Code for Sustainable Homes and the Housing Standards Review - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Housing Standards Review

1. The Housing Standards Review (HSR) was launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in October 2012. It was a fundamental review of Building Regulations and voluntary housing standards. The aim was to rationalise codes, standards, rules, regulations and guidance, which DCLG judged "add unnecessary cost and complexity to the house building process."[1] Such standards included the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH), Lifetime Homes, Secured by Design, the London Housing Design Guide and local space standards.[2]

2. The HSR was underpinned by DCLG's rationale:

    The house building process is difficult in itself, but it is not assisted by the large and complex range of local and national standards, rules, and Codes that any developer has to wade through before they can start building. Across the sector it is a widely acknowledged that there is a strong case for a review of housing standards, to rationalise and simplify them, and to decide what is fit for purpose.[3]

Some witnesses to our inquiry agreed in principle with DCLG that the overall housing standards regime was not currently fit for purpose. For example, the National Housing Federation (NHF) highlighted the "widespread industry consensus during the review of the need for, and the potential to, rationalise standards."[4] That point was echoed by other witnesses representing a range of interests related to home building.[5] However, we heard differing views on which standards should be amended or scrapped and what, if anything, should take their place.

3. The HSR was completed in August 2013, at which point DCLG announced a consultation on the review's findings. This Report is intended to feed into that consultation with specific reference to the CSH. Peter Schofield, Director General, Neighbourhoods Group, DCLG, confirmed that DCLG is "keen to hear the views of the Committee."[6]

Code for Sustainable Homes

4. Launched in 2007, the CSH is a method of assessing the environmental performance of new homes. Our predecessor Committee scrutinised and championed the introduction of the CSH in its Report on sustainable housing in 2006.[7] The CSH is applied in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but it is not used in Scotland, where housing policy is devolved. It was developed to encourage continuous improvement in sustainable home building. In particular, it was designed to reduce carbon emissions and to promote higher standards of sustainable design than the minimum standards set out in Building Regulations. Approximately130,000 homes have been built to the CSH since its launch in 2007. In 2012, 39% of new dwellings completed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland achieved one of the various levels of CSH compliance.[8]

5. The CSH covers nine categories of sustainable design: energy and carbon emissions, water, materials, surface water run-off, waste, pollution, health and well-being, management and ecology. It includes mandatory performance requirements in six of the nine categories, namely energy and carbon emissions, water, materials, surface water run-off, waste and health and well-being. Performance requirements are flexible in the other three categories. When new homes are assessed against the CSH, they are awarded an overall level between zero and six—level six is the most sustainable—depending on the standards achieved in each category.

6. CSH assessments are carried out in two phases. First, an assessment is carried out at the design stage. This is based on detailed documentary evidence and commitments, which results in an interim certificate of compliance. Secondly, final assessment and certification is carried out following construction, which includes the examination of site records and a visual inspection. A recent DCLG report pointed out that the CSH assessment process leveraged sustainability into developments from the planning stage onwards, which is not the case with post-construction Building Regulations assessments.[9] Unlike Building Regulations, the CSH incentivises developers and designers to think about sustainability from the outset and throughout the development process.

7. The CSH is applied both compulsorily and voluntarily depending on local circumstances. The Welsh Assembly Government, the Northern Ireland Executive, the Homes and Communities Agency and some local authorities make the CSH a mandatory requirement in certain cases: all new housing funded by the Homes and Communities Agency must meet CSH level 3; all new housing promoted or supported by the Welsh Assembly Government or its sponsored bodies must meet CSH level 3; all new, self-contained social housing in Northern Ireland must meet CSH level 3; and some local authorities specify a particular level of CSH compliance as a condition of granting planning approval. Equally, some home builders voluntarily comply with the CSH, because they want to build sustainable homes.


