The Code for Sustainable Buildings is setting demanding targets for all public sector buildings, and is set to be implemented next April. Now the task group that created it says the government needs to gets its act together – and fast.

Part L is not the only new energy standard the construction industry has to face in the next 12 months. Targeted at public sector buildings, the Code for Sustainable Buildings will arrive in April 2006 and will present parts of the construction industry with as much of a challenge as Part L.

The code will set tougher targets for carbon emissions than those laid out in Part L and will set standards in more areas such as waste management, water use, and use of recycled materials. The code will cover public bodies and could yet be applied to those who acquire land from public sector bodies such as the NHS.

Despite the fact that the government made a commitment to the code in its election manifesto, there is some concern that the ODPM is moving too slowly to be able to implement it by April 2006. Originally a consultation document was due to be published this summer, but it is now expected to appear in the autumn.

A month ago the Sustainable Buildings Task Group, which drew up the code, prepared a report to assess the progress made by the government and industry in the year since it submitted its recommendations. It concluded that the government had to move quickly to signal its intentions and finalise or risk missing its own sustainable targets.

there is some concern that the ODPM is moving too slowly to be able to implement the code by April 2006

Here are the main points that the SBTG said the government needed to address:

  • Implementation of the code There is a policy commitment from government and other public bodies to use the code where they are involved in funding arrangements for new homes, as well as PPPs. The SBTG also wants the government to impose a condition on the contract sale of land bought from the public sector.
  • Standards The ODPM has been advised to use standards comparable to EcoHomes “very good”, but with clearly specified minimum standards for water, energy efficiency and waste management. The SBTG insists that confidence in the code as a tool to drive sustainable building will wane while there is uncertainty about the standards it will set.
  • Detail for minimum standards The focus of the code on setting demanding, clearly defined minimum standards for energy and water efficiency, waste management and use of materials must remain central, say members of the task group. This is even more important given the recommendation that the code give an indication of the future requirements of Building Regulations.
  • Local authorities The government made an election pledge that local authorities will be encouraged to adopt the standard, but no details have been laid down on how this will happen. There are fears that the April 2006 deadline will not be met.
  • Housebuilders There is only a limited number of housebuilders in the senior steering group. The SBTG says that this means their overall participation in establishing the code – and perhaps the likelihood of accepting and implementing it – remains low.
  • Timetable for decision making The SBTG wants a clear timetable for decision making for the development of the code, to avoid unanticipated delays as other policies are developed, and so that industry and support organisations can plan their work accordingly.
  • Future rollout to existing housing stock and commercial developments In order to maximise on the bulk of short- to medium-term opportunities available, the government has been advised to develop the code to apply to the refurbishment of the existing housing stock as well. Certain members of the task group are in place to ensure that the code can also apply to commercial developments, such as industrial or retail schemes, in the future. This is thought likely to happen but, as yet, no details have been laid down.