Saturday, 21 November 2009

I’m planning a crime

Regular readers will know that this week we had a wood-burning stove installed at Traction Towers. We paid a sum of money not far off your average UN aid package to have the thing fitted, but all is now well. I’m broke but the living room is a cosy little den with a cheery glow coming from the once-dark and foreboding chasm where the old fireplace used to be.

As I was looking at the flames gently licking around a log of wood inside the stove, a terrible thought occurred to me. Our house is a Listed Building and is sited in a Conservation Area. What this means is that you own the house but you may make no alterations, may not even dream about making alterations – inside or out – without consulting the local council for Listed Building Consent and Planning Permission.

A chill ran down my spine as I began to wonder if we needed permission for our new stove. I did everything correctly by using a Government approved installer which meant I wouldn’t have to pay out for the local council’s building inspector to call round and give me a certificate for the fire if I’d fitted it myself or asked a mere mortal to install it. You pay many hundreds of pounds extra for this, but I like to play safe for obvious reasons. A neighbour could denounce me or report my heinous crime.

So what should I do? Shall I call the local council and ask them if I need permission or should I risk it? Planning inspectors are a strange breed; a cabal of pettifogging officials drunk on the enormous powers they wield by fiat. Want to put up a garden fence? Need a shed for storage? Hang on a minute! Better call in the planners. Want to change your bed sheets? Hmm… better play safe and give the planning department a call. Anyway, it’s only £250 for the permission to erect your £150 garden shed… well worth the money at twice the price. Actually, it’s probably cheaper to torch the shed if they get shirty.

There was some talk a year or two ago of planning laws being liberalised but that’s all gone very quiet now. I could have guessed these power-crazed megalomaniacs weren’t going to give up their jealously guarded authority until someone actually forces their clipboards from their cold dead hands!

And you want to know why these people are like they are? Well, after Hitler’s Third Reich fell in 1945, there were still plenty of high-ranking Nazis on the loose. Many pretended to be concentration camp victims, others tried to con the Allies into thinking they were Dutch or Polish. However, the vast majority of them, including the Waffen SS, just disappeared.

For many years it was thought that the majority had made it to Argentina, but the truth is, they all lay down their guns, stripped off their uniforms and retrained as town planners. They spread themselves around the world, dropped the German names and accents and then continued with their reign of terror and exercised their unique talent for enforcing the pettiest rules imaginable. Even to this day they still go around knocking on doors without warning, asking to see people’s papers.

I guess old habits die hard. Now where did I put that poker?


  1. I suppose they had to go somewhere, Argentina and Brazil couldn't take them all could they? Some came to Canada and became government workers also and unfortunately they weren't removed from the gene pool and had little paper pushers with big egos.

    How old is your house? I love watching the British real estate shows and am seeing a lot of 'council' houses (we call them townhouses because they're attached). Is your's a detached home?

    I'd could do with a nice wood burning fire today...wee bit chilly (oh who am I kidding? I'm really cold in our living room, but it has the best natural light)

    Take care. Can you Wii anything yet? (assuming you have a Wii!)

    LK from Canada

  2. Hi there as far as I'm aware you can change the insides but not the outer walls , my friend has a large place that is listed and can't touch the outside yet has ripped out the kitchen , taken out a wall in another part of it and installed a fab new kitchen there instead . Hope this helps . P.S I wouldn't say anything anyway stuff'em

  3. I live out in the sticks, we are in a smokeless zone. We can only use smokeless coal on our stove, if we don't then the powers that be will come round our house and shout loudly about us killing small animals etc. But i can chuck a tyre or 2 on the bonfire no problem....... I should point out that we only use useless, smokeless coal and not the proper nice hot burning stuff that burns for ages and ages.


  4. I believe it is illegal to post an image of the swastika, however innocuous ????
    Harry, Transvaal.

  5. Well theree are lots of them on the Internet. Do you think I should blur it out? And what about all those war moviees and war history books? Are you sure you've got that right? Who told you?

  6. It's illegal in Germany, but not yet illegal in England...

  7. Anyway, you can't even see the swwastika. Your brain tells you that the bit of black you can see must be a swastika because of all the other visual clues that these are Nazis. It could be a photograph of a fancy dress party and the armband might be a black and white line drawing of Donald Duck for all you and I know!

  8. TM, we bought a small wood burning stove last year, one of them that you can cook on when we get power cuts.

    This is the best thing we have ever bought as it heats the whole house, plus you don`t get condensation in the house. Gas fires and electric ones cause condensation and dampness.

    Logs here cost 130 euro`s a good ton, and these are olive tree logs. I have personally collected any bits of wood all year, pallets that I chop up for kindling, drift wood on a beach, anything that will burn.

