Special report: More detail on Tory proposals for construction including the merger of building and planning control and a new sustainability Government department

The Conservative Party yesterday unveiled a bold new vision for making UK construction and development more sustainable.

The Blueprint for A Green Economy report, written by a group headed by John Gummer and Zac Goldsmith, includes a 75-page chapter dedicated to the built environment. David Strong, former managing director of BRE Environment and now chief executive of Inbuilt Limited, part of the RES Group, was the construction expert in the group.

Building.co.uk offers a guide to the major shift in policy envisaged by the Quality of Life Group, highlighting key excerpts and proposals.


"We have undertaken a wide-ranging review of ways in which we can create a new spatial planning and land use regime in order to achieve truly sustainable living and working communities and provide a holistic approach to urban and rural regeneration that reflects, and is responsive to, local needs and desires. This means balancing demand and supply for housing, reassessing existing and planned infrastructure and realigning the model of property investment and development decisions along a new paradigm of Smart Growth.

The regulatory system should be more holistic – taking into account principles such as accessibility, health impact, community value, as well as the wider carbon footprint – whilst at the same time allowing local planning authorities to be free to aim for higher building standards for new developments than those prescribed nationally, both commercial and non-commercial."

The main proposals:

  • Building Control/Planning Building Control is simply unfit for purpose. Nor can it be adapted to make it a suitable vehicle for ensuring higher standards. It is based upon an outdated premise. By prescriptive regulation and complex guidance, it measures inputs and not outputs. It tells builders and architects, surveyors and designers how to do things, not what to achieve. The inadequately trained inspector is expected to argue his interpretation of bureaucratic rules with professionals and experts. As a result, nearly half the houses built fail to meet the standards and the process is so intrusive that it stifles innovation and impedes necessary change... We consider it a policy priority to engage local government, utilities companies, builders, developers, investors, and planners in achieving much higher levels of compliance and progressively higher standards. We should therefore extend the approach adopted by the Code for Sustainable Homes, abolishing all the current Building Regulations Approved Documents and replacing them with National Building Standards (NBS). These will be the necessary minimum outcome requirements. Outcome specific standards will be based on such criteria as carbon emissions not exceeding xkgCO2/m2/year, air tightness y m3/h/m2, and internal temperatures caused by summertime overheating 28oC for z hours/year (without air conditioning).… The new building standards regime would therefore be combined with planning consent arrangements. This will secure greater co-ordination and compatibility between the two – the lack of this at present is a significant cause of disjointed policy-making and enforcement.
  • Home Information Packs Ill-conceived from the first, the HIPs regime ought to be consigned to history. Our proposed National Building Standards and the insurance provisions would ensure that houses built or extensively refurbished from the date of their implementation would have to hand the essential details needed by prospective purchasers. Our proposals to carry through the EU provisions on Energy Performance Standards, without the gold-plating admitted by Yvette Cooper, would make HIPs entirely otiose. We propose that an incoming Conservative government should abolish them. The resulting savings in costs to the consumer, together with the abolition of building controls, ought to produce a system significantly more cost-effective than the present. It would also be one in which all the pressures are for continued improvement in efficiency and not the increase of bureaucracy.
  • Energy Performance Certificates We need the immediate announcement of a timetable for the full implementation of the EPBD to commercially rented homes. It should only be delayed as long as is necessary for arrangements to be properly made and the regulations sensibly drawn with the help of the industry.... We recognise the difficulties and limitations for tenants to take the initiative in improving the thermal performance of their homes and offices. This is particularly so when their premises form part of a larger building whose energy performance and indeed choice of energy supplier is independently controlled by the freeholder. We recommend measures to achieve greater flexibility for private residential tenants to be able to undertake resource use (energy or water) improvements. Tenants should be statutorily entitled to inspect EPCs before signing a tenancy or leasehold contract and, subsequently, to undertake energy/carbon/water efficiency improvements of their own volition. The landlord’s permission could not unreasonably be withheld. Local authorities could encourage, by council tax concessions, landlords and tenants to carry through cost-effective changes when not obliged to do so by a change of tenancy.
  • Commercial buildings The first step in improving this situation is transparent measurement. The requirement for an EPC on first and subsequent lettings should be extended by including the information within the company’s annual report… Therefore we propose that this specific EPC-based information should form part of a wider statement on energy use that would be made in the annual report by all public limited corporations. The report would state energy consumption per square metre by standard category of building – office, warehousing, retail, etc. in the past year.
  • Design We support design coding as a valuable tool for developers, land owners, and local authorities where it is used strategically and carefully in the context of master-planning to assist good design, but care must be taken not to stifle creativity and innovation.
  • Government We believe that the present, often ad hoc, governmental arrangements do not meet the needs of a modern state. We therefore recommend the abolition of the present Defra, DCLG and DfT and the creation of the DSG – Department of Sustainable Growth. It would be responsible for Environment, Planning, and Transport, including air and sea transport. There should also be a DLGH – a Department of Local Government and Housing. The DSG would work very closely with a new Department of Energy (DE) which would be key to the delivery of the environmental programme