LGA submission to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on the Future Buildings Standard 13 April 2021

The LGA welcomes the Government’s second stage of proposals for non-domestic and domestic standards that will support achieving the UK’s commitment to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.


1. About the Local Government Association (LGA)

The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government. We are a politically-led, cross party membership organisation, representing councils from England and Wales.

Our role is to support, promote and improve local government, and raise national awareness of the work of councils. Our ultimate ambition is to support councils to deliver local solutions to national problems.

2. Key messages

  • The LGA welcomes the Government’s second stage of proposals for non-domestic and domestic standards that will support achieving the UK’s commitment to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. By increasing the technical standards in Part L (conservation of fuel and power) and Part F (ventilation) of the Building Regulations there is an opportunity to improve the quality of our buildings and tackle climate change, while also creating more resilient communities and growing the green building and skills sector.
     
  • Overall, we have provided high level views on the proposals in this consultation and responded to some specific points. Whilst we have not responded to every question, we wanted to take this opportunity to outline our key points that are most important to councils.
     
  • We are pleased that the Government has already supported a number of our recommendations in response to Future Homes Standard consultation, including that local authorities should retain powers to set local energy efficiency standards, take a fabric first/whole house approach and shift to low carbon heating.
     
  • Local government plays a leading role in accelerating the shift towards achieving net zero carbon. With nearly two thirds of councils in England aiming to be carbon neutral 20 years before the national target, councils are well placed to support Government to meet its net zero carbon ambitions by 2050. Accelerating and expanding the measures to make the necessary shift can also help to overcome the unprecedented challenge of economic and social recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.
     
  • The current projected funding shortfall across local government will limit councils’ ability to upskill staff and carry out additional work in this space. Whilst we welcome Government’s commitment to a £3.8 billion capital Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, we are calling on Government to urgently bring forward the remaining funding. We are concerned that this is still unlikely to be sufficient to meet the scale of the challenge and that capital funding will not enable the resourcing and upskilling required for councils to decarbonise homes and buildings.
     
  • Work we commissioned from Savills shows that the cost to councils of achieving net zero carbon emissions from their housing stock is around £1 billion per year over the next 30 years.
     
  • Councils must have sustainable funding streams, resources and flexibilities under local leadership to decarbonise buildings.
     
  • The LGA supports in principle the vision of the Future Buildings Standard to deliver highly efficient domestic and non-domestic buildings that are fit for a net zero future. We would like to see building regulations changed to include mandatory flood protection measures for new properties. These would require developers to introduce measures like raised electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring, sealed floors, and raised damp-proof courses.
     
  • We support changes to Part F of the Building Regulations on ventilation. We would welcome clarity on how these proposals affect different non-domestic buildings, such as schools and other large-scale public infrastructure, for example, hospitals. We recommend co-ordination with relevant government departments such as the Department for Education.
     
  • Government’s preferred option 2 (to deliver a 27% improvement in CO2 emissions per building, compared to the current Part L standard across non-domestic buildings) is welcome as a more ambitious uplift than option 1. Some councils are already striving to achieve higher energy efficiency standards in buildings through local planning policy.
     
  • We support in principle the proposals for existing and new dwellings. However, we recommend that the Government reviews its current Standard Assessment Procedure for the Energy Rating of Dwellings (SAP) to better account for more ambitious energy efficiency standards than Building Regulations in local planning policy.
     
  • Any new Building Regulations need to align with other existing and future legislation such as the Environment Bill, the Building Safety Bill, and anticipated new planning legislation from the Government’s planning reforms.
     
  • In line with Government’s approach to the Future Homes Standard to be accelerated and consulted on in 2023, the LGA recommends that consultation on the technical details of the Future Building Standards is also accelerated to allow implementation to commencer sooner than 2025.

3. Local government leading the way in achieving net zero carbon

The LGA believes local authorities are best placed to understand the needs and opportunities in their local area and deliver local solutions. This means bringing partners together to work on place-based approaches drawn from evidence based best practice. This is echoed by national organisations doing significant work to address the climate emergency such as the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

Local authorities are at the forefront of mitigating climate risks and supporting their communities to adapt to future changes. They will play a key role in supporting their vulnerable communities who will be more exposed to the impacts of climate risks.

