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CNA visit to Straw Bale House by Sarah Wigglesworth Architects

Recently Clare Nash Architecture Ltd. (CNA) visited the famous Straw Bale House in North London designed by Sarah Wigglesworth and Jeremy Till. With sustainability and eco design at the centre of CNA’s design approach, we were excited to be given a tour by Jeremy himself who explained how their pioneering project came about.

The team met outside the house-come- office’s tall wicker gates at the very end of Stock Orchard Street in London. With the railway on one side and Victorian terraces on the other, a building on gabion stilts with sand bags on one elevation is not quite what you would expect to find at the end of the road!

Luckily it was a dry (if a little chilly!) day as the tour started outside, with Jeremy explaining how the design concept for the Straw Bale House was developed through Sarah and him sharing stories, before any drawings were even started. Once the design was established through drawings the next challenge was getting it through planning, which was perhaps aided by one of Jeremy’s anecdotes involving a party for local residents. The building is well known for being the first straw bale house to be granted planning permission in the UK, however there are many other materials at play here including sandbags and stone gabions which certainly challenged ideas on conventional building materials at the time. The talk outside lasted for about an hour discussing structure and sustainability.

Turning the corner around the house it was a pleasant surprise to find their garden, a surprisingly green and spacious area for central London. As lovers of fresh vegetables, it was great to see what crops they were growing in their garden and to hear the clucking of chickens too! Mid-construction decisions led to only having a back door which is now the front door and works well as it encourages you to walk through the garden before entering the house.

Walking inside and up the stairs I was not sure what to expect of a space which is both living and office, shared and private. However, the top of the stairs greeted us with a warm open plan living space that was cleverly divided into functional spaces; making sense of the unusual floor layout which was organised around an organically shaped larder inspired by Malawi cooking ovens. The use of natural wood and exposed white painted steelwork could have had a cool industrial feel to it but was complimented by splashes of warm orange furnishings and large amounts of glass allowing natural light to flood the space enhancing the feeling of homeliness. One of my favourite areas was the kitchen which was again homely and quirky too as each item seemed carefully considered, perhaps handcrafted, all the way down to the papier mache lampshade suspended over the table.

A fairly large group were on the tour with us but after admiring the first floor, we ascended the (perhaps not quite building regs approved!) staircase into the tower. Lining the stairs were shelves and shelves of books which seemed to change in levels of architectural relevance the further up you went. So at the bottom were architectural text books while at the top, nearing Jeremy’s office, were fiction books and novels. Having a library like this might get tiring in reality but as a visitor it was a very charming idea!

On our way out we popped into Sarah Wigglesworth’s attached (Quilted) office where she was working. It was an impressive space, both organised and bright and surprisingly quiet despite being on the railway track side- the sandbags must be doing their job!

Although the project is known for having challenged ideas of structure and materials in terms of sustainability, it was very interesting to hear Jeremey Till say that the construction methods and material composition are actually not that sustainable in the context of what is possible today. Technology has moved on since the house was originally built; even the double glazing is no longer as efficient as it could be!  Nonetheless, the choice and composition of the interior materials and spaces has a certain quality to it that, while you could probably Google ‘Sarah Wigglesworth House’ or something similar; would just not be the same as experiencing in reality.

 

 

 

The Community Infrastructure Levy and what it means for self-builders and barn conversions

Community Infrastructure Levy Barns

A piece of legislation has recently been adopted by South Northamptonshire and South Oxfordshire district councils affecting certain developments that have been granted planning permission on or after the 1st April 2016.  This is a charge called the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) which applies to new residential and retail developments. Most other councils will also now have starting applying this charge.

The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL)

The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is a charge that local authorities in England and Wales can choose to place on new developments, usually those with over 100m2 of floorspace, or that create one or more new dwellings.

Please note; this charge only applies if you are creating new-build floor space such as a new-build dwelling or a large home extension (over 100m2). This can also be a mezzanine level in a barn conversion. The CIL charge will apply to the new build floor space only (so the area of the mezzanine or extension) and not to any existing floor area.

It came into force in 2010 and coincides with restrictions on the use of planning obligations (also known as Section 106 agreements).  A CIL enables the local authority to raise more money for local infrastructure improvements than Section 106 obligations. It also provides developers more certainty about costs, as it is a fixed charge.

Section 106 agreements and CIL

The CIL regulations can be complex. However, it is important to consider how it may affect you if intending to convert an existing barn or build/extend a new residential property in the future.

How might the CIL affect a barn conversion?

The good news is that changes of use, such as the conversion of a barn into a dwelling, do not usually attract the CIL for two reasons.  Firstly, a barn conversion does not usually involve creating 100m2 or more of new floorspace.  Secondly, floorspace that has been in legal use for a continuous period of at least six months within the 12 months preceding the granting of planning permission is disregarded when calculating CIL (See Section 40 of the Community Infrastructure Levy Regulations).

Section 40 of the CIL Regulations

But, you might be liable for CIL if your barn conversion involves creating additional new-build floorspace (e.g a mezzanine or extension to the barn). Here the levy would only apply to the additional floor area, not the total building area.

How might the CIL affect self-builds/extensions?

A government initiative to stimulate the self-build market means that a development can also be exempt from the CIL if it is a self-build/extension project.

There are three types of self-build exemptions; for a whole property, for a residential annexe and for a residential extension.

  1. Whole Property

Those claiming exemption must own the property and use it as their primary residence for a minimum of three years post-completion. If the self-builder sells or rents their property within this period, they will be charged the full levy of their area.

  1. Residential extension

If certain criteria are met (see regulations 42A and 42B), then a self-builder will be exempt from paying the levy for extensions. For example; the main house must be the self-builder’s primary residence and only if the proposed extension enlarges the primary residence i.e. it is not an additional unit. Extensions less than 100m2 are already exempt according to the minor development exemption.

Regulations 42A and 42B

In both cases it is important that the correct procedure is followed in order to receive a notice of exemption; including not starting works before this is received. It is important to note that even if these types of projects do not require planning permission, the CIL will still be charged unless exemption applies.

Ultimately, the landowner is responsible for seeking CIL exemption, or, is liable for paying the levy within 60 days of commencement of the works. CIL payments are usually made in cash, but can also be paid “in kind”, for example through land.

CIL charges

Both councils use Charging Zones to determine the CIL cost, and have produced corresponding maps. In South Northants there are three main categories for charges; rural, urban and Sustainable Urban Extensions (SUEs) which range between £50/m2- £200/m2. In South Oxfordshire residential development can be liable for a charge of up to £150/m2. Both councils have produced Charging Schedules that set out the charges and answer FAQs.

South Northants CIL Information

South Northants CIL Charging Schedule

South Oxon CIL Information

South Oxon CIL Charging Schedule

 

October 5, 2016
The Community Infrastructure Levy and what it means for self-builders and barn conversions