Pretty much everyone in the industry agrees that saving energy and cutting carbon emissions from new buildings by 20% is a Good Thing.
Unfortunately, pretty much everybody in the industry will find it difficult to take comfort from this when they find themselves grappling with the tools needed to calculate those carbon emissions. They are more likely to be thinking that the new Part L, which came into force yesterday, is the most cack-handed implementation of a building regulation in the history of the world.
Although the whole process has been a nightmare from beginning to end, it isn't all the ODPM's fault. Part L was revised two years earlier than planned because Europe's Energy Performance of Buildings Directive required all member states to reduce carbon emissions. This meant that there was little time to go through the usual consultation and publication process. Despite a mad rush at the end, the approved document was only released three weeks before final implementation, rather than the usual six months, and there was little time to debug the software required to calculate carbon emissions. As a result, applying the program leads to some very odd scenarios, such as all-glass buildings easily passing the compliance test
What is less forgivable is the way the construction industry is being made to suffer for the government's failure to meet its own environmental targets. In particular, it is unlikely to cut carbon emission to 20% below 1990 levels by 2010. Six weeks ago, the ODPM appeared to acknowledge the problems that the rushed timetable was causing the industry, and word got out that it would be allowed to make a gentle transition to the new Part L. The suggestion was that projects on the drawing board could comply with the 2002 version of Part L for at least six months after the official implementation of the 2006 version, providing the intent of schemes was outlined to building control. But then the smooth-talking David Cameron appeared on the scene making positive noises about the green agenda, and the government's attitude suddenly changed. On 22 February the ODPM announced that all schemes would have to comply with 2006 Part L unless fully detailed plans were submitted and approved by 6 April. That made it practically impossible to get approval under the 2002 regs unless the scheme was already in the building control officer's in-tray.
This will create a lose-lose situation. Despite forcing through its changes, the government is unlikely to get the quick carbon savings it wanted. The rushed development of the Part L software means buildings appear to be complying when they probably shouldn't. Paul Everall, the chief executive of Local Authority Building Control, says the late publication of the final document means his members won't have had the training to enforce Part L properly for several months. So we could live in a state of limbo for the next six months while the bugs are sorted out. Or the ODPM could swallow hard, acknowledge the problems facing the industry and give it a breather by introducing a more realistic transitional period - and put the resources in place to help the industry get up to speed with new Part L as quickly as possible.
Thomas Lane, assistant editor