2023 Planning Applications Annual Report

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Between January 2023 and January 2024 Transition Bath commented on 215 Planning Applications in B&NES. The objective of this work was to ensure properties going through the planning application process included proposals which were as thermal efficient as possible and which minimised carbon emissions. We are using our specialist expertise in low carbon buildings and ‘viability’ to encourage planning permission applicants to reduce the operational carbon emissions of properties.

This annual report analyses the applications to determine how to improve quality and performance of the applications, the application process, and how we comment on the application process.

In summary:

Application TypeApplicationsSummary comment
New Build70Compliance generally ‘good’ for new policies SCR6/7/8 but 62% had insufficient documentation
Glazing52Promising trends on installing double glazing on listed properties with support from the council Conservation Officers; more could be done to avoid single glazing applications
Retrofit35Some exemplar retrofits, but generally opportunities missed
HMO19New council policy that all newly licensed HMOs EPC C or better – almost 100% compliance
Heat19Would have liked to have seen more gas boiler installations evaluating heat pumps. Heat pump planning application costs very expensive
Solar PV10Generally being permitted
Change of use9Frustrating conversions of properties to residential bypass B&NES thermal efficiency policies
Major8Bath Gas Works, LIDL, Bath Rec etc.

Our responses are logged here: Planning & Consultations – Transition Bath

In reviewing these applications, we think the process could be improved by:

  • Improving the documentation associated with New Build policy SCR6 with exemplar documentation, so more than the current 38% of applications are submitted with complete documentation
  • Strengthening advice and evidence at the pre-application stage to minimise the number of single glazing listed building requests in favour of slimline double glazing etc.
  • Strengthening advice at pre-application stage for any listed building refurbishment work
  • Requesting owners examine feasibility of heat pumps when applying for new gas boilers in listed buildings
  • Reducing the full planning permission cost up to of £322 for heat pumps to that of the £184 for solar PV, which we currently feel acts as a barrier to decarbonising our heating systems

We aim to discuss these issues with the council’s planning department in the near future.

New Build Homes – Policies SCR6, SCR7 and SCR8

Ultimately almost all new build applications of which we commented on 70 last year ultimately had to comply with B&NES policies on heat loss and carbon emission reduction which are amongst the highest in the UK and typically 3 times better than minimum Building Regulations.

The key policies which were introduced in January 2023 are:

  • SCR6 Domestic New Build: annual domestic heating demand < 30 kWh/year/m2 and annual energy demand < 40 kWh/m2/year – about 4 times lower than the average UK home
  • SCR7 Commercial New Build: a 100% reduction in carbon emissions for new large non-residential development versus 2013 Part L national standards
  • SCR8: Embodied Carbon: embodied energy in construction of buildings of < 900 kg/m2, about half the national average and important because CO2 emissions from construction of a new building can be equivalent to up to 100 years of operational use CO2 emissions

However, commenting on them was challenging as in 62% of the applications the documentation was incomplete, something which should have been resolved during the submission to the council. This made it difficult for us to use our expertise to comment completely on the applications because of missing information and we were therefore unconfident of many applications compliance. It was often time consuming as we often had to review the submission twice once the applicant had been prompted by our comments to submit additional documentation. 

Essentially 4 documents need to be provided to prove compliance with policy SCR6:

  1. A Sustainable Construction Checklist: which summaries the measures being employed to meet the standard, and covers other sustainability issues like overheating and water consumption
  2. ‘Etudes’ Energy Summary Tool: a compliance spreadsheet confirming conformance for each property
  3. Detailed SAP (detailed EPC) or PHPP (Passivhaus) equivalent to prove the values quoted in the 2 documents above
  4. Elevations, site and roof plans locating solar PV and heat pumps

It is rare that all 4 of these types of documents are submitted and we feel that this is caused by either of:

  1. A genuine misunderstanding of what is required
  2. A deliberate attempt to hide non-compliance or the feeling that they are too onerous and an initial attempt to see if the application can be successful without compliance

We feel this could be improved by the council providing 4 example exemplar documents to illustrate what is expected and further training of council planning staff on their help desk accepting applications.

We have struggled with some ‘Outline’ applications or ‘Full’ applications with everything deferred to a ‘Reserved Matter’ as it has not been always clear whether SCR6 documentation was needed. Conversations with a senior Bath Planning Officer suggest that they are not in certain circumstances e.g. where the aesthetics of the applications are not being determined. We feel the process of determining whether SCR6 documentation is required is a little judgemental and in almost all of these the size and orientation of the properties are being determined has a bearing on whether they can support enough Solar PV, solar gain through windows which would influence their annual energy consumption. We generally feel the SCR6 documentation should be included in almost all circumstances which is not the case at the moment.

Ultimately in almost all cases meeting these standards was conditioned when permission was granted, and so we will have to wait until these properties are built to determine whether the properties comply with these higher standards.

Reading between the lines of the applications about 50% of the applications were enthusiastic about meeting or exceeding the standards, typically self-builders, and the remainder, typically commercial developers, sought to minimally meet the standards and saw them as an impingement on their profit margins. It is these commercial developers who in future may need closest monitoring to ensure that on an ‘as built’ basis the properties comply with the standards.

