I have just been reading an article in the July edition of “Building Engineer” – the monthly Journal of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE).  I and all of our colleagues around the UK have for many years been proud of the range and breadth of topics covered by the Journal, which, in my opinion continues to punch above its weight.

One particular article caught my eye this month.  It was penned by Jayne Hall, who is currently a Vice-President of the CABE and also a Past President of LABC, the national body for Local Authority Building Control in the UK.  Jayne has recently also joined the Board of Trustees of the CABE Benevolent Fund, of which I am also proud to be a Trustee.

Jayne’s Journal article was explaining that the CABE Chief Executive Dr Gavin Dunn has asked her to take on the role of the CABE’s “Diversity Champion”.  Jayne’s article reflects on the inalienable fact that the Construction Industry, even after years of effort, still has a poor record in regard to Equality and Diversity.

Jayne makes the observation, based on a recent professional conference in Somerset she had attended, that “…it was clear that the construction professions, and engineering in particular, are still dominated by the traditional white middle class male – also mostly well into middle age too…”

Okay, she just described me, but I do take Jayne’s point and I have to agree with her.  During the six years that I sat on the Board of Directors of the CABE in the mid-2000s (at that stage it was still just called the ABE) there were typically about fifteen or so elected Directors and Honorary Officers, of whom I cannot recall there ever being more than three women elected to the Board at any one time.  But to be fair, that merely reflected the proportion of women standing for election … though one can only wonder how much a lack of encouragement to our female members may have restricted the numbers willing to stick their head above the parapet?

Similarly, I regularly sit on interview panels assessing Candidates for admission to Chartered level Membership of the CABE and the ratio of male to female candidates in my experience, is well in excess of 10:1.  And yet, two of the four most impressive Candidates I can recall interviewing over the past years have been female (take a bow Karen and Saira, you were both excellent).  It has been suggested that women have to try harder to justify their place in the industry, which is truly a shame.

I chuckled at some of the examples Jayne quoted in her article though, of “reasons” (i.e. pitiful excuses) for the lack of women employed in high level positions, which apparently have ranged from “…the board room being an uncomfortable place for women…” to “…the issues discussed at board level are very complex…”  Oh, deary me….

Now, the Taylor Tuxford Associates Board meetings typically cover a whole range of issues ranging through: technical difficulties regarding ongoing projects, to establishing our Corporate policy with regard to the General Data Protection Regulations, to where we’re going for the Christmas Party.  My own experience has been that none of the issues arising at any of our Board meetings have caused any of my female colleagues to fall off their chairs with a bad case of “the vapours”… that only tends to happen when we run out of wine at the Christmas Party, and isn’t just restricted to my female colleagues!

For the record, I am pleased to say that three-quarters of the total number of employees and two-thirds of the construction-related technical team at Taylor Tuxford Associates are female and moreover, I am proud to have the opportunity to work with them.

Alright, so there are only four of us altogether and maybe, as Amy always says, you can prove anything you want to with statistics, but we honestly are trying our best in that regard and, like the CABE, we are punching above our weight when it comes to gender diversity in the workplace.

To finish on a serious note though, the construction industry still has an awfully long way to go in this regard.  It is still a novelty to find a female on a construction site – whether in a supervisory or technical capacity or on the tools – and in part, this is likely related to the apparent tendency for blokes not to accept women co-workers as they would another bloke and the (understandable) reluctance of women not to want to expose themselves to the often-misogynistic attitudes of their male co-workers.

The place to make a start on addressing the diversity imbalance is in our Schools.  Until such time as pupils in the advanced stages of preparing for their GCSEs are persuaded – irrespective of their gender, ethnic background or of any inherent disability – that Construction as a career will be a worthwhile thing to do, then we are still going to be having this discussion in a further 20 years’ time.

If there are any Schools out there in the South Yorkshire area that would like someone to come along and give a presentation to their pupils about a career in construction, we will be very happy to talk to you about that.

 

 

Rhys Taylor
July 2018

 

Every month the Planning Portal (the online system through which all planning and building control applications are managed) sends out a newsletter covering new developments within the construction industry and any changes related to application processes and costs. It also covers news stories and opinion pieces, and as with any thing that involves someone’s opinion, sometimes you read it and go “huh”.

