Who will set definitive sustainability targets? Nobody really knows because there are many different rules – one imposed by the Building Regulations and the rest by local planners. The result is likely to be widespread confusion.

The line between the Building Regulations and planning requirements was once crystal clear. The regulations dealt with the nuts and blots of putting a building together, whereas planning policy dealt with the building’s appearance and location. There were no conflicting sets of rules and architects had to comply with only one set of technical standards whether they were building in Carlisle or Cardiff.

Now, however, that line is becoming fuzzy. In recent years, councils have been encouraged to enforce tougher sustainability targets through planning policy. In doing so, some are setting energy targets that clash with standards in Part L. This in turn means that builders could have to change design details as they move between local authorities.

Councils can insert requirements in their local development documents or supplementary planning documents. Roger Humber, the housing consultant, says some councils are using SPDs to implement sustainable policies through the back door, as they require lower levels of consultation. “They are trying to sneak stuff through SPDs that they either did not think of in their local plans, or they did not want to send for further examination.”

Andy Senatore, group technical manager at Countryside Properties, has seen Thurrock and Chelmsford councils trying to impose energy performance requirements on developments. “I’m a bit worried by this trend,” said Senatore. “Why not just leave it to Building Regulations?”

The view has some sympathy from the Royal Town Planning Institute. Dave Barraclough, planning policy manager at the institute, says that inserting maximum U-value requirements into local planning documents goes too far. “That’s going over the top, frankly. It’s an unwritten rule that you don’t repeat national policy in your local development plan, and this gives foundation to claims from builders that there is overlap.”

The ODPM encouraged councils to incorporate sustainability into their plans 18 months ago with the introduction of PPS1: Delivering Sustainable Development. This said climate change should be taken into account in design. Another driver was PPS22 which in August 2004 told councils that they could include targets for renewable energy in local development documents.

You could end up with 400 sets of Building Regulations. That’s not reforming the regs – that’s deforming them

John Tebbit, Construction Products Association

The idea behind the move can be traced back to the south London borough of Merton’s pioneering 10% target for on-site renewable energy, which the council put into its plan in 2003 after realising that it was possible to enforce renewable energy at a local level. However, the inclusion of renewable energy systems encroaches on the Building Regulations because it affects carbon emissions ratings, which will be required in the next revision of Part L. Although PPS22 says that targets of up to 10% for renewable on-site energy should be imposed only if feasible, many councils are insisting on it in their local development documents.

Such discrepancies are not confined to Part L. Senatore has also come across accessibility requirements in a draft SPD by Uttlesford council in Essex. He thinks that these demands should be confined to Part M of the Building Regulations, which deals with the issue of accessibility. Uttlesford accepted that accessibility requirements were covered in the Building Regulations but believed it was also a concern for communities. In the draft it stated: “The government requirements to develop inclusive and sustainable communities means the needs of people with disabilities and mobility problems are a planning concern.”

This overlap between the regulations and planning policy could get worse with the introduction of the ODPM’s Code for Sustainable Buildings in April 2006. The code, which was one of the big ideas to emerge from the energy white paper in 2003, will contain standards for energy use, reduced waste, water use and sustainable procurement of materials. Although it will apply to publicly owned land initially, the government is keen that councils force developments on private land to comply, and has said as much in a response to the House of Commons’ environmental audit committee report this summer.

John Tebbit, director of industry affairs at the Construction Products Association, said that councils should adopt a uniform approach so that no matter where the development is located, the local authority stipulates the same level of performance found in the forthcoming code. “That way there will be some semblance of order.” Otherwise “you could end up with 400 sets of Building Regulations. That’s not reforming the regs – that’s deforming them”.

Others would go further. Simon Foxall, principal of the Architect’s Practice, said there needed to be a pause to allow for the relationship between planning and Building Regulations to be completely rethought. “As the stringency of the regulations increases there will be a greater need for one system of combined planning and Building Regulation. It needs to be dealt with urgently before it grows out of control and we become gridlocked by conflicting demands.”

Support from the industry

Competent people are the key
The Heating and Ventilation Contractors’ Association would prefer to see greater emphasis placed on how the regulations can be successfully implemented. There remain many unanswered questions as to how the industry will cope with the volume of changes introduced by the revised regulations.
The HVCA believes that the practical approach is to put in place a range of competent persons schemes that will ensure that there are enough skilled and appropriately trained individuals to carry out widespread self-certification.
The HVCA’s own third-party member inspection and assessment regime was conceived at least in part to ensure that our members would have the skills required to qualify as competent persons under the regulations.
Robert Higgs, HVCA director

Support from the industry

Where’s the joined-up thinking?
We welcome the changes to drive conservation of fuel and power in new houses. We are used to our customers in the affordable housing sector demanding dwellings that perform better than minimum Building Regulations and the new Part L reinforces our approach to modern construction methods, which we believe deliver higher thermal performance affordably through panelised timber and light steel-frame structures.
However, the new Part L comes into force at the same time as the Code for Sustainable Buildings and the Housing Corporation’s regulation that homes must have an EcoHomes “very good” rating. I hope there is joined-up thinking and all three are aligned and point to the same overall objective.
With all these measures coming into force at once the industry should be given time to adapt and implement before more changes arise.
Brendan Ritchie, innovation and sustainability director, Willmott Dixon Housing

Planning problems:

Architect Scott Brownrigg has employed an environmental planner to cope with the sustainable statements that are now attached to planning submissions. These explain how the development will meet the requirements of PPS1 and PPS22.
Technical director Peter Caplehorn says the statements are forcing his firm to carry out detailed design at an earlier stage in the project.
If it failed to do this, there would be a danger that the designs would meet planning requirements but not Building Regulations. If plans had to be redrawn to comply with regs, it could mean reapplying for planning permission because the appearance of the building might be affected.
“It’s a complete turnaround in terms of designing buildings,” said Caplehorn. “Clients will have to pay more upfront and it will
affect the procurement process.” He said design-and-build contractors would have less detailed design to do as the architect would have complied with regulations before they bid for the contract.
Caplehorn said clients would also have to bear more risk because if buildings failed to win planning permission the client would have to spend more on altering complex design details.