Friday, February 08, 2008


The end of driveways as we know them?

The government published its vision for future surface water management yesterday, and there are a couple of "initiatives" that are going to have a massive impact on the patio and driveways businesses.

I picked up on the story in The Guardian this morning, but as that article is pretty non-specific and littered with quotes from peripheral bodies such as the RSPB and the National Trust, but no comment at all from anyone in the paving business or the wider construction industry, I tracked down the DEFRA document and read it for myself.

Much of it reads like most other government publications: long on vision and promises, yet short on action and funding, but tucked away on page 59 is the shock news that, in future, the right of householders to create off-road parking for themselves will lose its exemption from planning permission, unless it is a loose material such as gravel, or a permeable block system. Further, the right of householders to make a connection to an existing SW system is likely to be withdrawn.

This, in effect, means an end to traditional driveways constructed from block paving, bitmac, concrete, PIC, setts, fact, it means massive changes to an industry that is virtually unregulated and, for a large part, untrained. Just where does the govt think all these skilled permeable pavement installers will come from? We haven't got enough competent installers to cope with demand for Permeable Concrete Block Paving (PCBP) from the commercial sector, let alone the private, residential market. Without effective training, we face having thousands of ineffective cowboy installations, and poorly installed PCBP can cause far more serious problems than traditional CBPs or even tinker-laid bitmac.

Whilst fully agreeing with the aims of this initiative, I have severe reservations regarding its chance of success. The patio and driveway trade has been given a free rein for decades: attempting to impose some semblance of order and regulation will not be an easy task. Those contractors with a degree of integrity will, no doubt, do their best to play by the rules, but I fear those rogues that blight our trade, will manipulate this into yet another way to undercut the honest tradesman.

Further, who gets their collar felt when it comes to light that the new driveway Mr & Mrs Smith have just had installed isn't actually permeable/porous? The dodgy contractor will be long gone, his pockets stuffed with ill-gotten pound notes, which leaves the householder facing the wrath of DEFRA and the local council, and, yet again, the paving trade
, en masse, will be portrayed as a bunch of money-grabbing, untrustworthy, shonky ne'er-do-wells.

Coming up with such a scheme is all well and good, but how will it be implemented, and how will it be policed?

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