Select Committee on Environmental Audit First Report



107. The main control on how buildings are constructed, including housing, is through the implementation of the Building Regulations. The Regulations aim to ensure the health and safety of people in and around buildings by providing functional requirements for building design and construction, though they may also be used to implement energy and water efficiency measures and furthering the conservation of fuel and power. Recently the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Act 2004 has extended the power of the Secretary of State to make Building Regulations for the following purposes: furthering the protection or enhancement of the environment, facilitating sustainable development and furthering the prevention or detection of crime. Part L of the Regulations set out energy efficiency standards required from buildings with the aim of conserving energy and power.

108. Other than the Building Regulations there are various standards, codes and checklists that are being used by developers and councils to improve how well new homes are built. The most commonly used standard, which deals with environmental performance, has been developed by the Buildings Research Establishment (BRE). This is EcoHomes, the domestic version of the assessment method developed by BRE for commercial buildings (BREEAM). BRE has also carried out work with Government departments on sustainability checklists for development, and has worked with the South East of England Development Agency (SEEDA) to produce such a checklist for the South East. In addition, the Energy Savings Trust has a Best Practice Standard which helps developers to produce homes that are superior in energy performance to existing Building Regulations by 20%. There are several other organisations and documents providing information on how to improve sustainability, such as Sustainability Works, Sustainable Homes, Design for Biodiversity (produced for London) and many others. Work is also being carried out to encourage the use of sustainable and recycled materials by organisations such as WRAP and Wood for Good. However there is currently no statutory requirement for the sustainability of materials used in construction to be considered.

109. In addition to environmental standards, there are standards that relate to other aspects of housing development. CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) is a government-sponsored body which champions the benefits of good design, both in the public and private sector. CABE and other organisations have been involved in the development of DQI (Design Quality Initiative) for assessing the design quality of buildings. Secured by Design is a police initiative supporting the principles of designing out crime. While all these different approaches are useful in improving the quality of housing built overall, there is the potential for some of these standards to conflict or contradict each other, causing confusion as to what the best approach may be.

110. Despite all these bodies and initiatives, there are very few dwellings, particularly in the private sector, being built to improved environmental standards. WWF, in its work on sustainable housing, has identified six key barriers to increasing the level of uptake of improved environmental standards in the house building industry. These are:

Building Regulations

111. All new and renovated housing stock has to comply with the requirements of the Building Regulations. The local authority is the relevant enforcement agency for the Building Regulations, and Building Control officers advise on whether proposed building projects comply with the current Building Regulations. However, increasingly, building work is being dealt with under private building control and supervision by an 'approved inspector'. At present there is no requirement for anyone to take responsibility on site for compliance with the Regulations during the building phase, or to liaise in an official capacity with the Building Control official. In the case of construction sites, work is frequently contracted and sub-contracted, leading to a lack of clarity as to lines of responsibility.[105]


112. Each local authority in England, through its Building Control section, has a general duty to see that building work complies with the Building Regulations, except where it is formally under the control of an approved inspector. It is also the role of the local authority, as the enforcing body, to carry out prosecutions for non-compliance. Local authorities check plans before granting planning permission, to ensure they comply with Building Regulations, and any contraventions are notified to builders or developers with the aim of rectifying the problem on site. In evidence to us, the LGA told us that best efforts are used to resolve any issue where the law may have been broken without issuing formal notices or referring the matter to the courts. It also highlighted the difficulty of prosecuting for non-compliance due to the requirement for local authorities to take action within six months of becoming aware of the contravention as "authorities […] are finding it very difficult to maintain their routine inspections and ensure they allow time to take matters through the courts." [106]

113. One of the issues that we came up against time and time again during the course of this inquiry was the need to ensure that the standards set out in the Building Regulations are actually met. We are satisfied that the process of ensuring plans are compliant with Building Regulations is generally satisfactory. However, we have seen little evidence that the energy efficiency standards of the Regulations, set out in the plans approved by local authorities, are being met. This is because the necessary post-completion inspections are not always being carried out. Concern has been expressed by BRE, among others, that the system overall is not equipped to police the environmental standards as they are set out in the Regulations. They told that us "unless we accept the fact that building control officers are not really trained nor do they have the resources to check on environmental aspects, you are not going to achieve anything".[107] The LGA told us that there seems to be some general consensus that the Regulations are becoming too detailed and complex to be fully understood and many local authorities are also concerned that the Regulations are becoming burdensome to enforce.[108]

