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Shapps scraps proposed HCA standards

by Mel Starrs on November 25, 2010

in Accreditation, Funding & Targets, Code for Sustainable Homes

So news reached us today that Grant Shapps has ditched the HCA standards which had been proposed to come in April 2011.

CLG heralded the move as Shapps: We’re lifting burdens from the backs of builders. Construction News were equally upbeat, announcing “Shapps announces dual boost for housebuilding“. But is it really good news? Let’s pick apart what is being said and see what the potential effect might be.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps today announced he is scrapping new proposals that could have cost developers thousands of pounds extra to build new homes, and pledged an overhaul of the complicated building standards that make it hard for developers to complete their projects.

Note that it is the developers, rather than the future occupants of the houses we are worried about

The Government will not introduce a new set of building standards that were proposed for many of the homes built with Government funding or on public sector land, which would have cost developers an extra £8,000 for every home.

£8000 per house on a typical house of 75m² at a cost of £1200/m² is less than 9%

Ministers believe that the national building standards are sufficient to deliver high quality homes, and it is an unfair and unnecessary expense for developers to require additional building standards for public build, at a time when the country desperately needs to build more homes.

the national building standards are Building Regs – this is a bare minimum

Mr Shapps also pledged to end the ‘alphabet soup’ of local building standards and red tape that blight efforts to get developments started, and sweep away the bureaucratic assessment regimes that accompany them. He invited the industry to come forward and help develop a new system for local standards so new development meets the needs of local communities, without placing an unnecessary strain on developers.

in principle I agree with getting rid of hoops but are we in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

Currently housebuilders face a complex mix of building standards and codes that are attached to planning permissions. Ministers believe these extra requirements are often unnecessary ‘gold plating’, which can be contradictory and place additional costs on developers, making their projects less viable.

this is the second time in as many weeks Shapps has used the phrase ‘gold plating’ – a perjorative term?

In their place, housebuilders and councils will work together to develop a simple and transparent ‘menu’ of costed standards that will not place unrealistic burdens on developers. Today’s move is designed to make it easier for companies to build new developments where they are wanted, and follows the Government’s pledge to match the council tax raised from new homes for the first six years through the New Homes Bonus. Councils that go for growth will build up rewards for their local area, and there will be a higher level of funding for building new affordable homes.

again the emphasis is on making things easier for the builders rather than ensuring good quality housing stock which is future proof

Proposals for new Core Standards for development funded or on land owned by the Homes and Communities Agency, which could on average have cost developers an additional £8,000 per home, will not be implemented. In the meantime, to provide stability and protect delivery, the HCA will continue to use existing standards, but Mr Shapps confirmed in the longer term, the standards that apply to private and public housing should be the same. As a start to this process, all centrally-imposed standards for houses built on surplus central government land will be removed, in a move expected to provide a boost to home builders.

From today, work will begin on a new Local Standards Framework that will be developed and maintained by industry and councils. The Government will help its development, but industry and councils will develop the ideas themselves, to ensure the options proposed meet the needs of local communities, and don’t impose unrealistic burdens on developers. The new local framework will be included in the National Planning Policy Framework, which will be introduced by the summer of 2012…

agree we need new standards but are councils and housebuilders might need some incentivisation not to build the lowest common denominator

The detail which has been missing so far is that within the HCA standards which have now been dropped is the move from a statutory minimum for HCA funded housing to go from Code for Sustainable Homes level 3 to level 4. The intention was for social housing to remain slightly ahead of Building Regs and with Part L coming into force in October, level 3 is now the minimum building fabric standard plus a few bike sheds (I’m being flippant – or referring to Shapps’ ‘gold plating’)

I said it less than 2 weeks ago, and I’ll say it again, I cannot see how the Code for Sustainable Homes is going to survive the current policy bloodbath.

Don’t get me wrong, the Code is deeply flawed and there are many revisions I would make to it, but at least it gives a framework and a language by which we can all talk about sustainability from the same page.

And whilst I have every sympathy for the housebuilders (aka my clients!), I wouldn’t be doing my job as a sustainability consultant if I didn’t challenge them to reach as far as they can afford. The end client of course is the person who buys and lives in the house and so far the public are not demanding sustainable homes. Give it another 5 years of fuel price volatility and a few extreme weather events and this may start to change, but by then, we’ll have built homes which will be around for the next 60-100 years. Given our legally binding target to reach 80% carbon reduction by 2050, shouldn’t we be doing what we can now?

Perhaps I should take this as a massive opportunity. If the Code does get scrapped, truly sustainable developments won’t have to bend themselves into a framework which never truly understood innovation? But how do we compare one to another? Or does this not matter?

I was also going to comment on the other news today that the consultation into the definition of zero will be upon us imminently:

The proposed levels, called “carbon compliance” have worked up by the Zero Carbon Hub. Carbon compliance is a measure of how much carbon emissions must be cut compared to 2006 Part L … It proposes different levels for apartments and homes and suggests the carbon reduction targets for homes should be between 50% and 64%. …

For low-rise apartments the carbon reduction targets should be between 44%, which will be equivalent to the standards in 2013 Part L and 57%. This is equivalent to 10kgCO2/m²/yr and 14 kgCO2/m²/yr. The figure for apartments is less onerous than houses as the Zero Carbon Hub says the solutions should work for individual dwellings and this was harder to achieve for apartment blocks.

Can a house where up to 50% or an apartment with up to 56% of the energy is generated off-site or offset through some financial mechanism really be called ZERO? This muddies the water for those truly innovative, autarkic developments which are. What we’re looking at is a zero carbon neighbourhood or region or nation – but NO. We can’t call it that as we have to deal with all the existing buildings.

So let’s be radical here. Why not ditch CSH. Chuck it out, come up with a truly innovative framework for sustainability which is flexible enough for innovation, and rewards pioneers but whilst we’re at it can we drop the pretence of the definition of zero carbon?

Of course, this would leave us with a policy vacuum, but that seems par for the course in today’s climate…

The forgotten body in this debacle will of course be the kitchen table consultants who make their living from doing Code assessments. Sorry guys, looks like it might be time to re-train (again).

  • charles holland

    I think you’re too kind here! There is hardly any overlap between HCA standards and Building Regs and conflating the two, as Shapps does, shows ignorance and stupidity. Every single ConDem proposal or policy is more philistine than the last.