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Code for Sustainable Homes Nov 2010 issued – but could this be the beginning of the end?

by Mel Starrs on November 14, 2010

in Code for Sustainable Homes

At the back end of last week the revised Code for Sustainable Homes Technical Guidance November 2010 was published (late as usual – should have been the latter half of October 2010). I won’t go through the changes in this post, but there’s a handy summary document on the same page.

For a while now I have been picking up hints that the Code may not be long for this world (in it’s current form at least). Those who know me will know I have a suspicious, glass half empty attitude when it comes to such matters and a propensity to exaggerate and dwell on the DOOM (the reporting of the effects on the construction industry of the recession has held me in morbid fascination). So take what I say here with a pinch of salt. The evidence so far:

I’m a big fan of the TheyWorkForYou.com website where the following snippets come from (emphasis my own). I’ve set up various keyboard searches which get pushed to my RSS feeds in Google Reader. I’m not scanning every word written in Hansard! Anyway, on 30 June 2010 during the Energy Efficiency Bill debate, Martin Horwood (Lib Dem) had the following to say:

On new buildings at least, the other possible pitfall is the rather prescriptive and increasingly complex code for sustainable homes. I welcomed the code when the previous Government introduced it, and generally, as an instrument of policy, it is a welcome development. However, it has been painfully slow at raising energy efficiency levels in new buildings, and it risks becoming so over-prescriptive that it defeats our objectives.

On 18 October Stephen Mosley (Con) asked Andrew Stunnell (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Liberal Democrat):

…what steps his Department is taking to encourage the building of new housing stock using energy efficient construction standards.

To which Stunnell replied:

Communities and Local Government encourages the building of energy efficient housing through the requirements of part L (conservation of fuel and power) of the building regulations. The most recent changes to part L standards introduced on 1 October 2010 require a 25% improvement for every new home. Further changes to strengthen standards in part L and take the next step towards zero carbon buildings are planned for 2013. The Government have announced that a minimum fabric energy efficiency standard will form part of their approach to ensuring that all new homes post-2016 can be zero-carbon.

The Code for Sustainable Homes, which is a voluntary set of standards reaching beyond building regulations, also encourages high levels of energy efficiency. The 2010 revisions to the Code for Sustainable Homes are expected to be published shortly; thereafter the Government plan to review the future role of the code.

So we’ve just had the Code published, and sure enough, within the summary changes document document:

Next update to the Code
The Government is committed to reduce the burden of regulation, and to reducing duplication. Future plans to review the future role of the Code are currently being considered, alongside a wider rationalisation of housing standards.

What can this all mean? Can we guess what’s coming?
Zac Goldsmith (Con) has also been busy with written answers and statements. On 14 October 2010 he asked Stunnell:

…what plans he has for the future of (a) the Code for Sustainable Homes and (b) Part L of the Building Regulations.

To which Stunnell replied:

The 2010 revisions to the Code for Sustainable Homes are expected to be published shortly. Thereafter the Government plan to review the future role of the code, in the context of our aims to simplify the overall system of new build standards.

The Government have committed to continuous improvements in the energy efficiency of new housing as part of the Zero Carbon Homes agenda, and are considering their approach for new non-domestic buildings. In this context, we are scoping work for further changes to Part L in 2013.

Which was followed up on 26th October 2010 with:

…on housing: sustainable development, what timetable he has set for the review of the future role of the Code for Sustainable Homes.

Stunell replied:

The Government’s plans to review the future role of the code are currently being considered, along with a wider rationalisation of housing standards following a consultation which focused on streamlining and simplifying the code, resolving problems which have arisen during its use, and upgrading it to align with revisions to part L of the Building Regulations. A further announcement about the way forward will be made soon.

There have been other clues that the “burden” of regulation is soon to be reduced. A recent report from the soon to be no longer CABE, Improving the design of new housing: What role for standards? recommended the following:

If we are to achieve consistency, simplicity and increased supply, CABE believes that in place of the plethora of current standards we need a robust and comprehensive national standards framework, focusing on standards for both houses and housing. This framework should be shaped according to the following aims: 

Avoid duplication and overlap – we should not have standards that overlap and mean aspects of performance are measured in several places for different purposes. 

