neighbour”. I wonder if in years to come the Coop will state ”but we’re only renting it, don’t blame us” – remember they have been involved from Day One.

This development, while not particularly wanted by Lenham, could have been designed and implemented as a very high-quality statement of what could be done by a developer that cared for its local community and wanted the best. What we are going to have delivered, based on the initial; [current/] planning application was mediocre at best. They have now downgraded it from that level.

As to the further developments in LENHAM,

We have the potential to see a planned development of our community in a direction that most communities don’t have that opportunity to guide. I am concerned that what will happen is a series of housing estates built to a regime of satisfying all requirements at the lowest possible cost, the highest possible profit and little regard for the local environment and population – just as we are seeing here. Against that, I am certain that this second-rate structure will, of course, win many awards presented by their self-congratulatory peers.

Of course I will be accused of scaremongering, that of course this gambit of getting planning permission for a structure at one reasonable but not high level of sustainability has only been used in this one instance.  Have a look at the planning applications for the Groom Way development and tell me this same cunning plan wasn’t used here.

The development in Lenham is going to make a lot of developers much richer and our community, both those who live here and those newcomers much poorer.

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1 Comment

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One response to “The Lenham Coop, RAMAC’s Variation in Sustainable Code

  1. lenhamnet

    Despite the Maidstone Council Planning Department imposing a condition of building the Coop being that the structure satisfied level 4 of the Sustainable homes code, they have immediately agreed, not in committee, to allow a significant downgrade to level 3.

    Think about it. There were certain conditions imposed when this structure was agreed – against the wishes of the vast majority in Lenham – one of them was that it was to be built to a certain standard. So why not insist on this? What on earth was the point of imposing this requirement when, with so many ways of satisfying the reasonable but not excessively high standard, the developer says, in effect “we won’t make as much profit as we want if we do what we promised to do” (My words). Why has the panning department, without any serious consideration – ie going to committee, given in to the developer.

    This sets a very serious precedent for all the proposed construction in Lenham. Developers will gladly agree to any standards imposed knowing that they can simply apply to have these rescinded later and cheapskate on construction!

    Has it happened? YES! Look up the planning restrictions on the Groom Way development, that was to be built to level 4 but was later downgraded to level 3.

    This has set the low standard for the coming developments in Lenham

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