Adaptability = energy efficiency
As the Housing and Planning Bill passed through the House of Lords last week, an unexpected addition was proposed, setting carbon emission reduction standards associated with new build domestic energy use at levels higher than previously targeted.
This proposal was swiftly removed by the House of Commons as the Bill moved to obtaining Royal Assent; reaffirming the Government’s position that there will be no further changes to the Building Regulations Part L.
So given the changes, and their subsequent removal, where does this leave England and Wales in terms of delivering energy efficiency targets higher than the nationally proscribed targets? There is certainly some ambiguity in the local planning regime in setting and applying energy and carbon targets for new development.
The Planning and Energy Act 2008 set out the allowance for local authorities to set locally derived energy efficiency targets higher than those in the in the Building Regulations Part L within their local plans. This led to a range of locally derived energy targets which often did not consider technical or development viability within their formation.
In March 2015 a Ministerial Statement aimed to cut the red tape associated with building standards. It set out that local authorities should not set energy targets higher than the expected Building Regulations 2016 levels. At the time, these levels were expected to be roughly a 19% reduction over 2013 Building Regulation Part L (equivalent to the now defunct Zero Carbon Homes Level 4).
Later in 2015, the Deregulation Act was given Royal Assent. This Act clearly sets out the Government’s intention of removing local authorities' ability to set energy efficiency targets greater than those of the Building Regulations through the Planning and Energy Act 2008.
In addition, and at the same time as the Act was given Royal Assent, a Treasury Command paper, ‘Fixing the Foundations’, was presented which also clearly laid out the Government’s intention not to implement any changes to the Building Regulations Part L in 2016. Instead, they state that this will be kept ‘under review’.
There appears to be a weight of evidence in National Policy and a clear direction of travel away from setting locally derived energy efficiency targets since the March 2015 Ministerial Statement.
The amendments to the Planning and Energy Act removing the opportunity for local authorities to set local energy efficiency targets has not yet received its commencement order. Whilst this is expected this year, as it stands local authorities can still set locally derived energy efficiency targets higher than the Building Regulations.
There is also some ambiguity in how high these targets are set. The March 2015 Ministerial Statement suggested that targets should be no higher than the 2016 Building Regulations – but with the Treasury command paper stating that the 2016 Building Regulations will be the same as the 2013 version, can targets be set higher than this level?
Regardless of what target level a local authority intends to seek through its local planning policy, it is required to take National Policy as a material consideration in its decision-making process for planning applications. The question is now about how much weight planning authorities give in their decision making to:
• The Deregulation Act 2015, which sets out the requirement to remove local authorities powers to set energy efficiency targets
• The Governments Command Paper, which says there is no intention to change Building Regulation energy targets in 2016
• The final draft of the Housing Act, which removed any notion of implementing new energy efficiency standards.
The EU Nearly Zero Energy Buildings Directive is firmly on the 2018 horizon and whilst the current direction of travel is no change on national energy performance targets, this may have to change again in order to comply with this Directive.
This gives the UK an excellent opportunity to redefine how we assess energy performance in new buildings. Rather than focusing on an ‘outcome target’, effort should be placed into the process. An assessment process that provides structure, methodology and rigour to the design and construction phase will create a regulatory regime that is reflective rather than prescriptive. A move away from homes being designed by the Standard Assessment Procedure will see a revolution in developing low-energy homes.
This will also give the UK the chance to redefine the nature of the end goal. There is a fundamental difference between reducing energy (as per the EU Directive) and carbon emissions. Targeting energy, rather than carbon emissions, in our regulations will offer greater scope for innovation in delivering the EU Nearly Zero Energy Buildings Directive.
This is a golden opportunity for the UK to lead on the commitments we made in Paris on Climate Change.