Withdrawal of Code for Sustainable Homes – 10th April Journal Column

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.

CDM Regulations 2015 Update – 3rd April Journal Column

By James Ritchie, Head of External Affairs and Deputy Chief Executive at The Association for Project SafetyAPS

If you are not directly involved in the construction industry, you could be forgiven for not knowing that construction health and safety legislation is just about to be amended by Government (again!), but for those of you working in our industry, you need to be on top of the new Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015 before they come into force on April 6.

With the new regulations, the CDM Co-ordinator role has been removed and in its place comes a new ‘Principal Designer’ role, domestic clients, construction phase plans on all projects and the requirement for health and safety co-ordinators to be appointed on all projects with more than one contractor working on the site.  This change means that any construction project that is likely to involve more than one contractor needs to have the health and safety aspects planned, managed and monitored from the beginning of the design process through to completion of the construction work. No exceptions, no excuses. And the people or organisations tasked with doing the planning, managing and monitoring of the health and safety aspects need to have sufficient health and safety skills, knowledge and experience to do so in a capable manner.

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) intention is for the pre-construction health and safety coordinator (the Principal Designer) to be an integral member of the design team and be given sufficient authority to be in control of the pre-construction health and safety on the project. The obvious choice would be the lead designer – provided that they have sufficient skills knowledge and experience in design and construction health and safety risk management. However, choosing a person that fits that bill may or may not be that easy, dependant on the size and complexity of the project in question.

Non-domestic clients also have new duties under the CDM Regulations 2015, including making suitable arrangements to ensure that the construction work is carried out without risks to health or safety, that those arrangements are in place throughout the project, ensuring that both the Principal Designer and Principal Contractor comply with their duties and that the project is notified to the HSE if necessary.

With these new regulations, a lot is riding on clients having sufficient knowledge to be able to discharge their duties, meaning many clients are already looking to appoint a Client CDM Adviser to assist them on larger or more complex projects. Equally many designers, who find themselves being asked to take on the Principal Designer role when they perhaps do not have adequate health and safety skills, knowledge and experience, are also considering appointing a CDM Adviser to help them discharge their legal duties.

On April 22, Constructing Excellence in the North East is holding an event about the CDM changes and what they mean for our industry and you. To find out more, or to register for a place for the event, contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 374 0233 or email leanne@cene.org.uk

Budget 2015 : Benefitting our Industry – 27th March Journal Column

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last week saw Chancellor George Osborne give his final budget before the General Election in May. In my opinion, it wasn’t the most thrilling statement we’ve ever heard from the Chancellor, but then I’m not sure what else I expected so close to the General Election- he wasn’t exactly going to rock the boat was he? Despite not being the most exciting budget, there were a few things announced that will benefit our industry.

In a bid to help further tackle the housing crisis, the Chancellor identified sites around the country where there is a capacity to build around another 45,000 new homes and announced that from the autumn, first-time buyers saving for a deposit will be given a Government top-up of £50 for every £250 saved if they deposit the money into a new Help to Buy ISA scheme. This is great news for those looking to buy their first home- I can’t think of any places where you get that kind of return on investment anymore. Naturally, the amount the Government give you is capped, but I still think it’s a great idea. The only downfall is that since the scheme doesn’t start until autumn, our industry won’t see the impact of people being able to buy more homes until at least another 12-18 months.

Just like throughout his time in Government, flood defences were a big talking point for the Chancellor, with £140m of funding being announced, allowing 165 flood defence schemes throughout the UK to get started earlier than first planned. I’m sure this is music to the ears of people who are on constant edge thinking their homes are going to be flooded every time it rains, but I’m not sure exactly how many of those people it will have an impact on- £140m may sound like a lot of money, but in the grand scheme of things it’s a drop in the ocean when you think of the scale of the issue.

For me, the most interesting bit of the budget was when it got down to the nitty-gritty about a Northern Powerhouse. With stats showing that jobs grew faster in the North than in the South in the past year, the Chancellor had the perfect ammunition to talk about why the Coalition think this is exactly what we need. I’m totally behind the idea of revolutionising travel in the north- the project will deliver faster rail journeys, see major road improvements undertaken, better airport routes developed and will ultimately mean our region can achieve more nationally through increased connectivity and capacity. Why wouldn’t you back it?

In conjunction with the Construction Industry Council, RIBA North East, ICE North East, CIOB North East and FBE we’re holding a Question Time event about the power and role of our region in the UK construction industry and the Northern Powerhouse at the Newcastle Marriott Gosforth Park Hotel on April 17. To find out more or to book your place, contact Leanne McAngus on 0191 374 0233 or email leanne@cene.org.uk.

19th March Newsletter

Web-LogoTo view this week’s newsletter please follow the link – March 19th 

SpaceHus – 20th March Journal Column

spacehus logo_CMYKBy Rob Charlton, Chief Executive of Space Group

In construction, it is amazing what we will accept. Our industry moves from boom to bust and then back to boom again with unbelievable pace.

During boom, businesses grow and make profit. In recession, some businesses cease trading whilst others burn cash, bidding for work at less than cost to survive. We then move into growth again and more companies go out of business as costs increase as trades try to recover losses from the past.

We very quickly forget the pain of the downturns. During recession we don’t invest in the future, due to lack of resource, and in the boom times we still don’t invest as we are too busy making money.

The same issues are raised periodically as we move across the boom and bust cycle. “We don’t train enough apprentices.” ”There is a skills shortage.” “Trades people are in short supply.” “We can’t get bricks because we closed the plants” and so on.

What I find exasperating is that this has been happening for 50 years and we never seem to change anything. We do like to moan about things but never do anything about it- typical British some might say!

If you want to something to change, you have to change something! Doing the same thing will always give you the same outcome. The challenge we have is that companies are making money again and it is difficult to break the cycle. House builders are making profits in excess of £350 million per year so why would they want to change the system?

At Space Group we are doing everything we can to break this cycle.

Spacehus is an example of how we can improve outcomes by rethinking the entire design and construction process. The result is a high quality house which costs £80,000 and by offsetting solar energy generation, there are no net energy costs.

The house was designed digitally, so it could be prototyped and tested virtually. We then manufactured the components offsite and assembled onsite. We minimised preliminaries and waste during construction so that additional value could be invested in the product.

If we generated a pipeline, profit would grow and we could invest in training and continuous improvement of the process and product.

We can only achieve these outcomes by rethinking the entire construction process from start to finish.

However we must want to change. From experience I find we have very short memories and much of our industry is happy with the status quo and mediocrity. We shouldn’t be. We should continue to challenge and be as disruptive as we can in order to find a better way.