Sustainable buildings Bill slimmed down in Committee

Clauses enabling local authorities to lay down renewable energy requirements for new buildings in their development plans and imposing minimum energy efficiency requirements for the rented sector were removed from the Sustainable and Secure Buildings Bill at the Government's insistence during March.

A Private Member's Bill introduced by Andrew Stunell (LibDem, Hazel Grove), the Bill will make some far-reaching changes to the scope of the building regulations in order to make them a more powerful instrument for driving up energy and water efficiency standards. Much of the Bill has Government support (ENDS Report 349, p 44 ).

The Bill got through its Committee stage in the House of Commons during March, but not before being trimmed at the Government's behest.

One casualty was a clause intended to remove any doubt whether it is lawful for local authorities to set targets in their development plans for the proportion of energy consumed by new buildings that must come from renewable sources.

The first local authority to do this was the London Borough of Merton, which recently introduced a policy laying down an "expectation" that all new non-residential development above a threshold of 1,000m2 would incorporate renewable energy generation equipment to meet at least 10% of its predicted energy needs.

Merton only succeeded in doing this, said Mr Stunell, after facing "difficulties, hassle and uncertainty", not least from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Officials from the Department "told the borough in plain words, 'If you dropped this it would be a lot easier for everybody'."

Although Merton persevered and another 24 councils have signalled that they intend to pursue similar policies, "news of the likelihood of hassle and conflict with the ODPM ...has put off many local authorities," said Mr Stunell.

Phil Hope, a junior Minister at the ODPM, contended that the clause was not needed because the Government shared the aspirations of its proponents.

Following consultation on the new planning policy statement on renewable energy, PPS22, at the end of last year (ENDS Report 346, pp 48-49 ), the Government has decided, said Mr Hope, to add extra material "on encouraging the inclusion in plans of policies relating to the use of renewables in buildings."

MPs wanted to know more precisely what the wording would be. Mr Hope was unable to help - and cautioned that "any targets in proposed policies [should] not act as a deterrent to needed development."

lan Simpson (Lab, Nottingham South) argued that simple "encouragement" from the Government might not suffice. "Only if local authorities feel that they can set requirements will developers and manufacturers accept the seriousness of the message and the fact that there is a market for such buildings." Mr Hope promised to consider that message as the final version of PPS22 is prepared for publication this summer.

Another casualty at Committee stage was a clause enabling minimum energy efficiency standards to be set as part of the licensing requirements for houses in multiple occupation. There are some 1.5 million HMOs in Britain, including some of the country's most grossly energy inefficient buildings.

An HMO licensing system is being introduced via the Housing Bill, but Mr Hope said that the Government could not accept that this should include energy efficiency requirements. It wanted to deal with poor conditions through a building-specific health and safety rating system which should help improve energy efficiency standards indirectly. Mr Stunell promised to return to the issue at a later stage.

Other changes in Committee included the deletion of a clause requiring the Secretary of State to submit annual reports on progress under the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000.

A minor amendment passed with Government support will enable building regulations to cover "equipment for monitoring and measuring supplies of water", which sounds like water meters.

There are also new provisions enabling the "proper person" in charge of ensuring compliance with building regulations on a building site to delegate that function to others such as contractors, and for certificates of compliance with building regulations to be furnished for the first time by developers to building control bodies.