What is the future for sustainable buildings?

The industry has seen a raft of proposed changes in recent months. So what is the future of sustainable homes and will the industry be prepared as we approach the 2016 targets for ‘near zero’ carbon dwellings?

Part L Targets

The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) announced their targets for Part L in early August. This announcement followed a year of consultation on energy efficiency and carbon emissions. The reductions themselves will not be implemented until April 2014.

The original targets were 8% for new homes and 20% for non-domestic properties. The new targets are now confirmed at 6% and 9% respectively, with the target for non-domestic properties being less than half of the original target. So why has there been such an unambitious approach?

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DCLGs response is that they are trying to strike a balance. On the one hand improving energy efficiency requirements and on the other not restricting growth through increased regulation.

Allowable solutions consultation

Following on from this the DCLG published consultation on Allowable Solutions, which enables house builders to undertake work outside of the building to contribute towards the building’s zero carbon obligations. For example, contributing to renewable schemes in the community or paying into a fund to offset carbon emissions.

The Zero Carbon Hub was set up two years previously to investigate alternative methods of achieving carbon reductions through off-site measures and the government is still looking at this. DCLG is still receiving feedback and considering the concerns our industry has.

Housing standards review consultation

Probably the most significant announcement was from the Housing Standards Review Consultation, which highlights the government’s plan to phase out the Code of Sustainable Homes (CSH) and replace it with new building regulations or a set of national standards to deliver sustainability.

Responses so far have not been positive. Many fear that the momentum built up in recent years towards sustainable housing will be lost. There is also concern about areas that may be left unaccounted for by new sustainability legislation, for example ecology and materials. Even though it is likely that CSH will be replaced, Local Planning Policies will probably continue to use CSH as a benchmark for sustainability, which will lead to confusion and potential development delays.

So what does the future hold?

The risk is that rather than simplifying and streamlining the development process, the lack of a clear standard will mean that Local Planning Policies vary in what they request of the developer. This will mean that developers operating in multiple regions may have to meet a range of differing requirements, which will make it more difficult to deliver consistent design guides or standardisation of housing types. This could translate to increased upfront costs, rather than streamlining the process, the opposite of what the government plans are supposed to be doing.

The next two years will be a challenging time. Even more so given that sustainability benchmarking for residential development often indicates where commercial sustainability has to follow.

If you would like to discuss how these changes will impact your projects, please contact Candice Homewood on 0203 078 9734 or email Candice.homewood@greengage-env.com for further details.