    It is a comforting thing, when the fire is alight, warms the house and also the heart.

    Perfect fire make up.... 5 sheets of newspaper scrunched up, each sheet in a twisted ball, add 3 inch sized blocks of firelighters on top in each corner and middle. Add small sticks of firewood on top , add larger cuts of wood on top, or charcoal, about 4 handfulls. On the top of that place a log, bark side down. Let the vent open and let the fire burn for about 10 minutes, close vent once fire catches, give it time for the embers to form and add a log. Never throw in glossy paper, it will deaden a fire.... I hope the tips were usefull.

  9. XTM,

    In Australia we have Heritage Listing laws where, if your (?) property is "listed", you need permission to change certain things. So much for it being *your* property if you are not the one who can make decisions about it!

    Another commenter here mentioned they collect bits of wood all year round. In some states here it is illegal for people to do that from the public roadside. But it has been claimed that such excess timber lying around contributed to the severity of recent fires over here.

    Hope your recovery is progressing.

  10. I thought the law only applied to what you do to the outside of the property - it had better do as my mother in law has changed the inside of her house and it is now very different to the way it was. Surely you can see that there should be inspectors to keep a reign on what goes on otherwise the houses could just be knocked into the equivalent of your estate properties. As for lighting the fire try pine cones with three sheets of newspaper - brilliant! Hope you are feeling a tad better. Mary

  11. mmmmm I love my non anything house (ET you would call it a bungalow). I can wake up one morning and go damn I need a bigger kitchen, I will just move it to the dinning room ;) All I have to do is get the relevant trades in (Electrician and Plumber).....

    I used to have a wood burning stove up in the Perth hills, We would burn 10 Tonne of Jarrah, this is a local HARD wood. My parents paid a kings ransom for it, but it would last a winter :) Was also good for cooking on if the power went out (which as it was the hills with WAY to many big gum trees near the power lines, it was a weekly event).

    I hope I am finding you better today, as I worry when friends are in pain. Take care my friend.


    Kat from Perth :)

  12. Some years ago the Guvment decided it would do something about the long length of time it was taking Local Authorities to complete planning permission applications.

    So the Guvment - in its traditional and infinite wisdom - introduced a target. 90% of applications were to be completed within six weeks (something like that).

    It worked a treat! Suddenly the average wait for planning permission decisions dropped like a stone.

    Brilliant thought the Guvment. Aren't we clever?! And of course told the world what geniuses they were.

    Until, that is, someone looked into the figures. True enough that many more applications were being completed within the artificial time limit. Trouble was, though, that very few were being approved. In fact the number of approvals was also dropping like a second stone.

    Reason was simple. Local Authorities worked out that in order to meet the requirements of the target (the only thing that mattered of course), all they had to do was to refuse any application that was in danger of not being processed by the target date.

    So any application outstanding by week five was automatically refused, however close to completion it might be. Big or small, simple or complex, with or without merit - bang, all stamped 'refused'.

    Local people dismayed, Local Authorities purring, Guvment deeply embarrassed.

    Can you guess what the Guvment did next? Yup, you're right, they introduced another target - the percentage of completed applications that were approved.

    And how did Local Authorities react? Same game of course. They began to pressure local people to put in silly applications for the simplest of things that previously they wouldn't have had to bother with - paint your front door, move a shop sign etc., etc. - then simply approved all of them on the spot!

    At the same time, seriously complex applications that required real work were left on the shelf whilst local planning departments were ordered to chase the latest target.

    Poor Guvment. Won't learn, can't learn.

  13. Peter makes the point really well. As far as the internals of a house go, you can do what you like as long as the work complies with building regulations. However, if you're house is listed Grade I or Grade II then things get tough. In addition to oplanning consent, you need listed buildings consent. Let me tell you a short story about this.

    My friend Christopher lives in a basement flat of a house that is part of a large ring of townhouses. The building is world famous and millions come to gawk at it, watch him eat his dinner and generally use it as a public amenity. The tourists don't give my friend a penny for enjoying his home but he is expected to keep it in tip-top condition so that it may be preserved for all time and keep the tourists rolling in.

    My friend wishes to replace his kitchen cabinets and he thought he should replace his hot-water boiler too. Both boiler and kitchen are 25 years old. Since those days, boiler regulations have changed to appease the great god of global warming. Everyone now must have a condensing boiler which requires a different gas flue. The regulations also state, for good reason, that the flue should be some distance from a window and out of reach of children etc.

    Unfortunately, this change of flue requires listed building consent. The consent has been applied for but he's been told it's highly unlikely to succeed. The local council does not care that my friend has try to keep his old boiler running which is less efficient and could even be harmful. If it breaks down he cannot replace it and will not have any hot water or heating. They don't care.

