There are times when I wonder how anything ever gets built in Scotland. Long before one brick is laid upon another, a regulatory storm force of planners, inspectors, compliance officers and clipboard huggers descends upon the smallest building application.
But still it’s not enough. This week the environmental lobby Greenpeace has called for a new national agency to enforce Scottish building standards.
It criticised the current system for policing building regulations which relies on builders to certify much of their work, with limited checks by council officials. It says a tougher approach is needed “to help new home buyers”.
It says building energy standards should be significantly stepped up, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, another agency is needed. But oh, no, I cry: not another one!
I’m in the throes of having a modest extension added to my cottage at Lochearnhead. It’s a wee room to the side where I can sit and ruminate, to gaze down on the waters of Loch Earn sparkling in the morning sun like a sea of diamonds. Hey, if I turn my head a little, I might even be able to watch the deer munching their way through the roses after they have stripped the fruit trees of every accessible plum.
But at least here I can be sheltered from the grinding household noise of washing machines, tumble dryers, vacuum cleaners and the constant churning of the dishwasher. Is it too much for a man to ask?
The excellent architect came up with a glass box, a sort of miniaturised Miles van der Rohe - or could-be Miles van der Rohe but for the planned installation of my late father’s battered writing desk with the wobbly leg and patched-up armchair with gorilla tape rescued from the foyer of some bankrupt grand hotel where golfers collapsed under the weight of their clubs.
Oh, and have I mentioned the cat flap? I’m scared to mention it to the architect for fear of another round of amended planning applications, form filling and inspections.
As it is, you could barely swing a cat in this panoramic matchbox. Yet almost a year on, and I’ve done nothing but fork out on a costly array of building inspections, warrants and clipboard clutchers from building standards agencies and the manifold outcrops of Scottish government. And almost every single bill comes with a swingeing 20 per cent VAT charge.
So far – and this without a brick being laid – I have had to pay £1,700 for the architect’s drawings (VAT thereon £342.16), digging a six-foot hole for the surveyor’s inspection (£488 plus VAT thereon £97.60), a £2,263.20 bill from the consulting engineers plus VAT thereon £452.64, the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park planning fee of £202, oh, and, not forgetting the hefty £576 building warrant fee to Stirling Council.
When I timorously queried what the council had done to warrant this charge as no-one from the council had been round, I was told that this was a Scottish government charge which local authorities had to levy – nothing to do with us and no ifs, no buts. All told, I’ve now forked out more than £1,600 in VAT, plus planning warrant fees and charges – and this before work starts. But now it seems this is not enough. Greenpeace says a new agency is required.
Really? These people won’t rest until our homes are made out of biodegradable council waste and the walls rendered with cow turds. I’m only amazed Historic Scotland has not muscled in, though the Glen Ogle burn to the side of the garden has already been crawled over by inspectors from the Bat Conservancy Council.
And at least I have been spared detailed specifications on the approved colour of paint and exterior wash to be used. A near neighbour discovered last year when an external wall was damaged that his house had a pink rendering underneath - long regarded as the sign of a Jacobite supporter’s dwelling! He has now proudly repaired his house – in pink. Not that long ago that would have invoked the ire of the local planners: white or nothing! Today, of course, any attempt to block the use of pink would be blasted as anti-gay prejudice.
Enough, already. Building regulation in Scotland is already excessive. And the 20 per cent VAT is a real downer for anyone seeking to make the smallest improvement while a new build is free of VAT. Sajid Javid, a self-proclaimed tax cutter, could make an early start here to end this distorting discrimination and announce a flat rate of 10 per cent VAT on all residential build to help the housing market, encourage uplift and improvement and – dare I risk the word – diversity.