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'Look, ' said the man from the ministry, 'we've announced that the document is going to come into force in April 2006, and that's what's going to happen.' He couldn't see what my problem was, so I felt obliged to spell it out. 'At the moment, ' I said, 'you haven't completed the steering group stage, but let's assume that you go out to consultation by December, say, for three months. That takes us to the beginning of March 2006; so you have just one month to get it analysed, assessed, published and approved for April 2006?' 'Exactly, ' said the apparatchik. 'I have every faith that is what is going to happen.' Sometimes I despair. This feeling was not helped by the fact that he couldn't tell me what's in the document as 'that's confidential at present'.

Our chat was about the Code for Sustainable Building, a voluntary scheme being developed by the government in order to promote more sustainable building practices.

It is being drawn up by a range of industry players, from the CEO of Barratt Homes to the director of Stanhope and the CEO of the Thames Housing Association. Some people have suggested that the involvement of big developers will act as a break to 'innovative' sustainable practices but, given the fact that other steering group members include Robert Napier, CEO of WWF UK, and Walter Menzies of the Sustainable Development Commission, there are sufficient sustainability fundamentalists to keep even the most hardened eco-fanatics happy.

So what is the Code for Sustainable Building? Well, no-one knows for sure, but it will be mandatory for new residential developments receiving government funding.

It will go beyond the Building Regulations' 'conservation of fuel and power' and cover the conservation of water, minerals, material resources and 'much higher sustainability standards'.

This all ties in with the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD), which also comes into force in April 2006, that stipulates that when existing buildings over 1,000m 2 undergo 'major renovation' their energy efficiency should be upgraded 'in so far as is feasible'.

The EPBD spells out major renovation as 'where the total cost of the renovation related to the building shell and/or energy installation such as heating, hot-water supply, air conditioning, ventilation and lighting is higher than 25 per cent of the value of the building, excluding the value of the land on which the building is situated, or those where more than 25 per cent of the building shell undergoes renovation.' As outlined in the AJ (04.11.04), the Secure and Sustainable Buildings Act has the power to amend Building Regulations and, for example, provides the secretary of state with powers to make Building Regulations that make provision in respect of 'recycling facilities (including facilities for composting)', regardless of whether they are stipulated in the Approved Documents.

With this level of authority, and with a vague performancespecification brief at their disposal, architects should be wary of sustainability consultants offering to clarify matters for them. This is a recipe for an extension of environmental criteria for design that goes way beyond Part L. Eco-gurus bearing gifts of 'sustainability compliance' will have a field day.

At the moment, it is intended that the code replace BREEAM and Eco Homes but there are suggestions that there be a SAP equivalent for water consumption and that there be a minimum percentage of virgin and reclaimed timber.

Unsurprisingly, it is the unelected, supremely biased WWF that will undoubtedly dominate the agenda.

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