Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Third Report

6  Managing the Environmental Impact

143. The housing growth plans could have a major impact on the environment in terms of increasing energy consumption, demand for water and generating additional car journeys so contributing to climate change.[112] A report for the ODPM into the impact of various levels of housing development on the environment emphasises the extent to which these are associated with population rather than household growth and stresses the varying capacity of the environment to receive new housing in different regions and within regions. It calls for environmental impacts to be considered as national and regional frameworks are developed. It argues that

"Whilst the net environmental pressures and impacts that arise from changes in the number of dwellings and occupancy rates are broadly uniform, it is the capacity of the receiving environment that varies. The availability of land, water and waste management capacity is most constrained in the south, when compared to other parts of the country…While the implications for affordability are greatest where additional development is concentrated in the south (or within those areas of greatest need), affordability in other regions may also be improved by other regional distributions. The balance of these impacts will need to be considered and resolved within national and regional planning processes and frameworks".[113]

144. At regional and local levels, the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires Local Development Documents to be subject to a sustainability appraisal. Similarly the application of EU Directive 2001/42/EC requires plans to be subject to strategic environmental assessments.[114] Even so, the Environment Agency is concerned that the cumulative impact of developments might be overlooked and needs careful monitoring:

"Current levels of housing growth in the South and East of the country are already putting pressure on some resources. It is important that the cumulative impacts of existing and new levels of house building and occupation are fully understood. We are not aware that this assessment has yet been undertaken by Government".[115]

Climate Change

145. Friends of the Earth point out that housing policy will be essential for delivery of the Government's targets on climate change—particularly in terms of standards and targets for energy efficiency and micro-renewables. "Housing accounts for around a third of the UK's carbon emissions. If we don't prevent dangerous levels of climate change there will be massive economic costs."[116] Several witnesses argued that the Government should demonstrate a strong commitment to tackling climate change. The Town and Country Planning Association is calling for "a cross-departmental statement outlining the crucial role that planning should play in tackling climate change".[117] Nick Skellett from the South East Council Leaders suggested that

"It would be helpful if ODPM was a signatory to the Climate Change Public Service Agreement. The problem is that there is a tendency at the present time for them to push the number of houses, and the price and the cost of houses, without looking at the quality and environmental protection provided by that housing. Defra and the Department for Transport are signatories to the Public Service Agreement on keeping CO2 emissions to a certain level; ODPM is not. I think it would be very helpful if that were to be changed because we have seen a tendency for ODPM to push numbers and to push costs at the expense of the environmental impact."[118]

146. Housing makes a very significant contribution to climate change. The DCLG has important responsibilities alongside other Government departments for tackling climate change. It should consider signing up to the Climate Change PSA and identify how the planning system can contribute to tackling climate change.

The Design of New Settlements

147. The design of new settlements is an important factor in encouraging sustainable lifestyles, creating an attractive environment and mitigating the negative environmental impacts. There is a widespread concern that, if the new development takes the form of 'urban sprawl', there will be greater car dependency than at present. As The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors pointed out

"Low density, urban sprawl, if permitted on a large scale and based around the use of private transport, will defeat many of the Government's aims to promote healthy, sustainable and inclusive communities as reliance on private transport increases and more land is taken for secondary uses such as roads and car parks".[119]

148. Natural England, the new organisation being formed from English Nature, the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency, emphasises the importance of considering the impacts of development on natural resources, land use, landscapes, habitats and species. It points out that

"Biodiversity cannot be maintained through protected sites alone. Past and present human activity and human-population pressures have damaged the natural environment and disrupted ecosystems (the complicated relationship that exists between animals, plants and their natural environment which maintains the variety of life). We need to actively manage our natural environment to help these damaged ecosystems recover so they can continue to function effectively and support economic productivity. It is also important to retain and enhance the character and distinctiveness of our countryside. The character of all landscapes should be taken into account when making decisions on future development".[120]

It urges that "tools such as landscape character assessment should be used to inform decisions on the location of development and set the conditions for the nature of development that respect and enhance landscape character". [121]

