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It’s official: government to scrap Code for Sustainable Homes

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The government has confirmed it will scrap the Code for Sustainable Homes and incorporate rules on energy efficiency into the Building Regulations

The move is part of a huge shake-up of housing regulations, including ‘optional’ Parker Morris-style space standards for new homes, which the government wants to implement before the end of the present parliament in 2015.

It is understood the streamlined draft regulations and technical standards will be published in the summer, with the regulations and supporting documents coming into force later this year.

The abolition of the energy standard for homes comes in response to the Housing Standards Review consultation and forms part of the government’s wider mission to slash housing regulations by 90 per cent.

It is claimed many of the policies contained within the Code for Sustainable Homes are already duplicated by other regulatory regimes or the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The demise of the code has provoked a mixed reception from the profession, with many claiming it will lead to a drop in standards and, perversely, result in a more complicated system.

Tom Dollard, head of sustainability at Pollard Thomas Edwards, mourned the loss. He said: ‘[The code] is a relatively simple and effective framework for sustainable housing, which has been successful at improving the baseline for housing in the UK.

‘There are many elements, such as health, wellbeing and ecology, which will be lost with the new Building Regulations-only approach, and in many ways this new “simplified” approach is more complicated for developers and planning authorities.’

Sofie Pelsmakers, an architect and doctoral researcher at the University College London Energy Institute, agreed: ‘If ministers are using consolidation as an excuse to lower standards and ambitions, particularly related to fabric energy efficiency standards and other sustainability targets, such as ecology, water use and waste minimisation, then this government will leave a dire legacy.’

Fionn Stevenson, head of Sheffield School of Architecture added: ‘The government, in its haste to “simplify” everything, [could] throw the ecological baby out with the “red-tape” bathwater.

‘It is unclear how many of the other useful sustainable design requirements in the Code for Sustainable Homes will be dropped in the rush for “zero carbon”.’

However, the government maintains that more than 60 per cent of respondents to its consultation wanted sustainability to be taken under the wing of building control.

Greg Lomas, director of Foster Lomas, said: ‘[The Code] has made sustainable development an aspirational target for clients and forced the construction industry to improve performance of their end-product, within a challenging but wholly achievable timescale.

He continued: ‘Compliance is very much a technical issue and it makes total sense to get building control to oversee its application.’

Tom Hart, director at RG+P, agreed. He said: ‘Anything that can be done to reduce the amount of regulation and red tape to building much-needed homes is welcome and the idea of embedding the more valuable Code aspects, such as reducing water consumption and energy usage, in the Building Regulations seems a sensible way forward.’

Despite scrapping the Code, the government has opted to keep a watered-down version of the Merton Rule – a key planning rule introduced in 2008 that enables local councils to set targets above Building Regulations for renewable energy in new homes.

Mike Landy, head of on-site renewables at the Renewable Energy Association, commented: ‘This popular policy will continue to enable local authorities to ensure that new homes in their locality enjoy lower energy bills and carbon footprints, thanks to on-site renewables and renewable heat networks.’

Further comments

Anna Scott-Marshall, RIBA head of external affairs

‘The Code for Sustainable Homes has been crucial in raising environmental standards in new housing over the past decade but the move to embed energy targets within Building Regulations is right. However, the government must now set out as soon as possible how other crucial elements of the code not related to energy will be retained through planning guidance and local policy.’

Jonathan Hines, director, Architype

‘I welcome the scrapping of the Code for Sustainable Homes, because I believe that it had become a tick box exercise  that was doing little to improve the sustainability of new houses in the UK.

‘I paraphrase Oscar Wilde, and say that by ‘trying to give a relative (environmental) price to everything, Code ended up understanding the value of nothing’. 

‘Too often it ended up with the mindless addition of features simply to score points, sometimes at the expense of what would actually be a more sustainable solution. Its ultimate aim of making each building a zero-carbon is a flawed concept, because it is based on perceiving each building as an isolated  carbon island, and requires offsetting of carbon rather than the reduction of energy consumption.

The government’s motivation in doing this is completely wrong

‘However, the government’s motivation in doing this is completely wrong. Whereas they want to reduce regulation and allow the market to let standards fall, I believe that they should introduce Passivhaus as the minimum standard required by Building Regulations. 

‘Being independently certified, it offers a simple way of delivering a quality assured standard of design and construction, and would deliver massive reductions in energy consumption.

