Dorset lags behind the rest of the country for sustainable construction.

Local policy is unambitious, unenforced and falls far short of the authorities stated aims.

The government’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) warned in February that the UK’s legally binding climate targets “will not be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings”.

They continue that “…from 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid. They should be heated using low-carbon energy sources, have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation, and be timber-framed where possible.”

The creation of a new local authority for the Poole Bay area provides a historic opportunity to catch up. We’re calling for the BCP council to:

  • Make sure existing policy stops going unenforced.
  • Implement ambitious new policy to catch up with the rest of the UK, before we go off mains gas in 2025.

Who is Responsible for Low Carbon Construction?

Carbon emissions associated with construction can be thought of as ‘operational’ or ‘embodied’. Operational emissions arise from a buildings daily use, while embodied emissions come from sources such the transport and manufacture of building materials.

In the UK, operational emissions are limited by the Building Regulations and in some cases by the planning system. There is no consistent limitation on embodied emissions.

Part L of the Building Regulations enforce the ‘conservation of fuel and power’ in new buildings or those created through refurbishment and change of use. Fixed limits are set on the thermal performance of the building, and the efficiency of heating, hot water and ventilation systems. For new buildings only, a Target Emissions Rate (TER) provides numerical a limit to the predicted operational emissions.

The planning system provides opportunities to expand further on this target. Many local authorities require a further 19% reduction over the TER, often the maximum they are permitted to ask for under the Deregulation Act 2015. Authorities with certain devolved or mayoral powers can exceed 19%.

Building Regulations are enforced by a Building Control Officer, who will sign off the building on completion. Planning requirements are enforced by planning conditions, which are ‘discharged’ at any time prior to, during or after the build by the Local Planning Authority.

Each body will typically refer reporting from an energy assessor. As assessors ‘design stage’ reporting predicts the operational emissions of a planned building. ‘As built’ reporting is produced after construction and a verification process comprising a mix of on-site testing, third party certification and self-declaration.

What are Other Authorities Doing?

The most ambitious and well-established policy is set by the Greater London Authority. Major housing schemes must achieve a 100% reduction on site or through offset payments, with non-domestic schemes expected to follow this year.

The ‘London Plan’ also details how these reductions should be achieved, favouring a ‘fabric first’ approach. This has a more lasting impact than fitting renewable technology alone, as the lifespan of solar panels or similar is typically far less than the lifespan of the building.

Other authorities such as Manchester, Nottingham and Bristol have made commitments in 2018 and 2019 to implement similar zero carbon polices prior to 2030.

Our Local Policy is Unambitious and Unenforced

Within the area now served by BCP Council, only two of three former authorities have policy for reducing operational carbon emissions in new buildings beyond the Building Regulations. In core strategies of Poole and Bournemouth:

  • Poole’s Policies PCS 32 & PCS 33 require minor developments to source 10% of energy use from renewable technology, rising to 20% for major schemes. BREEAM ‘Very Good’ is also required for major non-domestic schemes.
  • Bournemouth’s Policy CS2 requires 10% of a major development’s energy use to come from decentralised and renewable or low carbon sources and ‘encourages’ BREEAM and the now withdrawn Code for Sustainable Homes.

This body of policy is significantly less ambitious than the 19% regularly asked for by similar authorities, the current and planned zero carbon policies enforced elsewhere, and the advice of the CCC.

When this policy was adopted in 2009 and 2012, it was in the context of planned national action which was later abandoned by the government. This action was (quoted from the Bournemouth document):

  • “The impacts of progressively stringent requirement on CO2 emissions under the Building Regulations (in 2010 and 2013) leading to zero carbon homes in 2016 and zero carbon non-domestic buildings by 2019”
  • “The stepping up of the application of the Code for Sustainable Homes to Code level 6 by 2016 mirroring the Building Regulations requirement for zero carbon homes. Compliance with 2010 Building Regulations is equivalent to Code Level 3 of the Code for Sustainable Homes.”

The Deregulation Act in 2015 scrapped the Code for Sustainable Homes and removed the target for zero carbon buildings. It also prevented some local authorities from fulfilling the objectives of their local plans by instructing them not to set targets for carbon reduction greater than 19%. Authorities with certain devolved or mayoral powers, such as the Greater London Authority, were not impacted by this limit.

Additionally, in the BCP area, local policies are regularly not enforced, as conditions are not always added to approvals for new developments. If a planning condition is raised, it is often discharged by planning authorities prior to work being completed, using ‘design stage’ reporting from an energy assessor as justification. This means that there is no further enforcement or verification to ensure the final building is compliant. Building Control are not responsible for upholding planning conditions and so do not enforce limits on carbon emissions beyond the TER at completion.

The Opportunity for the New BCP Council

The creation of the new authority provides a rare opportunity to:

  • Review and ensure the proper and consistent enforcement of current policy.
  • Create new policy to properly meet the scale of the challenge identified by the CCC.

Consistent enforcement can be achieved by ensuring that planning conditions are universally applied. These conditions should not be discharged by a planning officer until an ‘as built’ report from an energy assessor is available. This will provide greater assurance that policy has been met and align with the enforcement measures already applied to Part L by Building Control. We have produced a brief guide on this for local planning authorities.

New policy will have the most positive impact and create the least abrupt transition if it is adopted as soon as possible. The deadline for the creation of a new local plan for the BCP is 2024, a year prior to the ‘off gas’ deadline described by the CCC. From the website of the new BCP:

“As part of setting up the BCP Council, the government have approved consequential orders that require a new BCP wide local plan to be adopted by 2024. It will, therefore, be for the new BCP Council to agree a Local Development Scheme (required by planning legislation) which will be a project plan setting out the suite of documents required for a new BCP Local Plan and timings for preparation.”

We believe the BCP Council must adopt the most ambitious measures available to achieve a net zero standard for operational and embodied emissions. Acting with urgency will leave a legacy of sustainable, economic buildings with a long useful life and contribute to the fight against climate breakdown.

This may be best achieved by mirroring as much current and planned policy of the Greater London Authority as is permissible under the Deregulation Act 2015. Specifically, Policy 5.2 of the London Plan which sets a standard for zero operational emissions via a ‘fabric first’ approach.

There are fewer resources available to assess and reduce embodied carbon, though several opportunities exist. Currently BREEAM and the Home Quality Mark provide voluntary methods for assessment. Ambitious new BCP policy could make reference to the sections relevant to the responsible sourcing of materials, or enforce these schemes in their entirety.

The London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI) is also working on guidance for assessing embodied carbon in their role in promoting zero carbon polices with the GLA. Their aim is to have completed this by the end of 2019. The UK Green Building Council has also published a framework definition for net zero operational and embodied emissions.

We must act swiftly to ease the transition to net zero and to meet the full scale of the challenge now being discussed and tackled at a national level.