Planning authorities are usually keen to stick with the vernacular architectural style of their region and the localism agenda will probably only serve to strengthen this innate conservatism. The challenge is to develop better technical solutions that improve performance without introducing unacceptable changes to the aesthetic. This is particularly true for roofing as using a recognisable roof design can help get other, more radical, design changes passed by the planners.
I am noticing in current housing projects a return to a gable fronted design, with the pitch running front to back, that is a signature feature of traditional English villages going back centuries. It makes perfect sense as the gable gives a sense of height, and the result of a development using gable fronted design is a pleasingly varied roofline.
We know that planners respond well to this reference to traditional design and even in areas with the most constraints on development, if the roof design is in keeping with local style, it becomes much easier to argue the case for new technology such as solar PV. Where solar PV is integrated into the roofline, so that its visual impact is absolutely minimal, then even the most conservative planning officials would be hard-pressed to object, allowing housebuilders to meet their obligations for renewable energy without radical alterations to standard house designs.
When it comes to the roof tiles themselves it is not unusual at all for us to be asked to supply tile samples for planning approval. It is relatively easy to replicate the look of traditional roofing products – our production processes can accurately mimic regional clay colours while individual profiles have also been developed to suit specific regions.
The accuracy of this replication is important as it overcomes a tendency for planners to object to the use of modern materials. We are also finding that emphasising the “sustainability” of materials is important, so that the relatively low embodied energy of concrete tiles can help support a sustainability argument for the development.
In terms of wider market considerations the whole market is challenged by an ever-increasing pressure on costs and the resulting reduction in the skill level of site workers. The only sensible response to these challenges from the manufacturer has to be the development of products that are cost-competitive and easy to use.
In Redland’s case the initial result of such technical innovation was the development of concrete tiles, first introduced nearly 100 years ago (making concrete, it could be argued, a traditional roofing material). Concrete is now widely accepted as the standard material for roofs – only in the most sensitive heritage sites would it be rejected out of hand today.
More significant, perhaps, is the development of systems to improve the reliability of new roofs – dry-fix system to replace mortars and lead-free flashings to remove the need for skilled leadworkers. Quick to install, these systems may actually save money on site while the guaranteed reliability of the systems drastically reduce roofing failures. And, of course, all are designed to blend inconspicuously into the traditional roofing design
It is a strange anomaly of the UK’s affection for tradition that a market is created where technical innovation is only acceptable if it is disguised, but there really doesn’t seem to be any appetite for a new housing aesthetic. It is therefore up to the manufacturers to provide the technical innovation to drive improving performance of new buildings without falling foul of our planners.
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Ford plans to get motoring
At 26, Matthew Ford has won one of the industry’s top awards, the BMI Apprentice of the Year 2019 in pitched roofing. So now what?