    Most other people in his position have just ignored the council and managed to find unregistered plumbers who can install old types of boilers which are illegal. Did you know that every boiler (and wood stove for that matter) installed in a home in the UK must be officially registered? It's position must be noted too. After a while you just feel like your life belongs to the authorities and you have no control.

    I sometimes think the people of Eastern Europe must have felt a bit like that. It's funny how once the iron curtain came down, the people's liberties increased a little, while in the west, our liberties started to reduce. I suppose the authorities no longer had the worry that we would get shirty and turn communist. And they could hardly accuse the Soviets of being anti-freedom if they were suppressing us over here.

    I know I'm rambling a bit but I get really cross about how we're bossed around, bullied and fed constant propaganda but people armed with nothing more dangerous than a pen. Sad, isn't it?

  14. As an architectural designer I have to deal with these people all the time! I won't take on listed building jobs in certain authorities as it's not worth the stress. I agree that most of the conservation planners are like Nazis although I have met about 2 (in 20 years working) that were helpful. If you live in a listed building you will need permission to make changes inside as well as outside. If you've not already phoned them its best to keep quiet as you've already gone and done it. How upset they would be would depend on what you removed to put the stove in. If you got rid of original elements of the fire place to open it up then they would be extremely upset about it. If you did take anything out I hope you kept it in the shed or somewhere just incase you had to reinstate it.
    I hope you are feeling better this week, sorry to hear you were still in so much pain and I didn't mean to sound rude on previous comment, I am still reading your blog so yes it is entertaning!

  15. Hi Jenny

    We just put a stove in an empty fireplace. Nothing taken away. Then the installers put a ridiculously expensive piece of flexible. Steel hose up the chimney, replace the chimney pot with a new but identical one and the put a little cap on the chimney.

    I don't know why the listed buildings people get so worked about little reversible changes. Anyway, it's a home not a museum. If they want the houses preserved in aspic they should jolly well buy them up with public money and maintain them themselves. It's easy to be pernickety with other people's money.

    The really silly thing is, some horrible changes were made to out house in the 1960s before the building was listed. We wanted to return things to how the cottage would have looked when it was built in 1815 but the Nazis say the trashy improvements from the 1960s are part of the building's historical fabric. Why can't I add my own changes and contribute to the historical fabric of the building?

    Rant over!

  16. Brandish that poker as you see fit and enjoy ;)

  17. And my neighbour runs a car repair and white good sales business from his home which is on a 100% residential estate. Apart from it being unsightly with all the car wrecks and washing machines outside, it is also dangerous as he lives on the corner and big delivery trucks obscure the view. There have been some near misses. People have complained but the council say they cannot do anything as it's a private road. Where is the logic in this?

  18. That must be nightmare. I'm sure the council could take action on planning, road safety and noise abatement. As got it being a private road, that sounds nonsense. All our houses are on private land but it doesn't stop the clipboard wielding storm troopers from coming round to inspect planning infringements. Perhaps the man is a friend of someone high up in the council. Go to your local paper or get a petition going. And make sure you tip off some of the local garages and white goods sellers. Light touchpaper and stand well back!

  19. The pre-listing changes which you can't change are known collectively as the continuing history of the building, and English Heritage is very keen on it. As someone who works with people who want listed building consent, this drives me absolutely crackers. I couldn't get permission for the client to remove a hideous Victorian porch which was defacing a Georgian house. EH doesn't want you to restore Georgian glazing bars any more. Victorian plate glass is part of the continuing history. As for Crittall windows - if someone has inserted them into something, you've got your work cut out to get rid of them, even if the client wants to put in something much more in keeping. Now there is some talk that perhaps buildings shouldn't be cleaned, dirt being part of the continuing history of the building.

    But if you did something without Listed Building Consent, they would ask you to put it back to how it was before - it's no good saying: Aha, but it's part of the continuing history of the building.

    However, if you have a listed building, at least you can claim VAT back on some work - I live in a 1960 house in a conservation area and so I have to jump through the same hoops as if I had a listed house, but I can't claim the tax back. HOW UNFAIR IS THAT!

  20. I've just replaced two sash windows with like for like. I didn't get consent so i guess I won\t get the VAT back unless I'd made a listed building consent. Mind you, if I did do that, they'd probably insist on the most exotic materials that it would cost double the amount I paid.

