UK Green Building Council and alliance of green businesses urge ministers not to scrap BREEAM requirement on schools

The UK Green Building Council and environmental campaigners have urged ministers not to drop sustainability requirements on new schools.

In a letter to education secretary Michael Gove, Paul King, UK Green Building Council chief executive and Peter Young, Aldersgate Group chairman, urged the government not to drop the requirement for schools to be built or refurbished using the BREEAM standard for environmental performance.

The letter, which was also copied to the prime minister, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and five other cabinet ministers, said the move to drop the BREEAM requirement for schools, which Building understands is being considered by the Department for Education, was “deeply concerning” and would send a “terrible message” to the UK construction industry.

“We understand that you are considering dropping the requirement for schools to be built or refurbished using the ‘BREEAM’ standard for environmental performance. This is deeply concerning, with implications not just for the quality of the nation’s schools, but for the productivity of the construction and property sector more widely,” the letter said.

“BREEAM is well understood and widely recognised by the construction industry. Removing it would introduce enormous complexity for non-expert construction clients, arguably increasing bureaucracy and thereby causing delay in the design process and driving up costs.

“Reneging on the commitment would also send a terrible message to the UK industry which frequently builds to BREEAM ‘excellent’ standards in commercial developments so they can be occupied by a public sector anchor-tenant,”

Under the cancelled Building Schools for the Future programme, schools were required to meet a minimum BREEAM ‘very good’ standard.

But the James Review of education for DfE, published last April, singled out the BREEAM regulations for criticism, citing the excessive burden of regulation and guidance in procurement and high costs for carrying out pre-assessment of BREEAM for schools.

The review recommended DfE reduce the “bureaucracy and prescription” around BREEAM assessments as part of a wider move to remove “unnecessary burdens” on school construction.

The letter from UKGBC and the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of companies, environmental groups, NGOs, industry groups and trade unions, acknowledged that BREEAM was not without its problems and that improvements could be made, but said: “We must not throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

“Quite simply, a school designed with BREEAM is much more likely to be a better quality building not just in terms of its efficient use of resources, but also its daylighting, building management systems, incorporation of biodiversity and access to public transport. All have very real value, financial and otherwise, to pupils and staff,” the letter added.

The Department for Education said it was still considering recommedations made in the James Review, “including the recommendation on BREEAM”.

“We will respond shortly,” a DfE spokesperson said.