114. We have ourselves seen evidence of how this is a problem. Investigations commissioned by Aberdeen Council, and carried out by BRE, to determine why a modern housing development supposedly compliant with building regulations suffered heat losses normally associated with Victorian housing, found that in most of the houses the insulation, though notionally compliant with recommended levels, was very poorly fitted.[109] In this particular case, poor workmanship and a lack of post-completion checks ensured that any potential benefits from increased energy efficiency set out in the Regulations were completely lost. BRE's work to investigate compliance of new housing with air permeability standards, highlighted similar problems. It tested 33 homes to determine if they met Building Regulation standards in this respect. Over 60% of these properties failed. In a further investigation of 99 dwellings of various types, all constructed to 2002 Building Regulation standards, 32% failed to achieve air permeability standards.[110] These findings have significant implications for the assumption that Government departments are making about the levels of energy saved as a result of the implementation of Building Regulations. They also place a large question mark over any potential benefits that might be expected to come from further strengthening the Regulations.

115. Unless action is taken by Government to address this situation the shortfall between requirements and compliances is likely only to get worse as energy efficiency standards are tightened. Local authorities do not currently appear to have the will or the resources to carry out their duties with regard to building inspections. We are encouraged by the commitment from ODPM to carry out a general review of the enforcement procedures for all aspects of the Building Regulations. This must include a review of the funding to local authorities for carrying out their duties in relation to the Regulations and consider the opportunities for setting local authorities targets for the levels of post-completion checks carried out by their inspectors. However, we are concerned that it is also investigating possibilities for increasing self-certification schemes, since evidence to us from the LGA regarding the self-certification scheme for windows, FENSA, found that there were wide variations in opinion within local authorities about how effective this approach was: "some believe it is working fairly well but others believe it to be bureaucratic and ineffective, with non-compliance widespread".[111]

116. We are alarmed at the apparent ease and possible extent of non-compliance with part L of the Building Regulations. We call on ODPM to carry out a thorough review of the extent of the problem. This should include consideration of how the number of local authority building inspectors can be increased and their skills improved; and examine the feasibility of setting local authorities targets for the number of inspections carried out. We would be concerned about any proposals for extending self-certification schemes without a proper assessment first being made of current levels of compliance with existing self-certification schemes.

117. The only body we heard from who expressed the view that existing Building Regulations are being widely complied with was the House Builders Federation. When asked they stated that they believed compliance with Building Regulations by house builders was 100%.[112] The Federation went on to point out the NHBC and Zurich, the two bodies who provide insurance cover for owners of new build homes, carry out post-completion inspections for warranty provisions that help ensure compliance. Unfortunately, these bodies do not provide warranties for compliance with all the provisions of the Building Regulations, compliance with energy efficiency measures, for example, are not covered. Therefore householders who find their homes are poorly insulated or too drafty are not included in insurance. The fact that compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations is not covered by new buildings insurance, combined with a lack of post-completion inspections by Building Control bodies, provides little incentive for developers to carry out work to a standard that ensures proper compliance with energy efficiency requirements.

EcoHomes Standard

118. Other than the energy and water efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations, there are currently no obligations for house builders to meet minimal environmental standards in the construction of new dwellings. However, BRE introduced the EcoHomes standard in 2000 as an independent and voluntary measure of the environmental impacts of housing developments, based on its already existing BREEAM scheme for commercial buildings. This assessment looks at issues related to energy, transport, pollution, materials, water, land use and ecology, health and well-being. Weighted scores are given and a rating of Pass, Good, Very Good or Excellent awarded.[113]

119. According to BRE there have been 9,564 homes certified to EcoHomes standards since 2000 and it has another 10,000 registered that will be aiming for certification in the near future.[114] This is encouraging, but when put within the context of 140,000 houses started in 2003-03, and the possibility of this increasing up to 260,000 a year in view of Barker Review's proposals, the impacts of the EcoHomes standard on the quality of homes being built so far is minimal and in the foreseeable future mainly limited to housing in which Government bodies have an influence on standards of construction. The Housing Corporation for example, requires all of its developments, currently around 13,000 homes a year, to achieve an Eco Homes 'Good' standard, and will shortly be changing that to 'Very Good', something that English Partnerships already does in all its housing developments.