149. Natural England highlighted the importance of providing quality open space but also raised questions about implementation:

"Green infrastructure, delivered through a planned network of multifunctional greenspaces, provides multiple benefits such as sustainable drainage, flood storage, recreation, access and wildlife, contributes to a high quality natural and built environment, and enhances quality of life for present and future residents. The Green Infrastructure concept has been incorporated within the Milton Keynes South Midlands Sub-regional Strategy and is also being adopted in the Thames Gateway. Much will depend on how these concepts are translated into practice on the ground".[122]

150. The Government is encouraging the use of masterplans and design codes to provide certainty for developers, to streamline the planning process and to ensure high-quality design. According to draft PPS3, "Detailed design guidance such as urban design guidelines, design codes, detailed masterplans or site briefs can help to improve the quality and value of residential development and, once in place, can accelerate the development control process".[123] The Government is to publish guidance on the use and preparation of masterplans and design codes to take forward the policies in PPS3.

151. Natural England presses that masterplans, design briefs and Local Development Documents consider the environmental quality of the development. It told us that

"We believe that if significant additional housing development is to take place, far greater emphasis should be placed on the quality of development. The quality of development includes its scale, its location, its design, its mix of uses, its energy and resource efficiency and its long-term flexibility to adapt to changing needs and circumstances. High quality development incorporates landscape, greenspace, biodiversity, recreation and other community benefits, which should be designed into to the development from the outset. The planning system needs to go further in setting out the quality standards that development must meet to enhance local character and distinctiveness and deliver sustainable development. Area Action Plans, development briefs, master plans, design codes, design guides and concept statements all have a role in setting out detailed development requirements".[124]

152. The scale of house-building proposed by the Government could have a major impact on the natural environment, particularly in terms of affecting biodiversity and generating increased car use. The Government is encouraging the use of masterplans and design codes to ensure high quality development and that the impact on the environment is minimised. It is set to publish guidance on the use of these planning documents. We recommend that this guidance require planning authorities to consider the impact of housing development on the physical and natural environment, resource efficiency and the promotion of sustainable lifestyles. Landscape character assessments should also become standard on major schemes.

The environmental performance of homes

153. The Government is taking steps to improve the environmental performance of new housing. Changes to the Building Regulations since 2002 have sought to improve the energy efficiency of buildings by about 40%. Following the cross-departmental Sustainable Buildings Task Group, the Government published, alongside its response to the Barker report, a Draft Code for Sustainable Homes[125] which was intended to improve further the sustainability of new homes, saving water and energy. It sets out five levels of environmental performance for new homes. All homes built through English Partnerships and Housing Corporation programmes will be expected to meet level three, which is significantly higher than the standard prescribed in current Building Regulations. For other schemes however the code is only voluntary. As Friends of the Earth told us "the Code is voluntary for private sector development, and so no matter what the standards within it, there is no guarantee that house-builders or anyone else will pay adequate attention to it".[126]

154. There is also concern that the Code does not set out highly ambitious targets at the lower levels. Friends of the Earth told us that

"The minimum standards within the Code are entirely inadequate, particularly regarding climate change. For energy use, the Code's minimum standard does not even go beyond the new building regulations despite the fact that far greater efficiency is technically possible".[127]

155. These concerns are shared by Sir John Harman, the chairman of the Environment Agency, who chaired the Sustainable Buildings Task Group. In a letter to the Prime Minister, he argued that "the current proposed standards should be pegged higher." He also pressed for "inducements to get the house building industry to adopt it [the Code]. Past performance of the industry shows that without these measures, the Code will simply not be put into practice".[128]

156. Since the consultation, the Government has made a statement suggesting that it will strengthen the Code for Sustainable Homes, that the revised Code will form the basis for the next wave of improvements to Building Regulations and that the lowest levels will be raised above the level of mandatory building regulations.[129] As yet it is unclear how the different levels will be incorporated into the Building Regulations.

