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Part L - A Small Step Forward

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C BirchCentral to successive governments’ greening of the built environment is Part L of the Building Regulations. Expected back in April, but now finally with us, are the latest revisions of the greatly anticipated “Part L 2013”. So now it’s in the hands of the construction industry, was it worth waiting for?

Firstly and unsurprisingly, the Government is further reducing carbon targets. However, it has softened its stance somewhat and the new targets are significantly weaker than those proposed as part of the consultation exercise. On average, there will be a 6% reduction for domestic and a 9% reduction for non-domestic buildings. According to the DCLG, the new regulations will save 6.4 million tonnes of CO2 out of the estimated 246 million tonnes that are emitted by UK buildings per year (that’s 2.6 %).

While these cuts go some way to achieving Zero Carbon buildings, they don’t go far enough. Coupled with the delays in announcing the new Part L 2013, the industry is now left with a very steep climb to meet the deadline of 2016 for homes and 2019 for non-domestic buildings. This pressure will be keenly felt by engineers and sustainability consultants, who will be charged with designing and delivering schemes that can comply without breaking the bank.

In the coming months ahead of implementation in April 2014, the suppliers to the construction industry; manufacturers, software developers, architects and us engineers will join the three yearly push towards developing viable technical solutions to meet the new standards prior to the next revision in 2016. But this doesn’t mean that we’re actually going to meet them anytime soon. Inevitably, due to recent economic conditions, many developments which have stalled in construction will be able to continue under the old regulations; this means that buildings designed to the old standards will emerge for some time yet.

Furthermore, the design software needed to meet the new regulations is not available at present and, when it is, will no doubt go through the usual teething period while problems are ironed out. On this basis, it could be 2015 before any new part L schemes are on site.

Looking at the detail, we do welcome the full implementation of Fabric Efficiency Factors for homes, promoting a more sustainable fabric first design approach and hopefully discouraging the tendency to over specify renewables as a quick but costly fix. At the same time however, we are disappointed with the lack of ambition in the new regulations particularly in relation to the lack of new standards for refurbishments and existing homes, which represent the vast majority of UK emissions.

Cost is another issue. According to the DGLC, for the latest changes to Part L, the small increase in construction costs will be heavily outweighed by subsequent energy savings, suggesting a £384 million net saving for people and businesses over the average lifetime thanks to the new features. However, the cost is borne by the developers and contractors, and the saving by the home owners and tenants – and there is still very little evidence that home owners and tenants are willing to pay significantly more for sustainable buildings.

The Government’s solution includes measures such as the Green Deal and Carbon Reduction Commitment which should make the implementation of energy efficiency measures much more viable. However at present neither of these initiatives is delivering the carbon saving that was predicted at the outset. More attractive and long term incentives are definitely required.

In design terms, for major development, the deadlines for zero carbon buildings are just around the corner and further delays or dilutions to the targets, such as those experienced with the Carbon Reduction Commitment, Display Energy Certificates, Feed in Tariffs and the Green Deal, to name just a few, will only hinder the industry further. The coalition seems to be developing a reputation for making bold pronouncements about green growth, only to water down its ambitions when it comes to the nitty gritty of actual policy-making.

But as we creep out of recession, the construction industry is craving certainty to make long term investment plans and isn’t shying away from strong targets. These revisions to Part L may make for the “Greenest Building Regulations ever” issued by the “Greenest Government ever”, but it’s all about degrees. Let us remember that the UK construction industry is one of the best in the world and has an excellent track record in adapting to new standards and innovative construction methods – but it needs the certainty of a government that is willing to be both bold in its ambitions and reliable and consistent in its execution.

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