Senior industry figures have slammed the government’s long-delayed draft code for sustainable buildings, saying it falls well below current standards and that the ODPM went behind their backs to produce it.

Members of the Sustainable Building Senior Steering Group – which includes Ian Coull, Slough Estates chief executive, and Peter Rogers, Stanhope director – were left shocked and angry last week when they were presented with the final version of the code, which was heavily watered down from the one they had approved a month before. Robert Napier, chief executive of WWF UK, resigned from the steering group in protest.

Napier said: “It appears the recommendations and advice of the senior steering group have been ignored, and in a final demonstration of disregard, the members of the senior steering group have not even been given the opportunity to comment on the draft to be published on Monday.”

The ODPM struck a deal with the BRE in the past few weeks, following months of arguing over the intellectual property rights of the EcoHomes system, which forms the basis of the code. The row was only resolved following a personal intervention from a senior ODPM minister, known to be either John Prescott or Yvette Cooper. This allowed the code to be written but pushed the steering group to one side.

Key players across industry have reacted with disappointment and frustration at the draft code, which was launched alongside the ODPM response to the Barker Review and is now renamed the Code for Sustainable Homes because it will no longer be rolled out to commercial and retail buildings.

The energy efficiency standards set by the code are so low that Housing Corporation and English Partnership’s requirements, which when they are launched next April will be based on EcoHomes “very good”, will be about 20% higher. The draft code also drops existing requirements for homes to be close to public transport and ecological assessments of sites.

Sue Innes, director of sustainability at Constructing Excellence, said her members were very disappointed. She said: “This code is a major letdown and has only served to cause more confusion. Not only are the environmental standards extremely low, a code for sustainable buildings should also encompass social and economical factors – which the ODPM has totally ignored.”

Industry now has three months to respond to the draft code, which many say is not enough time.

The Code for Sustainable Homes

  • All homes funded by or on land provided by government or its agencies, such as Housing Corporation and English Partnerships, will be
    required to meet the code. The government is also encouraging local authorities to adopt the code.
  • It assesses dwellings on a number of elements, gives marks to each element that are totalled,
    with a maximum of 100. These scores are then put into bands, ranging from level one (basic) to level five (top).
  • There are six elements that all dwellings have to be judged on and a further six voluntary ones.
  • Proposed essential elements (with level one requirement): Energy efficiency, water efficiency, surface water management, site waste management, household waste management, use of materials.
  • Proposed optional elements: Lifetime homes, security, soundproofing, private external space, daylighting and home user guide.