An ambition that all new non-domestic buildings ultimately be built to a zero-carbon standard was established by the previous Labour government as part of the overall UK strategy to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
A lot has changed in the interim, notably the onset of the economic downturn and the election of the coalition government, while the Part L regulations, meant to be a step towards meetings these ambitions, have been slowly but surely watered down.
The dilution of this strategy has been justified by the need to reduce cost and red tape in order to kick-start the economy.
“The proposals do not satisfy those that feel we can’t afford a change, nor those that want to continue the planned steps to achieving zero-carbon dwellings”
However, that was never the problem in the first place; it was the inability to borrow money and fund projects that held back new building, and thus the proposed benefits of this red tape-cutting have never materialised.
The announced new Part L 2014 regulations promise a 6 per cent reduction for new dwellings and a 9 per cent reduction for new non-dwellings.
This follows an original ambition for a further 25 per cent reduction in 2013 and then a proposed 8 per cent and 26 per cent respective reduction in the government’s own 2012 consultation.
A lot has happened in a year. This of course follows previous work by the government in March 2011 when a zero-carbon dwelling was redefined from a Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 dwelling to a Level 5 dwelling.
In other words, all unregulated energy, such as electrical appliances, was removed from zero-carbon consideration.
The rather bizarre Part L 2014 proposals do not satisfy those parts of the industry that feel we can’t afford a change at this time, nor those that want to continue the planned steps to achieving zero carbon dwellings in 2016.
“The industry needs to have further clarity to progress towards what was originally an admirable intention”
More importantly, they may in fact add cost for no or marginal benefit, which is the opposite of the government’s intentions and the worse of all worlds.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the good work produced by the Zero-carbon Hub, an industry body with significant housebuilder representation and which WSP contributes to, seems to have been ‘parked’ for future use.
The foundation of this work, the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard (FEES), set an agreed basis for passive energy reduction in new-build housing.
There are two pragmatic options for Part L 2014. Firstly, make no changes – save wasted cost and allow Part L 2010 to continue until 2016.
This, however, will be difficult to justify politically and – based on reported sales – difficult to demonstrate Part L costs are significant compared with the ability to borrow.
The alternative is to implement FEES in full and make no other changes to Part L for dwellings. This then leaves the more problematic issue of Part L for non-dwellings.
This is a more complex issue, both because of the significant range of different building functions and because there is no single industry body that represents them all. A practical improvement based on the consultation feedback would be sensible.
Whatever happens, the industry needs to have further clarity to progress towards what was originally an admirable intention. It would be a pity to lose sight of that goal.
David Bownass is sustainability director at WSP in the UK