Unworkable eco-rules are being imposed by stealth

The botched introduction of the new Part L mean that we have, for the first time in this country, genuinely European-style regulation - cynically introduced, unenforceable and inevitably breached - just to appease the Kyoto armaggedonists. But they are unappeasable, so more disorderly and chaotic changes, with far-reaching effects, are on the way.

Two days after the close of consultation, in a clear snub to all those housebuilders who submitted considered comments on the draft Code for Sustainable Homes, the government announced that it had reached its own conclusions, regardless. Why? Because the World Wildlife Fund, a body well known for its technical expertise, had a hissy fit about the code not being tough enough and walked out of the steering group.

And now the government has announced more changes, including a new planning policy statement on the reduction of carbon emissions. This can only compound the serious problem that is emerging as planning and technical performance become muddled.

Because, although the Code for Sustainable Homes was denounced as inadequate and presented as being voluntary, this is far from the case. While it largely deals with technical matters governing performance it is being made mandatory through the back door, via emerging regional and local authority planning policy documents.

Its practical implementation is therefore not governed as it would be through the Building Regulations. Rather, each planning authority can determine the performance it wants from houses. Irresponsibly, the government‘s answer to that seems to be to redefine matters that should properly be part of the Building Regulations as a code and damn the consequences.

Some unpleasant, unsaleable houses could result in half-sized baths

They are, however, highly significant. Consultants for housebuilders and a local authority in one of the key growth areas recently reviewed the cost and design implications of that authority's interpretation of their Eco-Homes-cum-Sustainable Homes requirements. These were agreed at a minimum of £7000 and maximum of £11,000 per house. However, more importantly, it became clear that standard house types could not be used at all. The implications of this for the government's aspirations for increasing housing output, for land markets and for the use of modern methods of construction, are far reaching.

Some rather unpleasant-to-live-in, unsaleable houses could also result with, for example, half-sized baths.

Earlier this year, Tony Blair said Britain contributed only 2% of the world's emissions, a quarter of which came from the housing stock. This meant there needed to be some realism about how much more we did at the margins.

Unfortunately that message seems to have been missed by the ODPM and the DEFRA and unless they are checked quickly, regulatory chaos will descend on housebuilders - and defeat the Barker agenda - if it has not already done so.