However there are 3 related clouds on the horizon:

  1. The Levelling Up and Regeneration Act currently going through parliament which will restrict councils’ rights to exceed national policy as B&NES Policies 6, 7 and 8 currently do
  2. A written ministerial statement issued in December 2023: Written statements – Written questions, answers and statements – UK Parliament which seeks to limit council’s ability to specify higher standards
  3. The Future Homes Standard, which is currently in another round of consultation, which although promising, like the 2015 Zero Carbon Homes Standard runs the risk of being watered down, delayed or scrapped under the influence of large developers

Policy issues:

  • Miles House: was an application to Passivhaus standards which was rejected because it wasn’t able to support enough solar PV to meet the < 40 kWh/m2/year net energy consumption requirements. For larger commercial applications carbon offsetting is allowed. For this exemplar application we felt that some flexibility should have been allowed e.g. carbon offsetting in this exceptional circumstance. We feel Miles House should not have been rejected purely on the basis it couldn’t quite meet the solar PV requirements
  • Using equivalent U values: 2 applications were approved despite not meeting the SCR6 < 30 kWh/m2/year maximum heat loss requirement – possibly because they had thermally inefficient form factors. They were approved despite this on the basis they had good U values. This approach misses the whole point of SCR6 over standard Building Regulations (TER/DER), defining criteria in  per m2 terms  so poor form factor, thermally inefficient properties are not brought forward

Overall we feel the process is going well despite the documentation issues.

Glazing and Retrofit of Listed Buildings

Unlike New Build, the council has few policy levers to pull to ensure higher standards. The policy associated with the thermal efficiency of Listed Properties is determined by the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF) which in turn delegates advice to Historic England. Unfortunately Historic England appears to have been dragging its feet for the last 2 decades favouring conservation over thermal efficiency in listed properties unlike its more progressive  counterpart Historic Environment Scotland.

There is a judgemental balance between preserving historic homes and improving their thermal efficiency/carbon emissions. In the past we have felt that Conservation Officers in B&NES have overly favoured conservation over carbon emission reduction. We have always felt uncomfortable with a policy which permits residents to install new kitchens and bathrooms, and park cars outside their Georgian Listed buildings but blocks slimline double glazing, only visible at under a metre. Formally, the current judgemental  ‘policy’ is covered by the council’s Energy Efficiency, Retrofitting and Sustainable Construction SPD. Luckily we feel that there has been a significant shift in the Conservation Officer’s position more in favour of thermal efficiency in the last year and more in line with the council’s declaration of a Climate Emergency. This change was needed as very few, potentially none of Bath’s 5,000 listed properties will meet our 2050 Climate Change obligations.

We are seen significantly more applications for slimline double glazing and secondary glazing consented in the last year we think all were consented, although a few were withdrawn with no stated reason:

Type of glazingNumber of applicationsThermal efficiency/ U valueTimes better thermal performance than original single glazing% reduction in homes overall heat lossesCost per window
Slimline Double162.02.513%£1800

We would like to see this trend continue and ideally see no applications for single glazing and almost all for the highest performing vacuum glazing which has the same slim-profile of single glazing but the performance of triple glazing. Vacuum glazing has been on the market for over 10 years through a product called Pilkington Spacia but the recent advent of two new competitors Landvac and Fineo there has seen a significant increase in installations in Bath. Fineo is particularly impressive because it’s almost indistinguishable from single glazing even within 1 metre, has the same thickness; we have been advising people to visit it’s exemplar  installation at 13 Caroline Buildings, installed by Newman’s Joinery (22/02518/LBA) to understand it’s lack of aesthetic impact.

Our current strategy is to comment on all non-vacuum glazing Listed Building Consent applications to encourage applicants to consider higher performance vacuum glazing as an alternative during the application process, and to use this to raise awareness with professionals submitting these applications e.g. architects, chartered surveyors and installers that there are better alternatives available. Ideally this is a conversation the Conservation Officer should be having with applicants at the pre-application stage but it is difficult for them to recommend one manufacturer e.g. Fineo vacuum glazing over another.

Vacuum glazing is more expensive than other choices but only marginally, as the majority of the cost of replacing a sash window is labour. In most circumstances it would be the rational choice because of its very high thermal performance however we think because of lack of awareness it is only chosen about 40% of the time. We feel that our efforts to date may be making a difference as the proportion of vacuum glazing applications has been increasing recently.

Going forward we therefore plan on:

  • Continuing to comment on these applications to raise awareness and to persuade applicants to install vacuum glazing
  • Write a paper on the comparative benefits of different types of glazing for sash windows, including further research on longevity
  • Discuss with the council how applicants could be further encouraged not to apply for permission to install single glazing and to in consider the benefits of vacuum glazing
  • Work with architects, installers to raise the profile of vacuum glazing

We are particularly encouraged by the recent National Trust planning application to install vacuum glazing at the Assembly Rooms.