120. The EcoHomes standard is widely accepted among the industry and the Code for Sustainable Buildings proposed by the Sustainable Buildings Task Force is likely to be based on this standard. Whilst it may be logical for any improvement in standards to be based on a methodology that is already in place and understood we have concerns that the standard at its most basic level of "Pass" or "Good" may be too low to offer significant environmental gains. In their memorandum ecoSE, a partnership of public and private sector bodies from the South East of England, proposed that all developments in the South East should at least meet the EcoHomes "Very Good" standard because the lower standards can allow developers to cherry-pick areas of compliance and do not guarantee a high all round performance.[115]

121. One of the impediments to the more widespread use of this voluntary code, other than the reticence of a generally conservative housing industry, is the industry's concerns regarding the increased costs of compliance with the standard. BRE estimates that the costs of achieving the highest, "Excellent", standard is about £1800 per property, although this is dependent on various requirements being met regarding infrastructure, local facilities and public transport, and costs can be as much as £3000 per property. The average price of a new build home in November 2004 was £261,645.[116] Therefore construction to the "Excellent" standard would add between 0.7% and 1.2% to the final asking price.[117] Although these costs are not insignificant, the costs of implementing these standards are more than offset by the lifetime savings in energy and water efficiency. In addition, there are significant economic benefits to be had from reduction in environmental damage as a result of a sustainable use of materials and reducing carbon emissions, as highlighted by the findings of the Entec Report on the impacts of increasing housing supply.[118]

Emissions from the Housing Sector

122. The Government announced in the Energy White Paper, published in February 2003, its intention of bringing forward the review of part L of the Building Regulations, dealing with energy efficiency, to 2005. The Regulations relating to energy efficiency were last amended in 2002, when standards were increased to improve the performance of new dwellings by 25%. The new revisions are aimed at improving energy efficiency by a further 25%. This would result in emissions from new homes being reduced from 0.47 tonnes of carbon (tC) to 0.35tC per year, compared to the 1.8tC average emissions from existing households. Current emissions from the existing 25 million dwellings in the UK are estimated at 40 Mtonnes of carbon (MtC) a year and contribute around 30% to UK carbon emissions.[119]

123. We are concerned that the changes proposed in the Building Regulations, welcome though they are as a move in the right direction, are not ambitious enough. We have ourselves seen first-hand the level of energy efficiency that can be achieved at very little extra cost in traditional types of housing, such as the houses designed by Gokay Deveci in Aberdeen. Emissions from these houses were 60-70% lower than new houses built to current Building Regulation standards. These houses are examples of how simple and inexpensive measures, such as increasing the level of insulation required in walls, taking advantage of passive heating and ensuring a reasonable level of air-tightness, all have a significant effect on energy efficiency. Indeed this is something that the Energy Savings Trust has also called for in response to the consultation on Part L of the Building Regulations, pointing out that the proposals for a minimum U-value of 0.35 required for walls in England is above the 0.27 required in Scotland and therefore not stringent enough.[120] WWF's report on building in the Thames Gateway concluded that benefits from building to EcoHomes "Very Good" standard were a 32% reduction in CO2, a 39% reduction in water use and a 25% reduction in household waste sent to landfill, compared to building to current Building Regulations. Building to Z2 (zero waste, zero fossil energy) standards could result in a 99% saving in CO2, a 65% reduction in water use and a 72% reduction in waste sent to landfill.[121] Building to these higher standards does entail increased costs but these are more than offset by benefits in reduced bills to owners over the lifetime of the building concerned and by reduced impacts on the environment.

124. The Government estimates that the cumulative effect of the changes made to the Building Regulations in 2002 should achieve a saving of 1.4 MtC per year by 2010. The changes to the Regulations proposed to take effect from 2005 should reduce average emissions per household further and should result in an added reduction in emissions of 0.09MtC per year by 2010 at current build rates. However, the yearly carbon emissions associated with the occupation of the new housing constructed will be an extra 0.3MtC per year by 2010, 1.5MtC by 2030, at current build rates. It has to be pointed out that if building rates increase, as is the Government's intention, emissions will be higher and that these figures assume that the Building Regulations will be complied with, which as we have seen is not necessarily the case. In addition there will be 1.4MtC emissions a year as a result of actually building new homes. [122] Cumulative emissions from the construction of new housing at current rates to 2030 will be 33MtC, and as much as 62MtC if building at the higher rates suggested by the Barker Review.