Across all sectors, local authorities are already leading the way to achieving carbon neutrality, increasingly well before the national 2050 target. To drive this, councils are developing their own climate change strategies to reduce emissions and propel the shift towards a low carbon economy. This includes embedding climate resilience and related measures to achieve net zero carbon and sustainable outcomes into all their plans and strategies across housing, transport, planning, infrastructure, community health and wellbeing, and economic growth.

Nottingham City Council, for example, has committed to becoming the first carbon neutral city in the UK by 2028. Nottingham’s Charter sets out a vision for sustainable carbon neutrality on behalf of the Council and the city’s Green Partnership, a collaboration with local, national, and international partners.

​​​​​​​A number of councils are members of the UK District Energy Vanguards Network. Before the pandemic the Network recently held the workshop ‘Heat Networks: Planning for a Zero Carbon World’, supporting local authorities to consider how planning, spatial strategies and heat network development and management can help to shape a zero carbon future.

​​​​​​​Local government has also been leading the way on innovative and collaborative approaches. This includes improving housing standards through exemplar innovative approaches to housebuilding such as the Passivhaus Social scheme​​​​​​​. The Town and Country Planning Association New Communities Group has working examples of where local authorities and communities have had success by establishing the right mix of strategy, planning, and governance.

4. Responding to specific points

Interim uplifts to Part L and Part F of the Building Regulations for non-domestic buildings

The LGA supports in principle the vision of the Future Buildings Standard to deliver highly efficient non-domestic buildings that are fit for a net zero future.

We support changes to Part F of the Building Regulations on ventilation. We would welcome clarity on how these proposals affect different non-domestic buildings, such as schools and other large-scale public infrastructure, for example, hospitals. We recommend co-ordination with relevant government departments such as the Department for Education.

Government’s preferred option 2 (intended to deliver an average 27% improvement in CO2 emissions per building, compared to the current Part L standard) is welcome as a more ambitious uplift than option 1 (intended to deliver an average 22% improvement in CO2 emissions per building). Some councils are already striving to achieve higher energy efficiency standards than current building regulations through local planning policy. For example, Cambridge City Council’s Local Plan requires all new non-domestic buildings to achieve Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) excellent, which includes mandatory requirements for energy use which are higher than existing building regulations.

In line with Government’s response to the Future Homes Standard 2019 consultation to accelerate and consult on the Future Homes Standard in 2023, the LGA recommends that consultation on the technical details of the Future Building Standards is also accelerated. This will allow the implementation to commence sooner than 2025 and align more with the domestic sector which could send a stronger signal to the market to develop supply chains (see section 6 below for more information on skills and supply chains). The Government should ensure that grid requirements are adequately met to meet increasing demand.

If the Future Buildings Standard doesn’t come into effect until 2025, there will also be more buildings built to older, lower standards. This risks increasing the cost of transitioning buildings to net zero in the longer term through retrofitting.

If implementation cannot be accelerated, the Government may wish to consider implementing a year-on-year uplift until the Future Buildings Standard comes into force in 2025. This could help to close the gap between the interim uplift in 2021 and the new Building Regulations and, help the market to better prepare for full implementation by sending a stronger signal to develop the necessary skills and supply chains sooner.

Standards for overheating for new residential buildings, Part L for domestic buildings and Part F standards in new domestic buildings

We support proposals to mitigate overheating in new homes (Part 5) ensuring that they will be able to cope with the warmer climate of the future and do not negatively impact on the welfare or comfort of occupants. All buildings will also need to adapt to increasing flooding. We would like to see building regulations changed to include mandatory flood protection measures for new properties. These would require developers to introduce measures like raised electrical sockets, fuse boxes, controls and wiring, sealed floors, and raised damp-proof courses. We recommend co-ordination with relevant government departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Regarding the proposals for Part F standards in new domestic buildings, the Government should work with the Greater London Authority (GLA) on the proposal for reduced window sizes in residential dwellings to reduce solar gains (paragraph 5.6.10). We also welcome innovative approaches to reduce solar gains, rather than just requiring smaller windows because it may be the lowest cost option. A balance needs to be struck between the potential for overheating with the provision of adequate levels of daylight, as outlined in the draft Overheating Approved Document. We already have a legacy of homes that are unfit for habitation or of sub-standard quality as a result of permitted development rights. This is due to poor ventilation and/or having little to no natural light amongst other factors.