157. We support the Government's objective to increase the environmental performance of new housing but the proposals in the Draft Code for Sustainable Homes are not sufficiently ambitious. We are disappointed that the basic level proposed in the Code does not exceed current Building Regulations. We welcome the Government's commitment to revise the Code in the light of the consultation. We believe it to be vital that the Code delivers an improvement in environmental performance by being aspirational and including a basic level which is higher than the Building Regulations.

158. There is no certainty that the Code will be applied by the private sector if it remains voluntary. This is a significant weakness. We recommend that the Government set a timetable for the incorporation of the Code for Sustainable Homes into Building Regulations. The requirements taken forward from the Code and incorporated into the Building Regulations in this manner should be sufficiently challenging to deliver a major improvement in the environmental performance of new homes.


159. The majority of the new housing is being promoted in the wider South East, the area of the UK with the most severe water shortage and also flooding risks. These concerns have been set out in more detail by the Environment Audit Committee's follow-up report on the Government's house-building programme.[130] It is possible to reduce water consumption by introducing efficiency measures but new water storage and sewage facilities will be required, and these need to be planned for.

160. Similarly water consumption can be reduced in existing housing, mitigating their impact, through the incorporation of various fitments. The Environment Agency points out

"The demand for water created by new and existing homes could partly be met through improved standards of water efficiency. Our work shows that water efficiencies of up to 25 percent per household can be gained by ensuring pipework, fittings and appliances maintain standards of performance while using less water. …High water efficiency standards applied to all the one million new homes currently planned for South East England could save 60 million litres a day - enough to supply water for 500,000 people". [131]

The costs of procuring and installing such equipment is relatively modest says the Agency.

161. The ODPM's sustainability impact study highlighted the likely need for additional provision of water services to achieve even the baseline development scenario. It said

"The implications of additional growth can be accommodated; however, the research has indicated that there maybe insufficient provision in Water Resource Plans for population growth under the baseline scenario. Water companies may have to review existing provisions for supply and waste water treatment to ensure adequate provision is made for the anticipated increase in demand."[132]

162. The Environment Agency is particularly concerned that housing should not be developed without the necessary water infrastructure. It urges that

"Environmental infrastructure and some basic services like sewage and drainage must be a precondition of growth if the quality of life of residents is to be secured. Environmental infrastructure must be planned and delivered in parallel with housing growth".[133]

163. The Agency argues that the use of sustainable urban drainage systems can make a difference in reducing the need for more traditional forms of waste water facilities.

"If…There are to be large extensions to existing settlements, our experience shows that existing waste water and sewage facilities may be inadequate. A strategic and well planned approach to new facilities will be required which flags the contributions needed by individual developers.

The use of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDs) can reduce the need for more traditional forms of waste water facilities".[134]

164. Water consumption can be reduced through improved standards of efficiency in new and existing housing. However, new water and sewage facilities will be required to meet the demand from the new homes. Water infrastructure is a precondition of growth yet spare capacity in water and sewage facilities in the wider South East is extremely limited. There is a long lead-in time for the provision of water facilities such as reservoirs and sewage treatment works. We recommend that the Government strengthens the measures to ensure that adequate water and sewage facilities are planned as part of the infrastructure to support housing growth. We recommend that sustainable urban drainage systems become a standard requirement in all new housing developments.

Improving environmental performance of existing homes

165. New homes only add about 1% to the housing stock each year. To make a greater impact on the use of natural resources, there is enormous scope to improve the environmental efficiency of the existing stock and to reduce the running costs. The Environment Agency highlighted the potential for reducing water consumption by fitting efficient appliances.