Sometimes it’s a good “huh” that means you’ve learned something new; sometimes it’s the kind of “huh” that is a precursor to you spending several minutes wondering how exactly someone thought that was a good idea. Anyone that has spent time on Twitter will be familiar with the second type of “huh”.

In the January newsletter there was an article piece describing how the Local Government Association (the LGA) was arguing that permitted development rights should be scrapped (link).

For context, the LGA is a membership organisation intended to represent the interests of local councils across England and Wales on a national governmental level.

Permitted development rights allow building owners to make certain changes and developments without going through the full planning application process. For homeowners this allows them to add small extensions or thing such as solar panels to their home without applying for planning permission (though building regulations are usually required).

The article from the Planning Portal does not explicitly discuss homeowners, although the absence of such a mention is important as I will cover below.

The article argues, correctly in my opinion, that there has been a certain amount of abuse of these permitted development rights by development companies. In particular in converting unused urban office spaces into apartments leading to a dramatic decrease in available office space and in some cases the formation of poor quality living accommodation that does not meet advised standards.

Similarly, the LGA makes the argument that the development of existing structures is being used to bypass affordable housing requirements by these same development companies. Although I cannot comment on the latter point, the development of poor quality accommodation benefits no one in the long term.

I think the intent of the article, and possibly also the statement by the LGA, was intended to say that permitted development rights should be scrapped solely for conversions such as these, but that is not communicated clearly. In fact, on a first read through, the impression I received from the article could be summed up by the first paragraph, which I quote in its entirety below.

“Permitted development rights rules are “detrimental” to local communities and should be scrapped, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.”

As a statement taken individually, and without further clarification currently available, this is more than a little concerning. With the recent increase in Planning Fees, the removal of permitted development rights across the board would make small extensions increasingly expensive for homeowners. When considering the effect of the actions of large companies, seemingly no consideration has been given to the effect of such a statement on individuals.

An across-the-board scrappage of permitted development rights just to limit conversions of office space to dwellings is overkill. In fact, because I promised to shoehorn the cliché in to this article, it can even be described as a distinct case of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. This becomes even more pertinent when you consider that these rights for converting offices to dwellings without planning permission were temporary until as recently as October 2015.

Surely instead of removing all permitted development rights it would make sense to instead limit the ability for people to convert offices to dwellings without planning permission… which is the point at which I turn to discussing something called an Article 4 Direction.

This measure can be issued by the local planning authority to remove all or part of the permitted development rights for a structure or area. It is generally used in conservation areas where the “character” of an area would be affected by certain types of developments, but it is not purely a conservation designation. Rather it is a part of the Town and Country Planning Act and if it can be used for things such as limiting the number of days in the year when you can hold a car boot sale, surely it can be used by local government if they feel that there is a particular problem with office conversions in their area.

Or we could simply remove or limit the permitted development rights for office conversions.

We as a society seem to have a peculiar aversion to admitting when something isn’t working and that we need to reconsider the situation. Or maybe it’s just an aversion to admitting that we were wrong. It might just be that I’ve been conditioned by several years working in and around science fields, but I am firmly of the opinion there is nothing wrong with admitting that you have changed your mind based upon fresh evidence.

The comments from the LGA about the situation with office conversions, however, takes on a certain farcical air when you consider that just two articles below this one in the Planning Portal newsletter, there is an article about how Westminster City Council has been using Article 4 Directions to limit the conversion of office spaces into dwellings.

 

So I guess we’re all feeling the heat today? Stuck in an office wishing you could be outside to enjoy the glorious weather? Well, it’s not always as enjoyable as you’d think.

Surveying equipment - other brands of sunscreen are available.
Surveying equipment – other brands of sunscreen are available.

I’ve just got back in from a site meeting on an undeveloped piece of land on an industrial estate with very little in the way of shelter (although we did manage to find some dappled shade which probably meant that the temperature was a degree or two lower than the 33 that our cars were telling us)!

The sun was brutally hot this afternoon, so my essential surveying equipment today, other than site plans, safety boots, etc, was sun cream (factor 50 no less) and a sun hat, and you can’t quite beat air con. in the car for the journey back to the office. Time to re-hydrate and cool down.