  21. Thanks for the advice on the unruly neighbour XTM. I think you have got it spot-on i.e. being friends with someone high up in the council. Clipboard-carrying people have been around but no action has been taken. One of my neighbours has even been taking pictures and posting them to the council, to no avail.
    I don't begrudge people their living in any way as recycling cars and white goods can only be a good thing, but this sort of business should be on a light industrial estate paying the appropriate rates and keeping eyesores away from people who want to protect their property values (Oh this sounds soooo Daily Snail, doesn't it?).
    Can I get my mid-1970s property listed as an example of the naff building of the age? If 1960s concrete blocks get the same treatment?

  22. Did you know when you boghtyour house that it was a listed building? Yes, well being an intelligent man you knew exactly what you were doing so please stop complaining, if you didn't know well that says you are not as intelligent as you make out. So please complain about the real things that matter not petty things because now you wish to do things your way. You knew exactly what you were buying and now you don't like it - pathetic!

  23. And guess who got out of bed the wrong side this morning!
    Ignore and cheers XTM from Chris in OZ.

  24. It was my parents' house and was listed after they owned it so we didn't really have a choice. Also, the inconsistencies of listed building officers place you at the whim of one unelected official. If the restrictions become to onerous, no one will want listed houses and they will fall into ruin... Is that what you want?

    I take it from the vehemence of your reply, that you are some sort of planning officer. Your reply simply underlines my point.

    Yours sincerely

    A pathetic and ignorant man who probably won't be allowed to adapt his home to accommodate his newly acquired disabilities!

  25. Actually, reading some of the info re listing etc got me thinking of a mate and the area which he lives in here in Melbourne. About 5 Kms from the CBD is the suburb of Port Melbourne which is right on the bay, and within there is a locality which was apparently built by the State Bank as low cost housing back sometime in the 1920's. It was based on what the Garden City Movement in your country had done.It was named( ta dah! ) Garden City. Actually still is a very pleasant area with double story semi detached houses of the era, curved streets and reserves with non Australian trees. Speaking to some of the older residents the surrounding streets were eventually used to build housing commission dwellings (I guess that's what you would call Council Housing maybe)The original development had always been in private hands and at various stages since, a lot of the commission housing had passed into private ownership, quite a bit of it to the existing tenants. With the property boom starting a few years ago plus the development a little further back towards the CBD of upmarket apartments and high rises the area between the original development and the foreshore was becoming popular, a pretty neat location.View of the bay, right on the beach, sea breezes etc. People did up some of their properties, a face-lift here, an addition there. Some even demolished their old clinker brick commission house and rebuilt. Along comes the council, and applied a listing over the whole area claiming historical importance. Now I can understand conserving the original estate, which was happening in any case but a few streets of grotty clinker brick houses that you couldn't swing a cat in? ( Sorry Whiskers, not you )I'm all for conserving buildings of Historical significance or the architecture, but OZ is a young country; there's not much of it.Anyway,one of my mates neighbours had been going to demolish the vacant dwelling on his property but the Council said no. After fruitless discussions with the suits at the council, being a resourceful chappy, and Oz being a bit of DIY place, a transporter carrying a rather large excavator rolled up the street early one Sunday morning, followed by a couple of dumpers and by mid morning there was a tidy vacant lot. The neighbours all sat out on their front verandas come Monday morning awaiting the suit from the Council, mostly to see the expression on his face.
    Just another thought, do you have listed trees over there?

    Cheers Chris from OZ

    PS: Are we sure that was 'Julie' with the vitriol? I was wondering what happened to one of OZ's exports, Germaine.

  26. Yes, we have listed trees. I live in a conservation area which means any tree with a circumference of more than 20cm requires the council's permission (well, the unaccountable suit's permission) before it can be lopped, chopped or trimmed. We had a eucalyptus tree and six leylandii which my parents planted and I had to write to the council with plans and photos asking permission if I could remove them. Fortunately, because they are non-native and pestilent species they agreed. However, you don't need permission to plant a tree, just to chop it down or give it a haircut.

    As for Gemaine, the mad old bat is still here doing what she does best... as a rent-a-gob on virtually every BBC arts programme. To be fair, she's mellowed a bit and no longer calls for summary castration but I do think it's time you had her back, don't you?

  27. My apologies for being rude, I am currently looking after my sister recovering from an ileostomy operation, she thinks that her life is at an end because she is now a freak. Your earlier post of colostomy bags got me really riled as it proved what she has been saying about the public. Oh and I had got out of bed at the wrong side, I'm not in my own bedroom for the last month.

  28. Thanks, Julie. I'm so sorry for your sister. A dear friend of mine had an ilieostomy a few years back and the talk of colostomy bags tends to be the humour and one way of getting over it. My friend goes running, has a job, does charity work and drives everywhere. Tell your sister that it's not the end and in time it will just be part of her life. As for not sleeping in your own bed... tell me about it!

    Here's hoping your sister feels better really soon. Please give her my best wishes.