NEWS: Future Homes Standard and housing design announcements analysed

UKGBC’s policy team reviews the significance of the announcements made at the 2019 Conservative Party Conference, which include a package of proposals to improve housing design and deliver emissions reductions in new homes through the Future Homes Standard.
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September 30, 2019

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At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, Secretary of State Robert Jenrick announced crucial further details on the planned Future Homes Standard, which will see requirements of building regulations for new homes raised by 2025 to meet ‘world-leading’ energy efficiency standards, with interim regulations from 2020.

This was accompanied by a further package of new measures on housing design, with a new design guide, to be published today. This will introduce a national standard for local authorities to adhere to, with the option of designing their own applicable guides reflecting local needs.

Further details on the measures known so far include:

The Future Homes Standard

To introduce the Future Homes Standard, the Government has announced plans to update building regulations – with a requirement that operational CO2 emissions from new homes be cut by 78% from 2025 through the introduction of low-carbon heating systems and energy efficiency measures.

The Government has announced that it is consulting on the size of an uplift to Part L of building regulations for 2020; with the Government proposing a preferred uplift of a third. If approved, new homes will need to reduce their CO2 emissions by up to a third from 2020 (UKGBC note: it is currently unclear whether this refers specifically to a 33% uplift on Part L 2013). The announcement also includes an intention to deliver this by ensuring all new homes are installed with either solar panels, waste water heat recovery systems or low carbon heat, so residents pay less on their energy bills.

New transitional arrangements will also be put in place to prevent developers from applying for permission early to avoid the new higher standards.

Design Guide

The Government also announced it will be publishing a new Design Guide. The announcement indicated the Design Guide will be a material consideration in planning applications and appeals, meaning that local planning authorities should take it into account when taking decisions. Where possible, emphasis will be placed on tree-lined streets and green infrastructure, in line with the government’s broader environmental focus.

Ministers will lay a Written Ministerial Statement setting out its purpose and how it is expected to be used, while the National Planning Policy Framework will be updated to reflect this at the first opportunity.

It also announced that, next year, the Government intends to go further and create a ‘model design code’ with wide applicability based on extensive consultation. This is intended to, in a more detailed and prescriptive way, set out the principles of good design.

UKGBC analysis:

UKGBC strongly welcomes the Government’s announcements on the Future Homes Standard and new proposals to secure good design that delivers for local communities. Both UKGBC and our members have long been calling for building regulations to be updated to ensure that all new buildings are highly energy efficient and use low carbon heat and electricity. These are crucial steps, and very much echo our industry-led Net Zero Buildings Framework for achieving net zero.

To put the UK on course to meet both domestic and international climate change commitments all buildings must be net zero carbon in operation before 2050, with new buildings meeting this standard by 2030.

We therefore urge that the changes to Building Regulations set out a clear trajectory, so that all new buildings achieve net zero carbon (both regulated and unregulated energy, and in-use performance) by 2030. From 2025 at the latest that all new buildings should: have low carbon heating, deliver ultra-high levels of energy efficiency, consistent with a space heat demand of 15-20 kWh/m2/yr – as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change, in order to help deliver on the national net zero target. This should also be informed by a review of the existing methodology and transition to a focus on the in-use performance of new buildings.

Whilst a focus on new buildings is welcome, the challenge of how to retrofit existing buildings remains a vital challenge to address. UKGBC is currently engaged in a number of projects to promote home retrofit solutions on a city level, including Accelerator Cities, and, on a European Level, Build Upon 2. We will continue to push for greater consideration of how to decarbonise existing building stock in national policy.

We also welcome proposals for the new design guidance, which we called for in our response to the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission. In particular, we commend the notable emphasis on green infrastructure and street trees. These not only help deliver healthier, better places, but also aid efforts to promote nature recovery, in line with the aims of 25-year Environment Plan, and provide nature-based solutions that enhance resilience to climate change.

However, we urge caution on plans to extend permitted development rights to former commercial buildings. The Government must ensure such proposals do not result in sub-standard conditions for future residents.

UKGBC will continue to engage closely with Government and industry to improve standards, guidance and regulations. Alongside engaging directly with the Government on these proposals, we will continue to develop our Housing Standards Playbook for Local Authorities and our net zero carbon framework and will launch a net zero case study library, to provide practical, illustrative examples of how to achieve elements of net zero carbon buildings  in practice.