8. The HSR consultation set out three options on the reform of housing standards:

    A. whether government should develop a nationally described standards set which would operate in addition to the Building Regulations (where rigorous local needs and viability testing indicated it could apply);

    B. whether government should develop a nationally described standards set as a stepping stone en route to integrating standards into Building Regulations at a future date;

    C. whether the government should move now to integrate standards directly into Building Regulations, as functional tiers, and no technical standards would remain at all outside of the Building Regulations system, recognising that this will take time and may require legislative change.

    The government's preference, subject to consultation, is option B.[10]

DCLG described the three options as "a proposal that removes unnecessary bureaucracy but still retains the standards required to enable high quality sustainable housing to be built."[11]

9. Several witnesses questioned the nature of the choices set out in the HSR consultation. The Building Research Establishment (BRE), which manages the CSH under contract to DCLG, commented:

    The Housing Standards Review is not allowing true consultation on issues that matter. If you look at the document itself, it is very much a multiple-choice exercise of saying, 'Is it A, B or C' and not necessarily allowing the industry to express their views in terms of, 'How do we achieve these challenging targets that we know we need to achieve for improved housing, and how do we do it in a way that engages the industry?'[12]

The Local Government Association (LGA) expressed a similar view:

    The overall goal was to 'rationalise' what was described as 'an untenable forest of codes' and so on that add unnecessary cost and complexity to the house building process, to report by a timescale that was not in the end met, and the aim was to achieve deregulation. Those terms of reference will take one in a particular direction. If the terms of reference had been, 'How can we build fantastic homes for the next generation in a way that is viable?', the outcome might have looked slightly different.[13]

10. DCLG described options A, B and C as "a proposal" rather than, for example, "three separate options".[14] The differences between the three options—whether, when and how a national code of standards should be included in Building Regulations—were less striking than the similarities. All three options entailed stripping away regulation and setting minimal baseline standards. Options A, B and C were tactical rather than strategic choices.

11. The HSR consultation addressed the fate of the CSH in a single paragraph:

    With regard to the Code for Sustainable Homes, as already noted this has been considered as part of the review. Where there are significant issues for carrying forward, these have been reflected in the consultation proposals. In the light of that, and the outcome of this consultation, the government proposes to wind down the role of the Code.[15]

The HSR consultation did not include a specific question on the impact of winding down the CSH. That approach does not appear to go with the grain of the DCLG Business Plan, which details DCLG's commitment to

    put local people and communities in charge of planning so they can determine the shape of the neighbourhoods in which they live, ensure that regulations support our ambition to drive sustainable economic growth and development, including our ambitions for a low carbon and green economy.[16]

DCLG may have overstated the case in dismissing the CSH as "unnecessary bureaucracy".[17] Retaining and evolving the CSH may offer a better way of driving incremental increases in sustainable home building than the proposed options set out in the HSR consultation. Part 2 examines the costs and benefits of DCLG's proposed approach compared with maintaining and evolving the CSH.

1   DCLG, Housing Standards Review, Consultation description (August 2013) Back

2   DCLG, Housing Standards Review, Consultation (August 2013), para 3 Back

3   DCLG, Housing Standards Review, Consultation (August 2013), para 1 Back

4   National Housing Federation (CSH 032) para 3.1 Back

5   Alliance for Sustainable Building Products, Home Builders Federation, Wienerberger Ltd, National Federation of Roofing Contractors, Local Government Association Back

6   Q46 Back

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

8   Building Research Establishment (CSH 025 BRE) Summary Back

9   DCLG, Code for Sustainable Homes Case Studies: Volume 4 (August 2013), para 10.2 Back

10   DCLG, Housing Standards Review, Consultation (August 2013), paras 38 to 39 Back

11   Q46 Back

12   Q18 Back

13   Q20 Back

14   Q46 Back

15   DCLG, Housing Standards Review, Consultation (August 2013), para 40 Back

16   DCLG, Business Plan 2012-2015 (May 2012), para 5 Back

17   Q11 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 20 November 2013