125. Measures proposed by the Government, such as the requirement for condensing boilers to be the norm when replacing boilers, from April 2005, could result in savings of around 2.5MtC a year by 2030, and may go some way to counteracting this. [123] So might the implementation of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, though it is not possible to quantify this as yet and, likewise, measures outlined in the Government's Energy Action Plan. However it is unlikely that any of these measures will reduce emissions from the housing sector significantly below 40MtC per year, once the emissions from new housing are taken into account, certainly not below 35MtC per year. This will not be enough at a time when the Government has set a target for the UK as a whole of reducing emissions from 152.2MtC a year in 2000 to 65MtC in 2050. Unless significant measures are put in place to reduce emissions from the housing sector from their current level of around 40MtC a year they could constitute over 55% of the UK's target for carbon emissions in 2050, nearly doubling the current 30% contribution. This is clearly unsustainable.

126. Increases in emissions from the housing sector must be viewed in conjunction with the trends in emissions from other sectors where steep increases are expected. For example, our report on Budget 2004 and Aviation highlighted the significant increases in emissions from aviation in the light of the Government's growth projections for this sector. We estimated that by 2050, taking into account the effects of radiative forcing, the aviation industry would be emitting the equivalent of 43.5MtC per annum. [124] Unless measures are put in place to significantly reduce emissions from aviation and housing, their combined emissions will be the equivalent to around 80MtC emissions a year by 2050, 15MtC a year above current targets. Indeed, the Government has recently accepted that the UK is likely to fail to meet the 2010 target of reducing carbon emissions by 20%.[125] Expected emissions from the housing sector are in themselves a cause of concern, but appear even more worrying when viewed in conjunction with other areas, such as aviation, where emissions are projected to rise dramatically. These increases will significantly affect the UK's ability to meet its targets for reducing carbon emissions. DEFRA recently admitted that on the basis of current policies alone it will not be possible to achieve the 2010 UK domestic target of a 20% cut in carbon dioxide emissions. Our figures show that on current trends exactly the same can be said for the 2050 target of cutting yearly emissions by 60% to 65MtC.

127. House building, whether it is at current levels or the increased levels proposed by the SCP or the Barker Review, will have significant impacts on the UK's carbon emissions. Improving energy efficiency requirements within the Building Regulations will result in cuts in emissions per household. However, these savings are wiped out by the increased carbon emissions associated with building the new housing projected. Increasing the energy efficiency requirements from new homes, whilst absolutely necessary from an economic, social and environmental perspective, will go no way towards reducing the UK's overall carbon emissions from the housing sector as long as building rates are increasing and homes are not being built to zero carbon emission standards. Furthermore, measures are needed to ensure existing homes become more efficient, together with measures to encourage the use of renewable energy sources. We urge the Government to explore all avenues for reducing emissions from existing housing and for the construction of new housing, given the levels of carbon emissions from this sector. This should include considering the introduction of fiscal measures to encourage improved energy efficiency in homes, in particular the introduction of a reduced rate of stamp duty for all homes that achieve set standards.

Research and Development

128. The lack of significant funding for research and development of sustainable construction methods is of concern. BRE told us that its funding had been drastically cut over the last four years and that there were many areas where further work could be done but funding was not available.[126] Tom Wolley, of Queen's University Belfast, called sustainable construction the "Cinderella field", highlighting a dearth of research funding, particularly for universities. He raised concerns that much of the research being carried out by the private sector in this country is being driven by commercial vested interests, particularly the concrete, plastics and insulation industries. He also highlighted the fact that other countries, such as Australia, Austria, USA and Holland, are doing much more significant work in this area and that many of the sustainable materials being used in the UK are currently being imported from Germany, Switzerland and Austria.[127] BRE highlighted the fragmented approach to funding sustainable construction projects within Government since responsibility was transferred from the old DETR to various departments (DTI, construction; ODPM, housing; and DEFRA, sustainability).[128]

129. When questioned on this issue, ODPM told us that that there had been, on average, between £50-70 million per annum spent on research into the built environment over the last ten years. It was not able to tell us exactly how much of this was spent on researching sustainable construction methods although it estimated that £4-5 million was directed towards research on sustainable methods or materials as its primary driver. It also highlighted the £5 million per annum spent on developing the Building Regulations.[129]

130. There is an urgent need for the Government to review how sustainable construction methods are researched and developed in this country. The current approach is fragmented and the funding so low as to be practically insignificant.

