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MPs urge government not to scrap Code for Sustainable Homes

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A group of MPs has urged the government to reconsider plans to scrap the Code for Sustainable Homes

The Environmental Audit Committee has today released a report arguing that the much-used standard - which is expected to go as part of the government’s red-tape busting Housing Review - has ‘driven up home building standards and helped to create a thriving sustainable building industry’.

Under new proposals the government said it want to use the Building Regulations to provide energy requirements for buildings – a move which would spell the end of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

In the Housing Standards review consultation document released back in August, the government states: ‘The conclusion is that the Code has been successful in doing its job in terms of pointing the way forward. In light of this, the government does not now see a need for levels or separate carbon and energy targets in the Code - carbon and energy targets should be set in Building Regulations as we move towards zero carbon homes.’

These plans have been criticised by the cross-party group, who also suggested that the Housing Review has failed to take into account the declining capital costs of fitting clean energy technology to homes.

They argue that the code is a proven policy mechanism for driving incremental improvements in sustainable housing and that once-difficult-to-achieve lower-level CSH standards on energy use have been successfully embedded in Building Regulations over the six years since the policy was introduced.

Environmental audit committee chair Joan Walley said: ‘The Secretary of State should think again before demolishing the Code for Sustainable Homes. The policy has been a big success in driving up home building standards, delivering local choice and supporting green exports. Building materials manufacturers in the UK told us that they use the code as a green kitemark when they sell their products abroad.’

She added: ‘Hundreds of thousands of homes have to be built in the coming decades. Smart energy and water saving measures – which will ultimately save homeowners money on their bills – must become the norm if we want our homes to be fit for the future.

The Code is a proven way of pushing up building standards and should not be dropped

‘The Code for Sustainable Homes incentivises developers and designers to think about sustainability from the outset of a project and throughout the development process. It is a proven and flexible way of pushing up home building standards and should not be dropped.’

The BRE, responsible for managing the certification scheme, backed the committee’s report claiming that scrapping the Code could ‘set back objectives for carbon reduction but also for green growth, green innovation and green exports’.

Martin Townsend, director of sustainability at BRE said: ‘The introduction of the Code for Sustainable Homes in 2007 set a  huge challenge for house builders and the supply chain but one which they responded to in a truly impressive way. The 200,000 houses either built or being constructed to the Code have benefited from reduced carbon emissions, lower fuel bills, increased security, and improved health and wellbeing for those that live in them compared with what regulations required. The Code has not only driven down the cost of sustainable housing but has also delivered innovation in the supply chain resulting in global export opportunities. In addition it has created a number of significant economic, environmental and social benefits for the country that none of us want to lose.’

Responding to the committees claims the UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) has said that though the government needed to review the housing standard, the move could undo a lot of the work over the last seven years.

Jo Wheeler, senior policy advisor at UK-GBC, said: ‘The Code for Sustainable Homes has transformed the industry’s attitude to sustainability, and has been very helpful in setting out a clear direction for future standards. The time was right for review and rationalisation, but any changes must support the delivery of high quality homes. With the demise of the Code and big omissions in the Housing Standards Review consultation around issues like materials, we risk losing a momentum that has transformed the way homes have been built over the last seven years.

She added: ‘Where appropriate, standards should be brought into Building Regulations as soon as possible, and the government’s self-imposed ‘one in two out’ rule is not a valid excuse to delay. We also need suitable transitional arrangements, so that we don’t see a weakening in standards before national regulations catch up’.

Previous story (21.08.13)

Housing review could signal end of Code for Sustainable Homes

The government has suggested it will ‘wind down’ the Code for Sustainable Homes as it attempts to trim regulatory red tape

Under new proposals put out to consultation yesterday, the government said it was looking to use the Building Regulations to provide energy requirements for building – a move which could result in the scrapping of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

In the consultation document, the government states: ‘The government’s conclusion is that the Code has been successful in doing its job in terms of pointing the way forward. In light of this, the government does not now see a need for levels or separate carbon and energy targets in the Code - carbon and energy targets should be set in Building Regulations as we move towards zero carbon homes.’

Changes to Part L of the Building Regulations which are also being consulted upon will result in the requirements contained within Code for Sustainable Homes Level 3-4 becoming a minimum as standard.

We risk losing momentum

Paul King, chief executive of UK-GBC, has criticised the move: ‘With the demise of the Code for Sustainable Homes and big omissions around materials and ecology, we risk losing a momentum that has transformed the way homes have been built over the last seven years’.

