Sustainability Having introduced a raft of sustainability measures just before Christmas, the government must allow them time to develop into a clear strategy.
After a pre-Christmas raft of green initiatives from the government, it is time see if a clear strategy that will be supported by further considered measures has emerged, or whether we can expect to continue to be carpet-bombed by sustainability standards. The big three proposals for the built environment are as follows:
Planning Policy Statement 1
The planning paper aims to balance planning authorities’ desires to set higher environmental standards for developments, with the need to have consistency across the country. The fear is that without controls, every planner will set their own standards, as Merton council did by demanding that 10% of buildings’ energy requirements should be generated by on-site renewables.
If we are waging a war on climate change, it helps to have a disciplined army with the best equipment rather than a mob waving whatever tools come to hand, however enthusiastic they may be. The paper states that planning authorities should specify performance to national standards such as the Code for Sustainable Homes, avoid prescriptive requirements such as particular construction techniques, and be mindful of the cost and effect on housing supplies. Renewable energy is encouraged not only for individual developments but at a community level, so smaller schemes can link together.
The Code for Sustainable Homes
The Code for Sustainable Homes is a government-owned, modified BRE EcoHomes scheme. It has six levels of performance, from a bit better than the Building Regulations through to the zero carbon home.
Unfortunately the supporting guidance for the code – the technical manual and the revised BRE Green Guide for materials – is not yet available. The first should appear in April, the last does not yet have a firm date.
All Housing Corporation and English Partnerships developments will be built to code level 3 from April, and planning authorities may well ask for higher levels. While many carp at the code, it does set out a national scheme rather than leaving it to every green wannabe to devise their own.
Towards zero carbon development
Finally, the consultation on the government’s proposed timetable for zero carbon development sees housebuilding moving from today’s levels of energy use on space and water heating to 25% better in 2010 and a further 19% improvement on that in 2013. In 2016 there is a giant leap to zero carbon space and water heating, coupled with the generation of all other energy for the home by zero carbon means. Zero carbon energy only comes from wind, tidal and solar (and arguably nuclear) sources. Burning wood or other biomass can give low carbon electricity and heat but are not zero carbon.
Meeting the timetable will be challenging – not so much for lack of technology but because of price. Delivering 200,000 such homes a year at an affordable price to buyers will be difficult. Germany has built 6,000 PassivHaus buildings in 10 years which represents the best mass-market energy performance to date – a bit better than our 2013 aim. In 10 years, the government wants to build 200,000 homes a year that are better than the PassivHaus by the same margin as the PassivHaus is over our existing standards.
This is not so much running before learning to walk as entering yourself in the Olympic 100m. As all who work in the industry will know, the first law of building is that one can have any two of these three: quick, good or cheap. I do not see this being proved wrong.
And do the three documents indicate the emergence of a clear, coherent strategy? They might, so long as the government allows them time to develop, adding support as necessary and killing off conflicting initiatives, rather than replacing them with another strategy in a year or two’s time. After all, a strategy isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life.
At a glance
See www.communities.gov.uk for all of the above
John Tebbit is industry affairs director of the Construction Products Association