131. The Government should consider setting up a body specifically charged with encouraging and co-ordinating research and development in the areas of sustainability and construction. The aim of this should be not only be to improve and bring together the available knowledge base, and to support new technologies that would be of economic benefit, but also to assist in the development of low technology solutions which are less likely to find favour or funding within industry.


132. Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) involve the off-site manufacture of homes in factories. MMC offers the potential benefit of faster on-site construction as units are delivered complete, or partially complete, and then assembled on site. There are also potential benefits associated with reductions in energy use and waste production during the manufacture and assembly process. The Government is very keen on increasing the use of MMC and has set the Housing Corporation a target of building 50% of its stock in 2004-2006 using these methods. However, we heard from BRE that there has been very little work done to determine if MMC is better in the long term, not only from an environmental point of view, but also in more general terms, compared to traditional methods. In evidence, Mr Keith Hill, told us that these methods had been used extensively in other countries and that they are well tried and importable.[130] However, BRE expressed concerns that there is no evidence as yet that MMC are better than conventional methods and there are concerns about the durability of housing built using these methods.[131] Concerns were also expressed to us that MMC would reduce the recyclability of construction materials.[132] The Environment Agency told us there are reported economic and waste management benefits of MMC but that there needs to be more comprehensive research on the full range of its environmental impacts, so that environmental sustainability is properly incorporated in the process. The Agency is about to commission some research in this area that is expected to conclude in 2005.[133]

133. We are alarmed to see that yet again ODPM has committed itself to a course of action aimed at increasing the numbers of new houses built without considering the wider implications for sustainability. It is imperative that research is carried out to determine the long-term implications of the significantly increased use of Modern Methods of Construction currently being encouraged by the Department.

A Code for Sustainable Buildings

134. Following the Better Buildings Summit in October 2003, the Government set up the Sustainable Buildings Task Force to identify ways in which Government and industry could improve the quality and sustainability of new and refurbished buildings.[134] The Task Force published its report and recommendations in May 2004, which the Government responded to in July 2004. The main recommendation of the Task Force was to set up a Code for Sustainable Buildings (CSB), based on BRE's EcoHomes and BREEAM codes. This Code would be non-statutory and would set standards above and beyond those set out in the Buildings Regulations. The Task Force also recommended that the Government should lead by example and adopt the Code as a requirement for all new buildings in the public sector.

135. Further recommendations from the Task Force include revising the Building Regulations to specify a minimum percentage by value (at least 10%) of recycled material in buildings, together with a 25% saving in water use, energy use and the provision of collection facilities for recycling in multi-occupancy buildings, all by 2005. It also flagged up the issue of ensuring reliable post-completion checks for the Building Regulations. Some of the recommendations, such as improving energy efficiency in buildings by 25% and improving enforcement of the Building Regulations are being taken forward in the current consultation on the Building Regulations. Other measures proposed by the Task Force such as improving water efficiency, the level of recycled materials used by the construction industry and fiscal measures, such as a reduced stamp duty for energy efficient homes, are being considered further by Government. Although in the Government reply, ODPM, DTI and DEFRA stated that they wholeheartedly supported the principle of the Task Force's recommendations and the majority of the means for delivering these, the detailed response to the actual recommendations placed a great deal of emphasis on the cost of implementing any measures, stating for example that "it is essential that any Code is practical, cost-effective and flexible enough to be achievable by all." This raises concerns that the Code, when agreed, could be so soft as to allow house builders to gain the credit of compliance without any significant environmental improvements being achieved.

136. The Code for Sustainable Buildings is a real opportunity for innovation and this must not be lost by the wish to set up something quickly and simply. BRE's approach was to establish something to work within an industry that is not particularly receptive to innovation or change. Whilst it is to be commended for its success, the EcoHomes standard allows trade-offs that result in no minimum requirements being achieved in some of the areas it covers. This was acknowledged by the Task Force and we support its recommendation that the Code should set minimal standards in certain key areas that would have to be achieved to meet its requirements.

137. We very much welcome the work of the Sustainable Buildings Task Force and agree that there is a real urgency for change and reform in how buildings are designed and constructed. We generally support the approach of the Task Force, although as its proposals stand they will result in a Code for Sustainable Buildings that will not be as stringent or cover as wide a range of areas as we would like to see.

138. Simply taking the Building Research Establishment's standard forward in the proposed Code could result in a missed opportunity to achieve the step change that is required in construction practices to reduce the environmental impacts of all buildings, including houses.