David Bownass, sustainability director at WSP commented: ‘The government continues to water down regulation with its attempt to scrap the Code for Sustainable Homes following its minimal changes and delayed start to Part L 2013. It would be difficult to justify this as ‘red tape’ inhibiting development at a time when the house builder share prices have surged and government mortgage support for first time buyers is fuelling a strong recovery.

‘Before abandoning this route to sustainable housing it would be useful to understand the ‘greenest government ever’ alternative vision to tackle this aspect of the climate change - currently it appears to be nothing’.

He added: ‘Interestingly the Code is in large part driven by local planning policy not building regulations and to date the government doesn’t control this aspect of development.’

Plans contained within the consultation could also see the Merton Rule scrapped as part of a move streamline the Planning and Energy Act, originally introduced in 2008. The rule, which has been adopted by a number of councils, requires new developments to generate at least 10 per cent of their energy needs from on-site renewables.

This move has been slammed by a number of renewable energy experts.  

Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said: ‘The Planning and Energy Act is designed to encourage and empower local planning authorities to go further than the minimum standards for energy efficiency and renewables for new developments. It allows for new housing to be constructed which is sensitive to local circumstances and can capture local opportunities to increase neighbourhoods’ sustainability and resilience.

The suggestion to scrap the Act flies in the face of localism

‘The suggestion to scrap the Act flies in the face of localism, good governance, the path to 2016, and the Government’s well-worn claim to be the greenest ever. Set against the backdrop of a watered down minimum standard in the shape of the 2013 Building Regulations, the Act is more important now than it ever has been. At a time when the Government could benefit from actions which restore confidence and trust in its relationship with local authorities and industry, the suggestion to scrap the Act quite simply beggars belief and must be dropped.’

The Renewable  Energy Association chief executive Nina Skorupska added: ‘How can a Government claiming to support both localism and renewable energy suggest doing away with the only policy tool that enables local authorities to promote the use of renewables in new housing’. 

Previous story (AJ 12.11.2012)

Code for Sustainable Homes under threat in standards shake-up

Code for Sustainable Homes, energy performance certificates and sustainable drainage requirements could be loosened - but Part L tightened.

Speaking at the UK Passivhaus Conference last week, Bob Ledsome of the Department for Communities and Local Government suggested that ‘Part L requirements for new homes represent an additional cost on house builders of £103million annually, reflecting an uplift per unit of £1,000’.

He also confirmed that ‘the Code for Sustainable Homes currently remains the governments chosen method for determining the sustainability of new homes’.

However, the government has pledged to remove unnecessary burdens and bureaucracy. Ledsome suggested that to achieve this ‘some elements of the code may be incorporated into the new building regulations’.

The government’s housing standards review will target any requirement that can be applied through planning policies, including all building regulations and approved documents, in a bid to cut house building red tape and boost growth.

The Code for Sustainable Homes and requirements for energy performance certificates are set to be under scrutiny.

The review’s terms of reference states ‘the aim is to achieve tangible deregulation, to enable quality and sustainable housing developments to be brought forward more easily’.

Changes to Part L are due to come into force in October 2013, this is following the deregulation changes which are proposed for April 2013.

Commenting on the proposals, WSP’s sustainability director, David Bowness said: ‘The Government seems to have made the misplaced assumption that building regulations represent red tape. The majority actually serve to ensure a safe, warm, durable home for the general public who will invest a significant part of their working life paying them off.

The Government has the misplaced assumption building regs represent red tape

‘Having already watered down the zero carbon homes regulations and the future Part L 2013 carbon emissions targets for domestic buildings earlier this year, the public could be forgiven for wondering whether this is really the “greenest government ever”.’

The Zero Carbon Hub has recommended that by 2020 at least 90 per cent of homes should perform better than their designed energy and carbon targets, this is in order to target the performance gap, yet it could be a hard ask. The new Part L will see a competence factor built into the regulations, incorporating overdesign to help developers achieve these new requirements.

James Pickard of Cartwright Pickard said: ‘We have a monotony of house builders in the UK. These are allowed to continue building despite consistently failing to meet standards. If these were car manufacturers they would have gone out of business long ago. As there is no requirement to test homes and make sure that they are meeting their designed requirements, these house builders can keep on building homes which are failing’.

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