By Jennifer Nye, Senior Planner at Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners
On 25 March, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, gave his last planning update in a ministerial statement setting out details of the most recent changes made by the Government to achieve a more streamlined planning system and encourage sustainable development to support economic growth.
Alongside a new national planning policy on housing standards, which aims to rationalise and streamline existing standards to help bring forward new housing, one of the changes announced was the withdrawal of the Code for Sustainable Homes following a Government consultation in 2014.
The Code for Sustainable Homes was the national, voluntary, standard for the sustainable design and construction of new homes. It aimed to reduce carbon emissions and promote higher standards of sustainable design above the existing minimum standards set out by Building Regulations.
An overarching ambition of this change is to, alongside other recent changes, reduce the regulatory and financial burden on developers and ultimately help to achieve the National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF) ambition of realising sustainable development whilst significantly boosting the supply of housing.
These changes mean that Local Planning Authorities and qualifying bodies preparing neighbourhood plans should not set any additional local technical standards or requirements, including, inter alia, requiring any level of the Code.
Whilst the detail of future changes to the Building Regulations is not known, it is anticipated that these could be updated in line with the Government’s ambition of Zero Carbon Homes from October 2016. Indeed, it is anticipated that that the energy performance requirements in Building Regulations will be set at a level equivalent to the outgoing Code for Sustainable Homes level 4.
Whilst the ministerial statement sets out that the Government is committed to implementing the Zero Carbon Homes Standard next year, they have however, laid out some support for small housebuilders; there will be an exemption for small housing sites of 10 units or fewer from the allowable solutions element of the Zero Carbon Homes target. This means that they will be required to meet the on-site energy performance standard but will not be required to support any further off-site carbon abatement measures.
Developers will still be required to review extant permissions to understand whether they are bound to deliver the Code as a legacy case. The industry must also be mindful of the Government’s current commitment to move towards the Zero Carbon Homes Standard next year.
So, whilst the removal of one regulatory burden to encourage house building simultaneously maintaining a focus on sustainable development is supported; it must be acknowledged that the uncertainty of future changes to the Zero Carbon Homes Standard, alongside the upcoming General Election next month, means that the industry must keep a close eye on any future announcements.