139. The Government committed itself in its memorandum to us to publishing a draft Code for Sustainable Buildings by January 2005: "The Senior Steering Group will be established as soon as possible and we aim to publish a first outline of the Code in time for the Sustainable Communities Summit in January 2005. Our aim is to complete the Code by the end of 2005, and to take action on the national rollout by early 2006".[135] The Task Force recommended that the body to develop this Code should be set up by August 2004. We were therefore very concerned to find that ODPM had not set up the proposed steering group by the end of November 2004 despite the fact that the Group is supposed to report by the end of January 2005.[136] We were told in evidence by ODPM at the beginning of November that there was still plenty of time for an outline of the Code to be produced. We disagree. The Government finally announced the composition of the steering group on 15 December 2004, together with the intention that the group will present a first outline of the new Code at the Sustainable Communities Summit in January 2005. We do not see how ODPM and other departments can claim to be making credible efforts to improve the environmental performance of buildings when they set a target of what will effectively be six weeks or less for the outline of the Code for Sustainable Buildings to be agreed. The Code is a vital opportunity for ensuring the environmental performance of buildings is improved and it is important that all options are considered carefully. This will not be the case if the work of the Steering Group is curtailed or hurried for the sake of meeting the January deadline; nor would it be acceptable for the role of the Group to be simply to rubber stamp the approval of the BRE's approach to environmental standards.

140. There is ample representation from industry, Government and social housing groups on the Steering Group. Having being told in evidence that organisations such as BRE and the Energy Savings Trust would be invited onto the Group, we were surprised to see that there is no representation from any organisations that are directly involved in how to improve the environmental performance of buildings.[137] It is incredible that the Government has not thought it important to have any representation from the organisations that have the greatest expertise in this area. This omission does not inspire us with confidence that the Code will result in significant and meaningful improvements in how houses are built or how their impacts on the environment are minimised.

141. So far the Government has committed itself to using the Code for Sustainable Buildings in "a number of demonstration projects; including one in a Market Renewal Pathfinder project and another in the Thames Gateway growth area".[138] We would like to hear further details from the Government on the expected levels of uptake of the Code and how, other than the various demonstration projects that have been mentioned, it will be encouraging uptake by house builders.


142. In our view the proposed Code could and should go further than the Task Force recommended and that BRE's EcoHomes standard does, taking advantage of the fact that the new remit of the Building Regulations, under the Secure and Sustainable Buildings Act 2004, would allow much broader ranging requirements to be eventually included within the Building Regulation, such as those set out below:

143. It is vital that when buildings are dismantled as many materials as possible should be re-used and recycled. The National Federation of Demolition Contractors told us that although "average demolition recycling figures are high, between 70% & 85% by weight of structures demolished, the remaining fraction of un-recycled material would appear to be increasing, particularly when the more recently constructed buildings are demolished using modern deconstruction methods". The Task Force proposed that the Building Regulations should require 10% of materials in the construction of new building to be recycled. We welcome this, although we would prefer to see a higher figure. In addition, we would like to see the Code include a requirement for any new materials used in construction to meet minimum recylability standards.

144. The Countryside Agency is in the process of developing what it calls a new kind of "vernacular architecture" which it summarised as an approach that seeks to re-connect the design and construction of new buildings with the environment and promote modern, sustainable, high quality buildings that enhance local character.[140] This is the kind of approach to new housing that we very much support. We would like to see included in the Code minimum standards of safety and design quality, together with environmental requirements, integrating the kind of work being carried out by the Countryside Agency, Secured by Design, CABE and BRE.

145. With regards to the issue of design it is worth noting that ODPM is exploring the use of urban coding to speed up the planning system. Urban coding allows planning applications that comply with particular design principles for an area, as set out by planning authorities, to go through a speeded-up approval process. This was an approach supported by the Barker Review. Whilst this may have benefits it would be an issue of great concern if the increased use of urban coding restricted the use of innovative design and materials aimed at reducing environmental impacts, or lead to a reduction in other environmental considerations being applied.

146. Sustainable, recycled or recyclable, and—where possible—locally sourced materials should be used in all construction. The Task Force did address this issue though it simply recommended that the feasibility should be examined of introducing an environmental product declaration for sustainable construction products and materials. This is not ambitious enough. BRE already produces a Green Guide to Specification which rates 250 different types of materials according to their environmental impact.[141] There is more than sufficient information already available to allow the Code to include minimal environmental requirements for materials and how they are sourced. A product declaration or labelling scheme would be helpful but not a prerequisite and, in actual fact, including minimum requirements in the Code would in itself generate a strong incentive for such a scheme to be created.

