To tie in with RIBA Yorkshire’s Love Architecture Festival 2014, we popped up in our mobile office in Sheffield city centre this month. This time we were on the lower ground floor of the Birds Yard Shop on Chapel Walk and with a slightly developed pop-up office including a new built in desk, complete with blackboard paint and stencilled logo.

We set up on Friday 27th June, another rainy day, so again we were glad to be indoors! We had a number of visitors throughout the day, from shoppers just popping downstairs to see what was going on, to people who came to ask about specific issues they are having on their projects. Some of the topics we discussed:

– Is your pop-up made of chipboard?

The pop-up is made primarily from sheets of OSB (Oriented Strand Board), which is commonly used in the building trade as a sheathing board, but has gained popularity recently as an affordable and attractive finish. It became more well known after BBC2’s ‘The House that £100K Built’, which featured Sumati’s house which was entirely lined in OSB, left bare as the internal finish. The finish is a bit of a marmite issue and definitely splits opinion, but it does show what can be achieved when you use affordable materials in creative ways.

– What advice would you give to someone trying to build in a conservation area?

Conservation areas are designated by the local authorities as having characteristics that they feel should be preserved. This means there may well be greater restrictions on what can be demolished and built, and some permitted development rights may not apply. This does not mean it is impossible to build in a conservation area however. The general policy is that any proposal should “preserve or enhance” the character of the conservation area. The Local Authority will produce appraisals which clarify why areas have been designated as conservation areas, and the particular character of the area. If you are looking to undertake a project within a conservation area, it is even more important than usual to talk to the local planning department early in the process to discuss your ideas and what may be possible . There will probably be a Conservation Officer involved as well, who will advise the planning officer on whether your scheme meets the criteria for the Conservation area, so try to talk to them as well to find a solution that everyone agrees preserves or enhances the characteristic of the area, prior to submitting your scheme for planning approval.

– My planning application has been refused. What should I do?

If your application for planning approval has been refused, you will be issued with a notice that will confirm the refusal and give reasons why the application has been refused. It is important to fully understand the reasons for refusal, so if you are unclear try to speak to the planning officer for the application to confirm the reasons and discuss how the scheme could be amended to resolve these issues. If there is an acceptable way to amend the scheme, you may be able to resubmit within 12 months of the decision with no fee for resubmitting, providing you are making amendments to a scheme on the same site, but it is worth checking this with the local authority in your area.

If amendments cannot be made to resubmit a favourable scheme, or you feel the decision is unfair for any reason, you can submit an appeal to the Planning Inspectorate. In this case all the information on the application is issued to the Planning Inspectorate to assess and issue a final decision. They could overturn the planning decision, or confirm the initial refusal. This should always be a last resort however, as this can be a lengthy and time consuming process. We would always recommend that you try to resolve any issues with the local authority before proceeding to appeal.

– What’s the future of affordable housing?

The government is trying through various schemes to promote affordable housing. We think that it is unfortunate that the majority of housing in this country is built by housing developers who’s primary aim is for commercial gain. Local authorities set affordable housing thresholds whereby if developers are building over a certain number of units, a percentage of those units must be affordable. This can mean however that the ‘affordable’ houses are of lower quality and segregated from the higher priced homes which leads to less diverse communities. We would be more interested in seeing local authorities taking charge of the situation, taking the funding that developers would put towards affordable homes to provide self build sites, which are provided with service connections, access and amenities, but leave the build flexible to the needs of the purchaser. This has started to happen already with schemes such as the serviced sites in Stoke-on-Trent, and further sites across the country are being planned, so we hope this is a growing market. If you’d like an insight into how housing developers have changed how new homes are built and how we live, BBC 2’s Business Boomers- Hot Property, is worth a look and is available on iplayer for the next 3 days.

We also think it is important to allow the existing housing stock to be more flexible. Currently VAT is excluded from new build projects, however if you want to amend your existing home, the full 20% VAT rate applies to materials and labour. This can put people off altering their home in favour of moving instead again leading to more transient communities. If amending our current homes were encouraged in the same way as building a new home, maybe the empty homes that are unsuitable for current living standards could be brought back into use, and reduce the need for new build altogether.. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to see how our homes develop.

We had a great day in the city centre, and are looking for venues for our next pop-up event. Maybe we will brave the British summertime and try an outdoor event next month..Or maybe we should build a roof first?!