That means us, folks – Britain has easily the worst record in adopting European environmental law. And, with less than two years before the UK must start eco-rating all new buildings, it seems the upcoming rules on energy efficiency will offer no exception.
Is Britain set to become the dirty man of Europe once more? Well, if its record on implementing European environmental law is anything to go by, it must be a strong contender. And now the government has admitted that it won't be able to implement most of the European Commission's environmental directives by the deadline. In fact, so far only seven out of 56 rules have met the deadlines that the UK government itself had accepted.

That revelation came in a written reply by Alun Michael, the environment minister, to a question posed by Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson. And it throws into serious doubt the government's ability to meet the 4 January 2006 deadline for the most important directive for the construction industry – the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which aims to rate all new buildings.

"There's a real risk that we're going to delay the implementation of the EPBD," says David Strong, managing director of the energy division at construction research group BRE.

"This will undermine the government's attempts to achieve a step-change in the energy performance of buildings."

Successful implementation of the directive is vital if the European Union is to meet the carbon dioxide reduction target it committed itself to at the Kyoto conference on climate change. Europe's 160 million buildings create more than 40% of its CO2 emissions, and the EPBD aims to cut carbon emissions from buildings in the EU by 45 million tonnes a year by 2010.

The object of the EPBD is to improve the energy performance of buildings by requiring them to be energy certificated. It also calls for the regular inspections of plant, minimum energy requirements for new buildings and a change in the methodology for calculating energy performance.

The good news for green warriors is that the UK has the necessary minimum energy standards in place to meet the EPBD thanks to Part L of the Building Regulations (see 20 February, page 55). The bad news is that there are five signs of slippage in other areas, which will hinder Britain's chances of hitting the 2006 deadline …

No domestic certificates
Earlier this month, housing minister Keith Hill announced that the government would not be introducing Home Information Packs until 1 January 2007. The packs will include use of energy certificates as part of a Home Condition Report. These will include an energy rating for the home and suggest ways of improving homes to cut down on running costs (see "Making a home like a fridge", below). These will enable the UK to meet the EPBD requirement on certification of homes. Unfortunately, they will kick in a year after the EPBD deadline.

The government says that, if necessary, it will use regulations under the European Communities Act to provide a temporary means of satisfying the certification requirements. But the act does not provide the necessary legislative framework with which to enforce the EPBD's requirements. "There are questions about who would police it and what the penalties would be," says Brian Scannell, managing director of National Energy Services.

There is a big concern about the methodology. The range of buildings to be put in this template is phenomenal

John Tebbit, CPA

No commercial certificates
The late arrival of home condition reports (HCRs) is a bad omen for the implementation of the energy certificates for commercial buildings. "There has been a lot of development work on the home condition reports going back to 1996, but relatively no work on a rating system for commercial buildings," says Scannell. "It's going to be a real struggle to meet the deadline."

John Tebbit, industry affairs director of the Construction Products Association, agrees. "There is a big concern about the methodology. The range of buildings to be put into this template is phenomenal," says John Tebbit.

Scannell adds that the debate establishing the whole-building method for housing did not go smoothly. He says: "That was a major job, as there were so many groups with vested interests trying to agree on an appropriate methodology. So for the commercial certificate there will be a whole range of new vested interest groups, who will all have strong opinions about how this will go."

No experts to rate the buildings
Andrew Warren, director of the Association of Energy, is more optimistic that the methodology will be ready in time. "I do think it's possible. There is obviously a lot of work to be done, but now there is a sense of urgency," he says.

Once the methodology is in place, the government must make sure that the certification of buildings is carried out by qualified or accredited experts. It is questionable whether the methodology and the experts to apply it will be in place by January 2006. BRE's Strong says: "It will probably take several months to a year for a commercial methodology to be established, then a competent-person scheme will have to be established. It's a hugely tall order."

The test, says Strong, is whether the government takes measures to get enough trained people in place. Between 6000 and 7000 home inspectors will need to be trained in less than two years to carry out energy surveys of homes. Plant inspections are likely to be carried out by the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, but it has not yet been established who or how many experts will be required to certify commercial buildings.

The government's get-out clause
There is an escape route for the government that will dismay the green lobby. If it can demonstrate that there are insufficient qualified or accredited experts for the certification of buildings and inspection of plant, it will be able to delay implementation by three years, to 2009. But should the government choose to do this, it will have contravened its energy white paper, which stated that the EPBD would be used to help it achieve its 2010 carbon emissions targets.

Improvements will be watered down Strong says the property industry is lobbying for the implementation of the EPBD to be delayed. "The property industry is scaremongering, saying that the EPBD will reduce the value of UK property and make buildings unlettable," says Strong. The basis of the agents' case is that certificates will indicate how expensive the buildings are to run, which will give tenants the leverage to force landlords to improve efficiency.

Strong believes that the government is going to wobble on this one. The EBPD says buildings larger than 1000 m2 occupied by public authorities and by institutions providing public services to a large number of persons should display their energy certificates in a place clearly visible to the public. Strong says government lawyers have examined the text and concluded that non-public buildings can be exempt.

Making a home like a fridge

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive requires that an energy performance certificate be made available to all prospective buyers or tenants of dwellings and commercial buildings.

In the housing bill, which is currently going through parliament, the government is proposing to comply with the EPBD requirements by compelling homeowners to provide potential purchasers with an energy certificate. These home condition reports, which will form part of the home information pack or “seller’s pack”, will include an energy performance rating for the home and information on how much money they can save by making improvements.

The idea is that homeowners will be more likely to install energy efficiency measures such as insulation and solar-powered water heaters if they can see how much money they are likely to save. Better performing buildings are also likely to command a premium as lower running costs will be apparent to buyers and tenants.

David Strong, managing director of the energy division at BRE, is hopeful that the ratings system will have the same impact on homes as it had on fridges in the 1990s. “Fridges use a tenth of the energy used 10 years ago and now new higher bands of energy performance are having to be introduced,” he says.

The government is likely to build on the public’s understanding of energy labels on white goods by devising similar labels for home condition reports. Like fridges, the homes are likely to be graded from A to G in terms of energy performance.