Karen Fletcher, editor of MBS magazine looks at what’s coming up for the built environment

It’s tempting in the confusion of Brexit negotiations to assume that all government policy planning is as murky as the route through our current problems.  

However, there are some clear signals on government plans around energy and the built environment that professionals in our sector should be aware of.

The background to most of what’s coming up is already set.

The government’s Industrial Strategy (launched at the end of 2017) sets ambitious targets for how the country should move forward, embrace technology and improve its productivity – all while achieving ‘clean growth’. It’s an ambitious vision of the future.

Where housing leads, we will see commercial heating follow

Karen Fletcher Karen Fletcher Editor of Modern Building Services

Stark advice

We have also recently seen the government’s advisory body the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) offer some pretty stark advice on decarbonising the UKs heating – by ensuring that no new homes are connected to the gas grid from 2025.

This certainly sent some waves across the domestic heating sector (and I’m pretty sure that where housing leads, we would see commercial heating follow).

Of course the CCC only recommended the move away from gas. But recent presentation from government representatives seem to show that it’s being taken seriously.

Hitting targets

At the 2019 Future Build event, the chief scientific advisor to BEIS, Professor John Loughhead pointed out that energy use is a major source of carbon emissions for the UK. He also highlighted that no matter what happens with Brexit, we must hit our carbon reduction targets.

“June 2020 is the deadline for setting the sixth carbon budget. Removing carbon from the atmosphere is expensive, so we have to ask if we reduce our emissions from energy use, will that make it easier?” he asked when speaking at the event.

It’s an important question, because although the UK has been successful in reducing its reliance on fossil fuels to produce electricity, homes are actually using more energy than ever before.

It is not a question that the government can current answer – and there is no silver bullet for this problem.

What is clear is that government is looking to new technology to provide solutions. That could be modular construction of houses that are more energy efficient; or new heating technologies.

“We cannot, with current technology do that at an acceptable cost. Innovation is the cornerstone of what we do,” said Professor Loughhead. He also added: “Decarbonisation is an industry opportunity; it’s not just about hitting targets.”

Mission possible?

Perhaps more tangible clues are in the form of the government ‘Missions’* which were established to deliver some of the major goals of the Grand Challenges set out in the Industrial Strategy.

One of these missions is to halve the energy use of new buildings by 2030 – that’s homes and non-dwellings.

What’s more, all buildings will have to achieve a Band C EPC rating by 2030.  The focus of this Mission is to improve the standard of new buildings, but to include retrofitting of the existing building stock in its sights.

A tighter Part L

Speaking at the same Future Build conference, Peter Rankin who is the technical policy lead for Building Regulations Part L (for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government) made it very clear that the updated Part L would certainly encompass these goals – so we can expect tighter targets on energy and carbon for new and existing buildings.

BEIS has launched a competition to design the ‘home of 2030’, which not only encompasses the principles of clean growth, but the challenge of our ageing society too. Again, this points to other influences that will impact building design requirements in the next five to ten years.

Assumptions post-Brexit

As far as Brexit is concerned, government representatives have been keen to emphasise that however the UK leaves the EU, the impact on building regulations will be minimal. It is assumed, for example, that the requirements of the EPBD (the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive) will be transposed into UK law.

One important point to note about the updated EPBD is that its focus is shifting away from carbon. Instead, the measure of achievement now will be primary energy use.

This seems very likely to change the way that we measure building performance.

EPCs focus on a theoretical carbon measurement, so a focus on primary energy seems to imply that actual energy use might become the preferred measure of building performance.

Karen Fletcher is editor of Modern Building Services