A manifesto for a greener built environment. #JGADeclare

It’s election time again – politicians promising to make the world better for all, grabbing headlines and publishing manifestos. There are some clear manifesto policies that I see as a minimum for any party serious about responding to the climate emergency, to drive change in our built environment and the construction industry. Coincidentally many also improve the quality of our built environment and protect our important built heritage.

Some of these actions are devolved but given the increasing speed of the political cycle and imminent Scottish elections, I believe a full list is worth publishing.

The Building Process
[UK and Scotland] Building control and planning departments are stretched. Edinburgh schools and Grenfell are high profile reports that illustrate the need for more robust building control departments. Numerous academic studies point to a sizeable building performance gap between the design intention and what is delivered. We are in danger of meeting theoretical targets but missing the actual target by a country mile. An immediate and significant increase in council staff is required to ensure that targets are met on each and every building.

[Scotland] With the increase in building control staff, we see a role for (in addition to an enhanced compliance regime) actual performance measurement forming a part of future regulations along with declarations that the build is in accordance with design so that the industry can start working to close the performance gap now.

[Scotland] The materials a building is constructed from vary in carbon /energy use and this carbon / energy is used in one large chunk before the operational energy use is even started. With buildings having lower and lower operational carbon / energy, we must move from a simple operational energy calculation to one where the embodied carbon / energy is considered equally to the operational carbon / energy. A robust method for calculation must be developed and implemented urgently, with absolute maximum targets for combined embodied and operational carbon. Of course most low-embodied energy materials have knock-on effects for improvements to indoor air quality and health.

[Scotland] Passivhaus Planning Package (PHPP) is proven to develop buildings that work for Scotland’s climate. Whilst the wholesale adoption of Passivhaus may come in the future, the first step is to allow the Passivhaus Planning Package to be used in building design and for certified designers to submit a PHPP as evidence of energy design for Section 6 in lieu of a SAP assessment. This would require the ‘notional building model’ to be replaced with a series of definitive Energy Use Intensity (EUI) targets in kWh/m2.year for space heating, hot water and overall energy demand at the meter. Building performance should be measured in terms of energy rather than carbon as changing carbon factors constantly move the goalposts.

[Scotland] currently with SAP and RdSAP ventilation and airtightness are not considered sufficiently to guarantee good indoor air quality. This is posing a long-term health risk and a long-term building maintenance risk. The building regulations need to adapt to enable good indoor air quality in all types of buildings, including homes. Maximum design values for air quality should be set and compliance via monitoring of sample spaces.

Mainstreaming Deep Retrofit

[UK] The decision to retrofit or to build new is very often skewed by the difference in VAT on new-build properties. We strongly support proposals to harmonise VAT in the built environment, potentially equal 5% across new and retrofit works. We believe where there may be a loss to new-build output, the increase in retrofit work would compensate across the industry. In addition, the crazy system where solar panels and low and zero carbon technology (LZCT) are subject to 20% VAT should end immediately.

[Scotland] The recommendations of the tenement working group should be implemented in full in the next Scottish Parliament. Our cities are built of stone tenements, the loss to our housing stock, built heritage and culture will be devastating without urgent action. This should include:

  • five-yearly reviews for all flats / tenement stock with results as public records
  • compulsory owners’ associations
  • mandatory sinking / reserve fund for flatted property
  • new factoring code of conduct

[Scotland] Universal target for energy efficiency for all homes, irrespective of tenure. Green investment bank and proper green deal is required to enable implementation across private homes and rentals. Council tax discounts should buffered as incentives to deep retrofit homes (EnerPHit etc).

New Build and Zero Carbon

[Scotland] The most robust, cheapest and simplest route to zero carbon in the built environment is to first reduce energy demand. Passivhaus is proven to significantly reduce the energy demand of all buildings it is used as part of the design. The building regulations should be modified to allow certified Passivhaus as an alternative compliance to Section 6 for all building types.

[Scotland] There is evidence that social housing leads the private sector in innovative, energy-efficient house building. The government offers an additional grant for meeting the Greener homes standard (lower carbon emissions). We believe that a similar incentive to meet the Passivhaus standards will encourage innovation and mainstreaming of Passivhaus techniques. In addition we believe that new build private homes built to Passivhaus standards should receive either stamp duty exemption or significant reduction in council tax for first years of occupation.

[Scotland] The construction industry has long lead in times to projects, funding, budgets and designs can be fixed years before a project completes. We want clear future energy targets for retrofit and new-build from 2020 through to 2030 so the industry can start preparing and adapting.

[UK and Scotland] Councils and statutory authorities are becoming increasingly hands-off in the delivery of infrastructure to support housing and development. The roll out of electric car charging, the aspiration for heat networks and the delivery of active travel infrastructure (such as bike lanes and connected footpaths) is increasingly being left to a piecemeal approach by individual developers. Developers (and I include social housing as well as private housebuilders) have limited capital funding for infrastructure works. Councils need to have the capacity to build well designed, connected, robust infrastructure and seek recovery of cost via levies or burdens on development land.

So, if you agree with this, please tweet this page to your MP, your MSP or your MEP. If you can think of other policies or better ideas, please tweet me at @55n.

Matt Bridgestock,
Director / Architect