Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Homes in England to be subject to new energy efficiency standards

Out-Law News | 27 Jan 2021 | 11:21 am | 4 min. read

New and existing dwellings in England will have to meet strict energy efficiency standards in the future under plans outlined by the government.

The government response to a consultation (114 page / 2.2MB PDF) on the ‘Future Homes Standard’, published last week, lays out plans for all newly built homes to have low carbon heating and be zero-carbon ready by 2025 through amendments to part L of the Building Regulations. The government will also make some amendments to part F of the regulations, relating to ventilation for new-build homes.

A separate consultation, closing on 13 April 2021, has been launched on a Future Buildings Standard which proposes changes to parts L and F of the Building Regulations for new and existing non-domestic buildings (183 page / 2.5MB PDF) to make them zero-carbon ready by 2025.

It also covers proposed uplifts in energy and ventilation standards for existing homes when work is done to them, and changes to deal with overheating in homes and other residential accommodation.

The plans follow the government’s commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Property law expert Siobhan Cross of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said the Climate Change Committee’s last annual report in June 2020 highlighted the need to make low carbon heating the dominant form of heating in the UK by the early 2030s and to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

“The government’s response to the October 2019 Future Homes Standard consultation on parts L and F of the Building Regulations for new build homes is an overdue step towards meeting this need” Cross said.

The government’s response supports the option for higher emissions reductions laid out in the consultation. It said it expected the new standard to result in a 75% to 80% reduction in carbon emissions compared to the current standard.

The government rejected a suggestion that the ‘Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard’ metric in part L of the Building Regulations, covering the conservation of fuel and power, could be removed. Cross said this would avoid unnecessary retrofits and excessive energy use burdening the electricity grid.

Cross said the decision to introduce a primary energy target for new homes, instead of the existing carbon dioxide emission target, recognised that low-carbon housing could not be achieved simply by reliance on decarbonisation of the grid.

The government set out a timetable leading up to the introduction of the Future Homes Standard in 2025. This includes an interim uplift in part L standards for new build homes in 2021, aimed at achieving 31% reduction of emissions in new build homes. Transitional provisions could extend time for compliance with these new interim standards to June 2023 but will apply on an individual home basis rather than to a whole development basis.

“This will give the housebuilding industry and supply chains time to scale up and the required skills training to gear up, although more work on the technical standards will be the subject of a further consultation in 2023 followed by legislation in 2024,” Cross said.

Cross said additional measures designed to reduce the “performance gap” and to enable better assessment of compliance were also welcome.

“This is a perennial problem which needs fixing if we are not to squander opportunities to reduce emissions in this crucial decade,” Cross said.

Cross said the challenge of retrofitting the 80% of the domestic building stock in 2050 which already exists still needed to be comprehensively tackled on a policy level. The Buildings and Heat Strategy, which was promised for 2020, is yet to be published.

Planning law expert Nick McDonald of Pinsent Masons said clarification within the Future Homes Standard response of the government’s position on the powers of local authorities under the Planning and Energy Act 2008 [PEA 2008] to go above and beyond Building Regulations’ standards in their local plans was welcome.

“Uncertainty has existed since the power to prevent this was introduced in legislation in 2015 but wasn’t then brought into force. That provision has meant local authorities progressing local plans have faced a potentially changing legislative backdrop, and haven’t known whether to use their local policy to drive higher standards in energy efficiency for new homes,” McDonald said.

“They can now move forwards with greater confidence, albeit with a wider planning backdrop which is subject to a major overhaul,” McDonald said.

However, McDonald said developers were not in the same position of certainty.

“They will continue to see an increased range of requirements across different local authority areas, putting pressure on particularly those who operate regionally or nationally whose products will need to be adaptable. Housebuilders are very much part of the process of formulating local plans, and energy efficiency policies for new homes will again be on the list of ones they will need to engage with in detail,” McDonald said.

Planning law expert Hanna Virta of Pinsent Masons said: “The National Planning Policy Framework requires any local requirements for the sustainability of buildings to reflect the government’s policy for national technical standards."

“Further guidance on this policy would be welcome for local authorities and developers alike. The government's response to the Planning for the Future white paper is expected to clarify the longer-term role of planning authorities in determining local sustainability standards. However, this role needs to be further explained in the short term to facilitate effective plan-making and decision-taking,” Virta said.

“For example, the Future Homes Standard response indicates the government will be introducing an interim uplift to part L standards of 31% for 2021. It would be helpful to know whether it is the government's policy for this to operate as a baseline for, or a cap on, local authorities' powers to set local standards under the PEA 2008,” Virta said.