147. Sir John Egan pointed out to us the significant improvements seen in commercial sector construction over the last five years. He was of the view that this has not been mirrored in housing because the overwhelming majority of house buyers are non-repeat customers which means that there is no incentive for builders to improve their product.[142] It is difficult to see private house builders taking up the Code in the absence of any incentive to do so. Indeed the lack of take up of BRE's voluntary EcoHomes standard supports this view. The Task Force recommended the Code should be set up to work in conjunction with the Building Regulations. We agree; and ODPM must make clear that the requirements of the Code are precursors to more stringent Building Regulations. It would also help the building industry if the Department set out a clear timeframe for the standards in the Code to be met or to be translated into the Regulations. This is the only way a voluntary Code will have any significant impact on house builders.

148. The best practice guide for PPS1 called for by the Task Force should give clear indications as to how the Code could be used by local authorities to require improved standards from developers.

149. One of the more interesting recommendations of the Egan Review is that "the Government should look at incentivising progress, with the longer term aim of meeting developments that achieve carbon emissions and waste minimisation standards consistent with a sustainable one planet level within, say eight years". In evidence Sir John told us that from an engineering perspective it would be relatively straightforward to lower CO2 emissions from households. Although the supply chain was not yet capable of delivering sustainable new houses, he suggested that the problem could be overcome within eight years, if standards were tightened gradually. The Government should set out a clear timetable for achieving zero carbon emission homes through the proposed Code for Sustainable Buildings.

104   Ev21 Back

105   House of Commons Library, Research Paper 04/10, 'Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill', 29 January 2004 Back

106   Ev53 Back

107   Q141 Back

108   Ev54 Back

109   Aberdeen Council, Thermal performance of housing in the Aberdeen Area, October 2004 Back

110   Energy Savings Trust, Assessment of energy efficiency impact of Building Regulations compliance, November 2004 Back

111   Ev54 Back

112   Q349 Back

113   The award is given to whole developments rather than individual homes, which means that some part of a development can be more sustainable than others, with the overall rating achieved calculated as an average of the development as a whole Back

114   Ev66 Back

115   Ev277 Back

116   Telegraph Online ,'Million-pound house sales reach 13 a day', 08 November 2004 Back

117   In the same period the average price of a house in England and Wales was £187,971 Back

118   Entec, Study of the Environmental Impacts of Increasing the Housing Supply of the UK, April 2004 Back

119   DEFRA, Energy Efficiency: The Government's Action Plan, April 2004 Back

120   U - value is the measurement of rate of heat transfer through a given building material. The lower the U-factor of a material the higher its energy efficiency. Back

121   WWF, Z-squared: Enabling One Planet Living in the Thames Gateway, October 2004 Back

122   Carbon associated with building on dwelling are 9.54 tonnes of carbon or 35 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Back

123   The ODPM consultation on the amendment of part L of the Building Regulations estimates that at current replacement rates the requirement for condensing boilers could reduce emissions by 0.1MtC a year, which would be a total of 2.5MtC per year by 2030.  Back

124   EAC, Ninth Report of Session 2002-03: Budget 2003 and Aviation, HC672, July 2003  Back

125   DEFRA Press release 504/04, 'UK climate change programme review: consultation launch', 8 December 2004 Back

126   Q 135 Back

127   Ev306 Back

128   Q 137 Back

129   Ev87 Back

130   Q 230 Back

131   Q 151 Back

132   Ev306 Back

133   Ev320 Back

134   DEFRA Press Release,' Sustainable Buildings Task Group line-up revealed',12 November 2003 Back

135   Ev84 Back

136   ODPM Press Release 04/320, 'Towards more sustainable housing', 15 December 2002 Back

137   Q824 Back

138   ODPM Press Release 04/320, 'Towards more sustainable housing', 15 December 2002 Back

139   It is generally accepted that houses are built with an expected lifetime of 60 years, whereas the Barker Review estimated that homes would have to last an estimated 1200 years at current stock replacement rates. Back

140   Ev139 Back

141   BRE, Green Guide to Specification, January 2002, Blackwell Publishing Back

142   Q 589 Back

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