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Letter to the Welsh Assembly

As a member of Fforwm BREEAM, Eco-futures have recently contributed to a letter to the Welsh Assembly Government expressing our concern over the current policy direction with regard to sustainability:-

Dear Sirs

After attending the presentation by a Welsh Government Official at the ‘Nearer to Zero’ conference in Cardiff we felt that it was important to write this letter to the Assembly and its Members to highlight the short sightedness of current policy direction and the hugely damaging impact it could have on a whole range of innovative leading-edge professions in Wales.

Whilst we fully recognise the need to reduce the regulatory barriers to construction and house building in Wales and the socio-economic imperative to get Wales building again; the new Part L and the removal of TAN22 can only be seen as a retrograde step for a Sustainable Wales. As a direct result of the TAN22 requirements imposed back in 2009, Wales has grown a substantial industry of SME’s, contractors and Architects that understand and can deliver the highest levels of BREEAM and CODE. At the 2013 Awards 3 of 8 UK and 3 of 17 worldwide award winning buildings were located in Wales.

It makes absolutely no sense, from a sustainability perspective, to throw all of that progress aside for industry or developer short-term gains.  With The Welsh Government’s and the National Assembly’s Statutory Duty to govern with Sustainable Development at the fore, makes this policy shift hard to justify.  Especially, when as a direct consequence of this change, over 100 SME companies will be put at risk alongside many hundreds of employees; as a result of one simple appeasement to industry lobbyists. Wales needs houses but, it cannot afford to lose these high quality environmental and sustainable professional services.

The Main issues we see with the route outlined in the current proposals:

  • The requirement for us to continually progress towards Carbon Zero has been assisted by teams trying to attain CODE and BREEAM. With this aspirational level we have learnt a great deal on how to achieve these levels efficiently, with minimal cost. With TAN22 rolled up into the Building Regulations there is no vehicle to mandate, or provide guidance on, higher levels of sustainability and therefore prove the future knowledge and understanding required by the industry.WHERE WILL WE FIND THE KNOWLEDGE TO DELIVER FOR THE 2016 REGULATIONS

            “If you take away the first step, the next one just becomes bigger”. 

  • Timing and Enforcement by Building Control. We know from experience that the highest possible levels of sustainability and quality come from developments having had input at the earliest stages. Building Control is only brought into play as construction starts and therefore we lose any ability to correct any errors or omissions without substantial cost and conflict. Their findings will be too late to be implemented. With regards to enforcement, we believe this is simply not possible in the current climate. Building Control cannot, with all due respect, have the time, manpower and knowledge to enforce these higher levels of attainment.HOW CAN BUILDING CONTROL IMPACT ON PLANNING AND EARLY DESIGN DECISSIONS? 
  • TAN22’s use of the Code allows for a holistic approach to sustainability and covers a multiple aspects (Water use, Ecology, Drainage and flooding issues, Transport, Materials, and Construction Site Impacts); this will not be addressed by Part L alone. There is a serious risk that the sustainability and overall quality of housing will decline in the short term. Our members have provided data that shows the total cost of the assessment process equates to approximately £175 per dwelling, far less than the price on a front door.HOW CAN ALL THE RELEVANT ISSUES RAISED IN CODE/ BREEAM BE INCLUDED WITHIN REGULATION? 
  • It is also our understanding that Scotland has proceeded down this route with their Section 7 of the Building Standards and it has not worked particularly well. To such a degree that there is now a lobby to bring back some form of formal certification process by third party assessors.

There is an existing SME driven industry in Wales that is expert in studying, reviewing, training and policing these higher levels of sustainability in the form of our Members within Fforwm BREEAM and others. These organisations will have no further role as the proposed legislation stands.

We have our own, counter proposal, that we’d like you to consider, engage in and support:

The extra-over cost per house built, of pursuing TAN22 environmental standards, is less than £200 per house. Wales aspires to build an additional 8,000 new affordable homes over the next 3-5 years. We propose that the Welsh Government should ring-fence and redirect some of the efficiencies that will flow from inevitable public sector reform towards offsetting this perceived burden to the Industry. Not only would this £2m intervention protect and promote the vital Environmental Professional Services sector in Wales and the hundreds of high quality jobs it creates, it would also: 

i.         Protect Wales’ Unique Differentiator to the World, that we set ‘Environmental Excellence’ as our standard.

ii.       Shield the families who will occupy these new affordable homes from Fuel Poverty

 We’d also urge you to test whether the work done so far, particularly around the impact assessment and cost benefit analysis has taken adequate account of the adverse impact upon:  this vital professional services sector; Wales’ reputation and environmental credentials; and the long-term impact upon families occupying homes that aren’t as environmentally efficient as they should be.