"The majority of households could save up to one quarter of their current water use. Houses constructed more than five years ago are likely to present water efficiency opportunities. For example toilets are the single biggest water use in most homes and offices. Retrofit or replacement of toilets can save between 8% and 16% of household consumption".[135]

166. Achieving environment standards does not only reduce the use of natural resources, but also helps to reduce running costs and thus create more viable communities. Friends of the Earth pointed to the Bed Zed Development in South London, which has been built to a very high environmental standard. It told us that

"Better designed and more efficient homes have greatly reduced running cost - a major benefit, particularly for lower income households who spend a greater percentage of their income on electricity, heating and water. In the first year of the Bed Zed development in London, running costs were almost £500 a year lower than the average UK home - savings of £80 on electricity, £225 on heating and £170 on water".[136]

167. The Government is considering supporting the use of the energy-saving fitments such as micro-generation. It is mentioned in the Code for Sustainable Buildings as a means of reducing carbon emissions and the Department for Trade & Industry is consulting on a Microgeneration Strategy. Currently microgeneration installations require a high initial capital cost with a relatively long pay-back period. The Government is offering some fiscal incentives with 5% VAT on some forms of microgeneration. Evidence to this Committee suggested that greater incentives were required.

168. New homes add only 1% to the housing stock each year. There is huge potential to improve the environmental efficiency of existing homes. If housing growth is well-planned and high environmental standards are achieved there are real benefits in reducing running costs to individual homeowners. The Government should consider introducing incentives to reduce the water use and energy consumption of existing homes. It should consider offering additional incentives for the installation of micro-generation.


169. The areas where new house-building is being concentrated involves many sites in floodplains. Research by the Association of British Insurers has shown that one-third of designated development sites (up to 108,000 homes) in the Government's South East growth areas are located in a floodplain, and 10,000 properties may be built in areas with significant flood risk.[137] The Agency says that these additional risks and costs could be reduced if new building in high flood risk areas is carefully managed.

170. The Government has published a consultation draft of PPS25 which aims to ensure that flood risks are fully taken into account when planning proposals are considered. The Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has recently completed an inquiry into the Environment Agency. Its Report welcomed the proposals to make the Agency a statutory consultee on all planning applications in areas of flood risk, and called for the Agency to be allocated additional funds to perform this function. The report also urged that developers and investors should be given more information about the risks posed by building in flood plains.[138]

171. We endorse the recommendations in the Report by the Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs Committee into the Environment Agency which welcomes the proposals to make the Environment Agency a statutory consultee on all planning applications in flood risk areas. We support the Committee's call for additional resources being allocated to the Agency to fulfil this role. We also support its call that developers and investors should be given more information about the risks posed by building in flood plains.

112   The Environmental Audit Committee considered this issue in greater depth in its report Sustainable Housing: A Follow-up Report. Fifth Report of Session 2005-06, HC 779. Back

113   "A sustainability impact study of additional housing scenarios in England", ODPM Press release, Dec 2004, page 157. Back

114   Directive 2001/42/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Assessment of the Effects of certain plans and programmes on the Environment, June 2001. Back

115   Ev 384 Back

116   Ev 428 Back

117   Ev 314 Back

118   Q 299 Back

119   Ev 219 Back

120   Ev 124 Back

121   Ev 124 Back

122   Ev 125 Back

123   ODPM, Consultation on PPS 3, December 2000, p.17.  Back

124   Ev 125 Back

125   ODPM, Proposals for introducing a Code for Sustainable Homes : A consultation paper, December 2005. Back

126   Ev 428 Back

127   ibid. Back

128   Letter to the Prime Minister, Rt Hon. Tony Blair MP, dated 14th February, re: Code for Sustainable Buildings. Back

129   ODPM News Release, 2006/0038. Back

130   Environmental Audit Committee , Fifth Report of Session 2005-06, Sustainable Housing: A Follow-up, HC 779. Back

131   Ev 385 Back

132   ODPM, A sustainability impact study of additional housing scenarios in England, Dec 2005, page161. A report by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee questioned the methodology used by this report to estimate the level of additional water demand as a result of the new house-building programme and the nature of the data on which the assumptions were based. House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2005-06, Water Management, HL 191-I. Back

133   Ev 387 Back

134   Ev 388 Back

135   Ev 385 Back

136   Ev 428 Back

137   Association of British Insurers , Making Communities Sustainable Managing Flood Risks in the Government's Growth Areas, (2005), p.7. Back

138   Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2005-06, The Environment Agency, HC 780-I. Back

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