Whatever sort of energy project you’re planning, sooner or later you’re bound to need to get in touch with your local council.
Although local authorities come in for a fair amount of criticism and planning regulations are often thought of as another example of British bureaucratic meddling, the reality is that they’re there for everyone’s benefit – and there’s one sure fact, they’re not going to go away!
Wise project organisers have always understood the benefits of involving the council in the whole process; not only does this save a lot of time and misunderstanding, but it can also open up sources of help and even funding that you might never have found otherwise.
Planning & Building Regulations
Depending on what your trying to do, you may find that your project requires either planning permission, or building regulations approval – or both. They are two different things, each requiring to be applied for separately and while most people are broadly familiar with the planning system, building regulations are often less well-know.
They are a series of national standards which apply to most buildings irrespective of whether they are homes, places of work or community facilities, set up to safeguard health and safety, disabled access and – of course – energy efficiency! There are regulations for England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland having their own similar versions.
The UK government’s planning portal website gives good general information about planning permission and building regulations, but you’ll still probably need to contact your own council for more specific, locally relevant details.
Some kinds of work can be done without planning permission – known as “permitted development” – although in certain places, such as conservation areas and national parks or if the buildings involved are listed or of historical value, the rules can often be different. Even if you’re quite convinced that you don’t need to apply for permission, it’s still worth a quick call to the council to make sure.
A five-minute chat with one of the planners will make absolutely certain that you stay on the right side of the law – and with the high profile energy matters enjoy these days, you may just be surprised how enthusiastic a reception you get.
Grants & Assistance
Aside of the general requirements imposed by central government for energy efficiency, sustainable development and carbon reduction which affect every local authority, many councils have adopted particular targets which go even further for themselves.
This is particularly good news for fledgling community energy projects, since it often means that there is a ready-made set of resources to tap into – which may range from useful leaflets and publications to courses or training sessions and, in some cases, financial assistance.
Even if your council doesn’t have a huge pot of money to give you – and in these increasingly cash-strapped times, many don’t – you may find that they can help in other ways, such as making facilities available to your group, providing rooms for meetings or possibly helping out with some of the installation work.
You’ll never know what sort of assistance is available unless you ask, so it is definitely worth approaching the relevant department at the town hall – you can often find you’re pushing on an open door!
As well as liaising with the various departments within the council offices themselves, it’s a good idea to get to know your local councillors too. Whether or not they’re on planning committees, their support and influence can be very useful for your project, so it’s well worth getting them on your side and don’t forget to keep them informed as things develop.
When it comes to organising even a relatively modest community energy project, you’ll be grateful for all the friends you can get, and your own council can be a particularly good one to have. One thing is for certain – working with your local authority is a whole lot easier than trying to work without them.