‘Simple efficiency, instead of complex box ticking.’

Fionn Stevenson, head, Sheffield School of Architecture

‘My main concern is that the government, in its haste to ‘simplify’ everything, does not throw the ecological baby out with the ‘red tape’ bathwater.

My concern is the government does not throw the ecological baby out with the ‘red tape’ bathwater

‘It concerns me, for example, to see that simple, passive rainwater harvesting is dropped in ‘areas with no water shortages’ - completely missing the point that such moves also save energy and resource use by localising water use, and provide much needed resilience if there is a central failure in the waterworks. 

‘The devil is in the detail as it is unclear how many of the other useful sustainable design requirements in the Code for Sustainable Homes will be dropped in the rush for ‘zero carbon’. 

‘At the same time, I welcome local devolution of some standards - this could reflect local climate or local resources - but it is vital that this is not used as a reason to abandon good standards in order to squeeze non-sustainable development through.’

Sofie Pelsmakers, architect and doctoral researcher at the University College London Energy Institute

‘Consolidation of housing standards and regulations in one place is to be applauded. However, if ministers are using consolidation as an excuse to lower standards and ambitions, particularly related to fabric energy efficiency standards, material considerations and other sustainability targets such as ecology, water use and waste minimisation, then this government will leave a dire legacy. Consolidation of standards is also a missed opportunity if government does not push through certification of as-built to meet as designed in an attempt to close the performance gap. And, while development of minimum space-standards is to be welcomed, this needs to go hand in hand with tighter fabric energy efficiency standards to ensure these future houses will be affordable to heat and contribute to CO2 emission reductions.

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council

‘We are pleased to see ministers re-emphasising the importance of high quality, sustainable homes. Moving standards into national Building Regulations where possible, but with some room for local variation is an approach we broadly support.

‘This new focus on Building Regulations highlights the importance of sticking to the 2016 Zero Carbon trajectory for all new homes, with no further weakening of standards or any delays. And of course over time it will be necessary to bring a wider range of issues into Building Regulations, such as embodied carbon, and the use of sustainable materials, which has been progressed under the Code for Sustainable Homes.

‘We await further details on the transitional arrangements for the Code, but would emphasise that there should not be any weakening of existing standards at the local level while national Building Regulations catch up.’

Naomi Luhde-Thompson, planning adviser to Friends of the Earth

‘Major flooding has put climate change back on the public’s and Westminster’s agenda. Our built environment is responsible for around a third of UK emissions. Given how affordable solar technology is now in new build, it would be crazy for the greenest government ever to prevent local authorities from making sensible use of clean, money-saving technologies in new build homes.’

Nick Molho, head of climate and energy policy at WWF

‘David Cameron is right when he says that climate change is one of the biggest threats facing us today. One of the key ways for us to tackle this threat, head on, is to make sure we have homes that are fit for the future. This includes making sure they emit a fraction of the emissions they do today. Maintaining strong standards for our new homes will deliver such low carbon homes that are warmer, healthier and cheaper to run for all. It is in the gift of this Government to stand firm and see that this is done by keeping the Merton Rule in place.’


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Readers' comments (1)

  • Fond Nova

    The code has helped raise standards and is also a double edged sword with perceived costs stalling developments and implementation. One of the issues for the code was to reduce emissions and fuel costs, however little attention if any has been paid to the heating in the buildings, especially the heat emitters. In Europe they use similar heating to us with low temperature heat emitters, i.e Aluminium radiators with low temperature design of 50c. Installing these alone will reduce fuel consumption by lowering the boiler flow temperature from 7/80 c down to 50/55c, and reduce over-run from boilers that modulate and cycle, thus reducing C02. This is a simple, extremely cost effective means to achieving lower costs and making all homes New and existing, greener while maintaining comfort levels. I do hope that the new regulations will look to what is available. The new BRE SAP report December 2012 -9-92 , section 9.3 states that heating systems should be based on low energy with heat emitters (radiators) that are designed to provide the same level of heat as required but at `50c flow design temperature, ideally not exceeding 45c, even on the `design day` - a day with cold weather conditions chosen for calculating the maximum heat loss of the building`. This has still not be realised and is the easiest lowest cost option for ALL hydraulic heating systems. Welcome to 2014, these are available now and have been for 40 years. To find out more if you are interested, check out www.fond-nova.co.uk, or contact us at enquiries@fondital.co.uk

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