Clarify what elements belong in planning and what should be included within building regulations. For example the requirements in Lifetime Homes for size of parking spaces should be included in planning policy, whereas the detailed requirements for switch heights should be included in building regulations. 

Demonstrate clear linkage to an enforcement process. Standards need to be linked with the process that will enforce them. 

Prevent unnecessary compliance, for example by requiring information at planning stage showing compliance on detailed items when fundamental issues may be wrong. 

Ensure that standards are driven by the public interest. Standards should not be owned by the private sector or single interest groups; however, certification and enforcement may be led by private sector organisations such as NHBC. 

A national framework for housing standards should then do three things: 

1. Create a single set of measures by which developments can be designed, judged and developed through the planning system, under the oversight of elected local representatives 

2. Specify the standards, to be delivered through the planning system, into two areas, addressing: 

a) housing layouts and the wider development; and 

b) the design of individual homes 

3. Identify those that should be delivered through building regulations or included in them in future 

From this framework, a basic minimum requirement could be drawn, which addresses the policy principles required to meet our environmental commitments and the basic needs of communities and residents. 

So with the localism bill about to be published (later this week I believe) and the evidence above, I’m convinced this could be the last time we see the Code for Sustainable Homes, in this guise at least.

At one stage I had started to suspect CSH might just be shifted back to the BRE (it was developed from their EcoHomes scheme), and become voluntary again, but I think there are enough drivers for something to be retained within government mandate, especially with regards to public sector funding. Note the passage above which recommends that standards “should not be owned by the private sector or single interest groups; however, certification and enforcement may be led by private sector organisations such as NHBC”.

My current feeling is that the Code as we know it will be broken down and reassembled in a very different guise, keeping the energy and possibly the water targets (perhaps within Building Regulations which are due for a shake-up too). EPC’s will have to remain (given they are an EU EPBD requirement).

Any thoughts? Anyone disagree?

[Update] Rory pointed out a tweet by Grant Shapps which I had previously missed which appears to confirm my suspicions – more discussion over on Rory’s blog

  • Bernard H-G

    I agree the new Code does not look like it will have a very long life. I have always found it difficult to encourage clients to even think energy efficiency or other eco benefits, it comes down to costs unfortunately.

  • Laid

    Planning is interesting as many local and regional bodies have adopted Csh on LOcal. Development Frameworks. It is taking a long time to get these through and I am not sure how to take out a CSH requirement. Plus local councils find CSH useful for the enforcement of other credits aside from water and energy.

    Is it up to DCLG to rationalise CSH and Building Regulations and Planning? Bob kerslake has tough task!

  • Pingback: Code for Sustainable Homes gets update/swansong? « RoryBergin's Blog()

  • David Birkbeck

    Housing minister Grant Shapps was talking about “consumerising the code” on a platform at the Tory conference in Birmingham where he argued very reasonably that if energy efficiency is to have any traction, it needed the public to understand it and buy into it.

    There are two damning facts about the Code which emerged this summer which may have sunk it. First, that since launch in December 2006 only 297 homes have managed to achieve Code Level 4 (the original timeframe expected some 240,000 pa in just two years’ time and tens of thousands by now). Second, data from our biggest housebuilders has suggested the costs of the certification process is proving to be roughly half the cost of the extra specification needed to get you to Code level 3. In other words, the assessment regime is unreasonably complicated and is making a new bureaucracy rich rather than saving energy with a widely adopted roll out programme? Now who’d bet that this Government letting that last long?

  • Nigel Griffiths

    Sustainability being about more than just energy (carbon), the Code is at least one system under which developers are obliged to consider all the other important areas.  Building regulations do not address most of these issues (the new part G does include water efficiency) so for that reason alone I would be sorry to see it go. The points about regulatory burden and the cost of assessment are well made, but we cannot go on building as we did in the 20th century so some form of legislation would still be required.

  • Nigel Griffiths

    Sustainability being about more than just energy (carbon), the Code is at least one system under which developers are obliged to consider all the other important areas.  Building regulations do not address most of these issues (the new part G does include water efficiency) so for that reason alone I would be sorry to see it go. The points about regulatory burden and the cost of assessment are well made, but we cannot go on building as we did in the 20th century so some form of legislation would still be required.