For and on behalf of Fforwm BREEAM.

Briefing from the official Part L 2013 launch (England)

I attended the official Part L 2013 launch at the BRE on the 8th October, and below is a brief overview of changes to domestic dwellings:-

  • There is a 6% uplift to CO2 targets across build mix
  • Fabric Energy Efficiency (FEE) targets have been introduced (TFEE), but have been relaxed by 15% from those initially proposed by the Zero Carbon Hub
  • An “Elemental recipe” approach has been announced – essentially a list of u-values, air tightness, thermal bridging, ventilation and boiler efficiency that, if followed, will meet the CO2 and FEE Targets1
  • A Library of thermal bridging details will be published
  • No significant change to controlling heat gains in summer – the government are still investigating the causes and impact
  • New Building Services Compliance Guides will be published2
  • No increase in Quality Assurance measures to address the current performance gap between design and as built
  • No change in backstop u-values

The transitional arrangements between old regulations and new ones will be the same as we have seen previously i.e. planning applications submitted before the 6 April 2014 with a start date on site within one year will fall under the current 2010 regulations.

1 Although the elemental recipe approach is a compliant solution, it will still require a SAP calculation to be undertaken to demonstrate compliance and to facilitate the issue of EPCs.

2 One of the areas being addressed are the zoning requirements for space heating. Up to 150m2 will now be single zone not dual zone as currently specified. Over 150m2 to have two zones.

We are promised a Beta release of SAP in November, and so if you would like us to help you understand how these changes will impact on any standard house designs that you may have, please contact us to discuss.


The future of the Code for Sustainable Homes

In January we published details of the Welsh Assembly Government consultation on changes to Part L (Conservation of fuel and power). We are now very close to from finding out what the future could hold for the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) in England.

There are rumours that the requirement for CSH could be reduced, or even phased out completely over the coming years. Consultation papers are expected to be released in England during May, with the Government scheduled to publish a ‘plan of action’ by the end of July.

It’s part of a much wider-reaching Government initiative known as The Red Tape Challenge. Since 2010 all kinds of bureaucracy from equality to health and safety have been scrutinised to look at how things can be made simpler for everyone.

Part of this Red Tape Challenge includes the Housing Standards Review (HSR), which has been investigating ways of cutting some of the complexities which we currently find in the construction industry. The Code for Sustainable Homes is one such area which has been put under review.

It’s hoped the findings of the HSR will uncover ways of making CSH more viable for developers, to save time and money… but at an extreme level, it could be announced that CSH will be wound down, with key elements of the Code being brought into Part L instead.

The upcoming changes to Part L are expected to include a Fabric Energy Efficiency target for the first time. This is currently only required for dwellings which are built to the Code.

Although details of the consultation have not been announced yet, rumours of the Code winding down have been fuelled by the following  statement from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) which reads: “Regardless of the outcome of the review process, BRE and DCLG expect there will be a need for the CSH services to be maintained for a period to manage assessments, the pipeline of existing planning permissions, funding commitments currently in place, and so on.”

We’re keeping a close eye on developments, and will let you know about any significant recommendations in the consultation.

Part L Consultation

On the 31 July 2012 the Welsh Assembly Government began a consultation on changes to Part L (Conservation of fuel and power) of the Building Regulations in Wales.

The consultation proposes to:-

  • phase the introduction of a higher energy efficiency standard (40% improvement over 2010 levels) for new dwellings so that it begins to take effect in 2015 rather than earlier;
  • remove the existing planning requirements for use of the Code for Sustainable Homes; and
  • take steps to simplify the application of the new standards.

We think that any changes that will improve efficiency in the sector and allow developers to reduce the time spent in dealing with red tape and bureaucracy can only be a good thing. However, this should not be at the sacrifice of sustainable development, which is an issue that extends well beyond reducing carbon emissions.

The additional benefits that the Code for Sustainable Homes brings are widely known. If focus is shifted entirely to improving energy efficiency, then we feel that there are a number of issues would be lost or substantially diminished. Even if these were to be encompassed within building regulations or an alternative scheme, changing to a new policy or process will require a substantial “bedding in” period and the momentum already gathered will slow or stop.  That does not even take into consideration the question over who would be responsible for ensuring compliance.

The Code for Sustainable Homes is not perfect and there are a few amendments that we would like to see in the future, but it is the best sustainability vehicle we have and removing it would undermine all of the hard work that has been put in by everyone.

The timetable for the next step is not clear, but we are keeping a close eye on this and will provide any update as soon as possible.