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Building Regulations: The next step towards zero carbon

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Baroness Hanham):

In The Coalition: our programme for government, and thereafter my Department’s published Business Plan, we said we would require continuous improvements to the energy efficiency of new buildings. I am therefore today setting out the Government’s response to last year’s consultation on proposed changes to Part L of the Building Regulations (Conservation of fuel and power) and announcing changes to the energy efficiency requirements in the Building Regulations for England. These changes have been overseen by my colleague, the Building Regulations Minister the Rt Hon Don Foster MP.

In doing so I am also responding to our key external partners who are seeking clarity on the issue. Strengthening these requirements takes the next step towards our zero carbon ambitions, will contribute to national emission reduction targets and help to lower people’s fuel bills. The changes are projected to deliver savings of £16 million per year to business and 6.4 million tonnes of carbon di-oxide.

These changes have been developed in light of the consultation responses received, feedback from the Cabinet Office Red Tape Challenge process, consultation with the Building Regulations Advisory Committee and engagement with external partners. They strike a balance between the Government’s ongoing commitments to improving energy efficiency requirements and ensuring that the overall effect of regulation upon consumers and businesses does not stifle growth. And given that industry wants clarity on the further direction of travel beyond these changes the Government intend to publish a consultation shortly on the next steps to take forward zero carbon homes, including the means of delivering allowable solutions.

These Part L changes take an important and technically meaningful step towards zero carbon homes but one that also allows Government to meet its commitments to reduce the overall regulatory burden upon home builders. For new homes, the changes deliver a 6% improvement on 2010 standards across the build mix, with compliance targets differentiated by home type to take advantage of the most cost effective savings. The existing partial relaxation of targets for homes built off the gas grid, the so called ‘fuel factor’, will stay at current levels to help rural home builders. Home builders will continue to have flexibility in how they meet carbon di-oxide targets however the emphasis of these changes is on getting the building fabric right and this is reinforced through the introduction of a new target for fabric energy efficiency.

Similarly I am announcing a strengthening of carbon di-oxide targets for new non-domestic buildings that delivers a 9% improvement on 2010 standards aggregated across the build mix. Again this should be seen as part of the next step towards zero carbon, achievable in most building types through cost effective fabric and services efficiency improvements.  I can also confirm a strengthening of the minimum energy efficiency standards when specific building services work including air conditioning and lighting replacements are carried out in existing non-domestic buildings. The direct energy savings arising from these changes outweigh the costs thereby providing a net benefit to business.

I am also announcing today the decision not to proceed at this time with a strengthening of the minimum energy efficiency standards for extensions and replacement windows to existing homes. The Government has decided that this would be inconsistent with recent reforms to extend permitted development rights under the planning system and it is not the right time to impose additional costs on hard-working families trying to improve their homes. Although the revenues from energy savings from strengthening extension standards are currently insufficient on their own to cover the costs, technical innovation is expected to lead to improved cost effectiveness over time and subject to securing consumer buy in I have not ruled out the possibility of reforms to standards in the future.

Similarly, I can announce that the Government has decided not to proceed with regulation at this time for a new homes quality assurance process. The consultation response supported the principle of addressing discrepancy between design and as built energy performance but said that more evidence is needed to better understand where the problems lie before taking regulatory action. The Government is therefore supporting the Zero Carbon Hub led industry programme set up to look at the issues in more detail with a view to achieving industry’s own target that 90% of new homes should meet, or better, their design performance from 2020. The Hub has today published a progress report providing a summary of the collaborative work carried out to date and initial findings. The next stage of the project will focus on analysis of the evidence base and report on recommended priority solutions by next Spring.

On timing, I can announce that the amending regulations will be laid before Parliament shortly and the associated Impact Assessment published at the same time. Updated statutory guidance and calculation methodologies will be published during the course of this summer with the changes coming into force on 6 April 2014 giving industry enough time to prepare.