Government support for sustainable buildings Bill

A Private Member's Bill to make buildings more environmentally sustainable passed its critical second reading in the House of Commons on 30 January after receiving strong Government support. The legislation would greatly extend the list of environmental issues on which building regulations can be made, and enable the wider use of building regulations to drive up environmental standards in existing properties.

The Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill was introduced by Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove, LibDem), who came first in the ballot for Private Members' Bills for the current parliamentary session.

Introducing the Bill on 30 January, Mr Stunell said it was "a modest step towards making buildings in this country cheaper to run, healthier to live in, and less damaging to the planet."

The Bill, which applies only in England and Wales, would amend the Building Act 1984. Its main provisions would enable the Government to make building regulations embracing a much wider range of environmental matters than at present.

Specifically, the Bill would:

  • Extend the purposes for which building regulations may be made. At present the main environmental purposes are energy efficiency and water conservation. To these, the Bill would add "furthering the protection or enhancement of the environment" and "facilitating sustainable development".

  • Add the demolition of buildings to the matters about which building regulations may be made.

  • Enable building regulations to address the energy efficiency of appliances, electricity monitoring equipment, and recycling and composting facilities.

  • Allow the retrospective application to existing buildings of regulations dealing with energy and water efficiency, demolition, the use of recycled materials and components, and the reuse of materials or components.

    Regulations dealing with energy efficiency or reduction of emissions could also be applied retrospectively where the occupancy of an existing building changed in whole or part.

  • Enable building regulations to impose continuing requirements on owners and occupiers to inspect and test buildings or components or to implement measures for the purposes of energy conservation or emissions reduction.

    Other provisions would enable builders to be required to provide certificates of compliance with the building regulations.

    The Secretary of State would have to publish a biennial report setting out changes in buildings' energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions and their use of recycled or secondary materials.

    The UK, said Mr Stunell, has "one of the most inefficient building stocks of any western democracy" - one which is wasteful of energy, results in unnecessary emissions of carbon dioxide, and fails to safeguard the health of the old and fuel poor.

    Radical improvements could be made with "straightforward simple technologies", but progress was slow because only about 1% of the building stock is turned over each year.

    The Bill, he said, was "about enabling regulations to make the transition from an old inefficient building stock to a building stock that is more fit for purpose - fit for those who live in it, and fit to meet our Kyoto [Protocol] obligations."

    Conservative spokesman Philip Hammond saw things very differently. He sympathised with Mr Stunell's "good intentions", but argued that parts of the Bill went much too far.

    It would, said Mr Hammond, dramatically increase the cost of new homes, impose a "huge regulatory burden", and create an "intrusive and expensive" system for retrospective application of regulations to existing buildings.

    The Bill had also been drawn "far too wide" in enabling appliance energy efficiency to be tackled through building regulations.

    Mr Hammond also pointed to a "genuinely frightening" scenario where building regulations were applied retrospectively when there was a change of occupancy.

    "A huge burden of cost would be imposed on that home, and the practical effect would be that the poorest, most vulnerable households would be trapped in that substandard accommodation for ever."

    Phil Hope, junior Minister at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, introduced a calmer note. There were a few reservations about the Bill, he said, but otherwise it would "help to support Government policies and aspirations on sustainable development."

    Mr Hope gave almost unqualified support for the Bill's provisions extending the scope of the building regulations.

    He stressed that applying the regulations retrospectively where appropriate was "both sensible and necessary if we are fully to address the issues of the recycling of building materials, the conservation of fuel and power, and the reduction of emissions."

    The Minister was also keen on the proposed requirement on builders to provide certificates of compliance with the building regulations when a project was completed.

    At present, they need only supply the local authority with a completion notice. The change, said Mr Hope, "could have a salutary effect."

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