Building policy in Lewes district
Where and how many new buildings are built is determined by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which sets out government’s planning policies and how these are expected to be applied. It includes meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change. The South Downs National Park Local Plan implements the NPPF and sets out polices to meet housing and economic needs in the national park and the impact of climate change. In addition, the Lewes Local Neighbourhood Plan sets out local policies on themes such as transport and protection of the town’s heritage, potential sites for new homes and ideas for design.
How buildings are constructed is determined by Building Regulations which are set nationally. Building regulations set the minimum standards that apply to almost all new building work, including alterations to existing houses. They cover all aspects of construction including damp-proofing, insulation, ventilation, heating etc. Only minimum standards must be met; higher standards are voluntary.
Local groups involved
The Friends of Lewes is the Lewes civic society that seeks to ensure that Lewes retains its special character despite constant pressure to develop the town. It considers all planning applications affecting Lewes and makes comments to the local planning authorities. In addition to design matters, it pays particular attention to flood risk and promoting the use of permeable materials for drives and paths to reduce runoff of surface water. Where possible it engages with developers of new developments and seeks to influence them to adopt higher than minimum building regulation standards, and promotes zero carbon development. It has a watching brief on flood risk to Lewes and monitors the implementation of flood management plans by the Environment Agency and East Sussex County Council.
Lewes Eco Open Houses. Lewes’s eco householders (and those in surrounding villages) first opened their homes to the public in 2009, as a Transition Town Lewes event, and then every few years since, going virtual on Zoom in 2021. The events have aimed to encourage householders to consider what they could do to make their houses more energy-efficient, use fewer resources and generally be more environmentally friendly.
The properties, with the wide character of Lewes’s buildings, range from architect-designed eco-houses to renovated 19C cottages. They have a rich array of eco measures, often retro-fitted and at moderate cost, from insulation, draughtproofing and low-cost secondary glazing to solar power, battery storage and heat pumps. Householders also display LED lighting, water-saving features, waste recycling and simple ways to reduce electricity usage.
The Open House weekends have been brilliantly successful, with hundreds of eager visitors each time. In 2014 the visitor feedback forms showed that 86% of visitors reported intending to make their homes more energy-efficient after their visits. See below for a case-study.
What can I do to help?
Most buildings in Lewes were constructed to standards that predate the integration of effective measures to reduce our carbon footprint. However, simple cost-effective measures can be taken to improve existing buildings and open spaces retrospectively to address climate change. These include:
- Insulate lofts, walls and floors
- Reduce draughts from windows and doors
- Use energy-efficient light bulbs
- Install heating controls that reduce energy use, e.g. timers, thermostats
- Install water-efficient shower-heads, taps and appliances
- Fix leaking water pipes and dripping taps
- Discharge rainwater to soakaways and disconnect clean rainwater connections from foul water drains, to reduce the energy required for wastewater treatment
- Collect water in rainwater butts for garden watering rather than using a hosepipe
- Use porous materials for hard landscaping to reduce run-off
- Plant trees in gardens and public open spaces
Case study: renovating for an eco-house
Wille Cottages in South St were built in 1898, a small brick terrace with lovely but draughty sash windows. I moved in in April 2010 after major structural and renovation work; the house now has two bedrooms and an open-plan ground floor. Most importantly, I have masses of insulation (walls, floors, ceilings, roof), plus low-cost unobtrusive secondary glazing, underfloor heating, etc. I have solar PV panels and lithium storage batteries: the latter result in tiny electricity bills and give protection in a power outage (which happens!). At a detailed level, I have isolation switches on items which otherwise stay on standby, and on appliances such as extractor fans and cooker electrics which otherwise kick in needlessly; small savings, but they add up.
My aim was to create a sturdy house which would need little short-term maintenance and would keep energy (and water) use down, while retaining its general character. Do look at my website about my green house, and my video about magnetic-strip secondary glazing (more than 100,000 hits on YouTube!).
Jill Goulder (Feb 21)