Parliament committee urges government to keep Code for Sustainable Homes

The latest report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Code for Sustainable Homes and Housing Standards Review, urges the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to keep the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH), which has helped evolve sustainability standards in Building Regulations since its introduction in 2007.

At last some common sense from parliament, and possibly a clear strategy in how we should be building our new housing – using the CSH as a tool for improving standards and sustainability; reducing the use and dependence of expensive fossil fuels and the possible fuel poverty; incorporating modern and renewable technologies; pushing the major house builders away from profit and focussing more in-line with demand, need and expectation of the present-day customer and, ultimately, improving the internal and external environments in which we live.

The technology and knowledge is out there ready to be used, and with this report’s conclusions and recommendations, this may just be the pair of size 10’s required to break down the barriers to make the government see sense in their review of housing standards and continue the progress already made… unless the energy companies and large house builders have their say, as it’s all about the money!

Environmental Audit Committee – Eighth Report

Code for Sustainable Homes and the Housing Standards Review

The Environmental Audit Committee believes that the CSH is a proven mechanism for driving incremental improvements in sustainable home building.  It also believes that the CSH is a flexible means of delivering sustainability in line with local circumstances and local choice – as new technologies come to market, sustainable development evolves and local circumstances change, the CSH can continue to set a mark for Building Regulations to follow.

Summary

That local choice in favour of practical, sustainable local solutions will be radically curtailed and replaced with a lowest-common-denominator national standard;

That the proposed replacement for CSH standards on energy and carbon emissions, the 2016 zero carbon homes standard, has been significantly diluted;

That the latest research on the rapidly decreasing cost of renewable energy technology was not considered in the consultation;

That DCLG has failed to back green growth and green innovation by setting clear standards on sustainable construction materials.

Conclusions

1.  Unlike Building Regulations, the CSH incentivises developers and designers to think about sustainability from the outset and throughout the development process.  (Paragraph 6)

2.  The argument that unexpectedly shifting standards create damaging uncertainty for developers does not apply to the CSH, because, unlike other codes and guidance, the CSH is owned by DCLG.  If the CSH requires updating, DCLG can make the necessary amendments and provide home builders with appropriate notice.  (Paragraph 16)

3.  DCLG can significantly reduce red tape while maintaining and developing the CSH as a tool to drive sustainable home building.  (Paragraph 16)

4.  DCLG’s proposed needs test on the application of sustainability standards by local authorities risks becoming a lawyers’ charter.  It could curtail local choice, delay the construction of new homes, drive down standards of sustainability and compel local authorities to incur unnecessary legal fees.  The Coalition Agreement stated that the Government would “return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils.”  The proposed imposition of a national standards set on local authorities is not congruent with the commitment to localism in the Coalition Agreement.  (Paragraph 20)

5.  Standards of sustainability in Building Regulations have evolved to follow the CSH since its introduction in 2007.  That twin-track approach embedded a degree of sustainability in all new homes, because Building Regulations are universal.  For example, once-difficult-to-achieve lower-level CSH standards on energy have been successfully embedded in Building Regulations.  DCLG does not need to introduce new national baseline standards, because Building Regulations, as currently constituted, already provide an effective baseline.  Beyond that, the CSH is a flexible means of delivering sustainability in line with local circumstances and local choice.  As new technologies come to market, sustainable development evolves and local circumstances change, the CSH can continue to set a mark for Building Regulations to follow.  The single-track approach of simply setting standards in Building Regulations is undesirable, because it would not include a higher standard to drive incremental improvements and to measure progress, a role which is currently fulfilled by the CSH.  (Paragraph 26)

6.  The specifications around the zero carbon homes target have been watered down to such an extent that the proposed standards in Building Regulations now fall some way short of the higher levels of the CSH.  There is no guarantee that further dilution will not occur in the run-up to the implementation of zero carbon homes in 2016.  (Paragraph 33)

7.  Materials make an ongoing contribution to sustainability.  For example, a well insulated home will contribute to reducing energy demand throughout its lifetime.  In addition, a lack of regulated standards risks inhibiting green growth and green exports.  (Paragraph 37)

8.  In light of the volume of construction required to meet medium-term demand for housing in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, DCLG has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to embed sustainability in the national housing stock through appropriate regulation.  Unfortunately, the regime proposed in the HSR consultation is too weak to ensure that those homes will be constructed to a robust sustainable standard.  (Paragraph 38)

9.  If DCLG were to update the CSH to take account of evolving technology and standards of sustainability, it would have an effective mechanism by which incrementally to embed sustainability in home building for the long term.  (Paragraph 39)

Recommendations

10.  Before drawing any conclusions, DCLG must examine the September 2013 study by Element Energy and Davis Langdon on the cost of CSH compliance with particular reference to the apparent decreases in the capital cost of installing renewable energy.  It should share that assessment with us, publish it and take into account our comments before winding down the CSH.  (Paragraph 14)

11.  DCLG must maintain CSH energy assessments as a tool for local authorities to lever in renewable energy until Building Regulations deliver genuinely zero carbon homes, which was the original target and is defined by CSH level 6.  (Paragraph 33)

12.  DCLG must maintain and develop the CSH assessment standard on sustainable construction materials.  (Paragraph 37)

13.  In order to facilitate local choice, to promote green growth, green exports and green innovation, to establish a meaningful zero carbon homes standard, to consolidate seven years’ experience of sustainable development and to maintain and further develop incremental gains in sustainable home building, we urge DCLG not to wind down the Code for Sustainable Homes.  (Paragraph 41)

The full report can be seen here >> http://bit.ly/1bPSfmv

The following witnesses gave evidence to the committee:

  • Martin Townsend Director Building Research Establishment;
  • Councillor Ed Turner Environment and Housing Board, Local Government Association;
  • Rachel Fisher Head of Policy, National Housing Federation;
  • John Slaughter Director of External Affairs, Home Builders Federation;
  • Peter Schofield Director General, Neighbourhoods Group, Department for Communities and Local Government; and
  • Bob Ledsome Deputy Director, Building Regulations and Standards, Department for Communities and Local Government.