Retrofit – refurbishment with the potential to insulate

There are a number of applications for significant refurbishment or extensions which are submitted and which we comment on to try to persuade homeowners to consider insulating at the same time, typically for listed properties.

We generally don’t comment on most applications to extend as this is covered by the latest 2021 Building Regulations which require high standards of insulation, significantly better than the existing property. Any effort to ask for even higher standards are probably wasted.

For listed buildings we have very little leverage in that there is no legislation which requires homeowners to consider insulating when making major changes to a property e.g. installing new kitchens, bathrooms, moving internal partitions, adding extensions. ‘Betterment’ , requiring owners to thermally upgrade their homes in return for planning permission, was mooted by the Cameron Government but never enacted for political reasons

And so, our main opportunity, like with glazing, is to comment on some of these applications to persuade home owners and particularly to raise the issue with their agents. We have limited understanding of the conversations applicants have with Conservation Officers at the pre-application stage but we would like to see thermal efficiency measures being encouraged at this stage for all Listed applications. We wonder whether they could require  a non-legally binding checklist to be completed for all applications which highlighted which thermal efficiency measures were evaluated, accepted or rejected?

We also sometimes comment on applications to insulate, dry-line listed buildings using ‘old school’ non permeable internal wall insulation to suggest the applicant take professional advice to minimise the risk of interstitial condensation and structural damage and consider more permeable insulation techniques. Ultimately we feel this requires a significant education process with Chartered Surveyors which are often the source of these proposals.

Overall we don’t comment on that many retrofit applications because we don’t feel our comments can make that much difference.


B&NES require that newly registered HMOs meet EPC C, B or A. Generally this is going well with a few exceptions:

  • Properties operating as de facto HMOs applying for retrospective permission (regularisation) not needing to meet EPC ‘C’
  • New assessments of EPCs on unchanged properties jumping up several EPC bands – we suspect the EPCs are being fiddled by assessors and will challenge the next one if time is available. This also seems to include changing floor areas e.g. from 150m2 to 106m2!
  • Permission granted for immediate occupancy but deferral of compliance to a future date

Owners of the HMOs generally are happy to attempt to comply with the requirement.

Heat – Gas Boilers and Heat Pumps

Listed Building Consent is required to move and reinstall new gas boilers in listed buildings as it typically requires changes to the fabric of the building e.g the penetration of walls for flues, services and condensate pipes.

Planning permission is required for heat pumps for listed properties, where they are within 1m of a boundary (noise) or in some circumstances on the front of a  property in a World Heritage Site or Conservation Area.

There are currently no regulations to require a homeowner to install a heat pump rather than a gas boiler, despite the knowledge that to meet our Climate Change commitments a gas boiler installed today may have a very short life.

Where applications are made for the installation of gas boilers in listed properties we have been making comments suggesting owners evaluate the alternative of heat pumps. To date we suspect this has had very little impact as it is often a gas boiler installer making the application on behalf of the homeowner and so has no incentive to recommend another technology but it is useful for us to comment just to gain background information and log these types of applications and examine the potential feasibility for ourselves.

Applications for air source heat pumps are where they are not covered by permitted development rights. We are monitoring and supporting them to gain market intelligence to support our Air Source Heat Pump Advisory service. However, the main issue is that full planning costs at  £322 are required to get permission for the pumps which we see as a barrier to the decarbonisation of heating in Bath. We feel these barriers need to be reduced and are planning on talking to the council on whether they can be brought more in line with the £184 costs associated with non-permitted development solar PV applications. A heat pump will typically save 3.5 times more CO2 than a solar PV installation, yet it is being charged at twice as much compared with solar PV. These higher charges are a barrier to heat pump installations which will take 900 years at the current rate to fully decarbonise in B&NES.

Major Planning Applications

There were few major planning applications in 2023, partly a reflection of the contraction in the housing market from higher interest rates – developers are not bringing new development forward.

The applications which came forward were as follows:

Beazer House 152 bedroom hotel, Lower Bristol RoadObjected on multiple grounds including 2x overstatement of solar PV potential. Decision Pending
Remodelling of 128 bed student accommodation, Pultney CourtSupport: because of 76% CO2 reduction. Decision Pending
4,264 Ground mounted solar PV farm (BWCE), Compton DandoSupport. Decision Pending
9 New Build Homes, Hartley WoodObjected to this Outline application as no SCR6 documentation despite size and layout specified. Application refused primarily on grounds of location but partly the lack of SCR6 documents.
10 apartments, Danes Court, KeynshamSupported homes being built to near Passivhaus standards: Decision pending
Bath Recreation Ground, Rugby StadiumMade minor comments about embodied carbon of construction, transport. Decision pending
Replacement of care home with 36 flatsObjected. Not compliant with CP2, interestingly a previous outline application had been refused on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate because of lack of CP2 documentation
New Lidl Store, London RoadMinor objections. Decision Pending.
351 flats, Bath Gas WorksMultiple objections including overheating and lack of affordable housing viability. Application disappeared off Planning Portal, presume withdrawn?