We support the proposal for the Government to work with the GLA to ensure that this new requirement and the existing and emerging requirements in the London Plan work together and do not result in requirements which are contradictory or unduly difficult for developers to meet (paragraph 5.9.1).

We recommend that the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) is reviewed to better account for more ambitious energy efficiency standards than current Building Regulations in local planning policy. Whilst SAP is used by Building Control to enforce Building Regulations, it is limited in enforcing higher energy efficiency standards that planning officers are striving to implement through local planning policy. This means that enforcing more ambitious standards than Building Regulations tends to fail against SAP.

We support the suggested approach to align the transitional arrangements for overheating with that of the 2021 uplift to Part L and F of the Building Regulations as described in the Future Homes Standard consultation response. However, we continue to recommend further consultation with industry to ensure that the new standards for both domestic and non-domestic dwellings can be implemented.

 

We support proposals in principle to uplift (Part L - Conservation of Fuel and Power) minimum standards for replacement thermal elements (e.g. windows, walls, floors, roofs) and when a thermal element is being renovated. We also support in principle changes to minimum standards for building services (e.g. heating, ventilation and air conditioning, drainage, lighting, power, lifts, etc.) and guidance on the calibration of devices that carry out airtightness testing.  

​​​​​​​We again urge the Government to conduct an impact assessment on the implications of the two proposed options for buildings affected by the ban on combustible materials before finalising Part L, looking separately at the implications for new buildings and for refurbishing existing buildings.

​​​​​​​In principle we support the proposed uplift to minimum standards in Part 6 for new and replacement thermal elements (i.e. walls, floors, roofs) and controlled fittings (e.g. windows, rooflights and doors). We also welcome the proposals to update guidance and increase energy efficiency standards for work carried out in domestic buildings from 2021 in addition to standards for new homes. We caution that this will, however, come at a cost. Work we commissioned from Savills showing that the cost to councils of achieving net zero carbon emissions from their housing stock is around £1 billion per year over the next 30 years.

5. Low carbon heat solutions

Whilst the consultation anticipates heat networks and heat pumps to be the principle means of producing low carbon heat for most buildings, they will be more suitable to certain building types, sizes, uses and places. National Energy Action cautions that universal technologies should not be applied because of the significant difference in costs between buildings due to factors such as building type as well as location. Heat network deployment is not evenly spread across the UK and offers less opportunities to decarbonise buildings outside of heat-dense, urban areas. There has also been a poor uptake of alternatives to gas boilers such as heat pumps because of their high cost, due to requiring additional space. They are unfamiliar to consumers and they are disruptive to retrofit. Low carbon heating solutions are place-specific.

Local areas have different local opportunities and infrastructure. The Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE) highlights that some councils have better access to wasted heat, some have electricity grids that require expensive reinforcement, some are heat dense and some have geothermal resource. Councils are best placed to understand the priorities and opportunities in their local area and deliver local solutions to decarbonise buildings. They have expert localised knowledge and can capitalise on local assets, opportunities and partners to deliver. This has been recognised in the extra £300 million allocated to councils as part of the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme to deliver energy saving upgrades and low carbon heating to low-income households.

Councils need a greater share of this funding that is available to provide green upgrades to homes. Councils must also have sustainable resources and funding flexibilities under local leadership to enable them to invest in place-based low carbon solutions for the long-term.

Where heat networks are suitable, there are a number of councils that are members of ADE, including Gateshead Council, Bristol Council, Newcastle City Council, Leeds Council, Stoke-on-Trent, and a number of London councils such as Islington and Camden. They provide examples of decentralising energy directly through their own heat networks and by encouraging its expansion through the planning system.

​​​​​​​Cornwall Council provides an example of alternative solutions for heat decarbonisation. Cornwall’s extensive granite resources means it has the potential to exploit geothermal and is seen as a promising part of the UK for combined heat and power from geothermal sources. Their United Downs Deep Geothermal Power station generates renewable heat for surrounding buildings.

​​​​​​​Councils also support a variety of low carbon technologies, such as zero carbon boilers. As an example, Gateshead Council has supported a pioneering energy pilot where customers receive gas blended with 20 per cent zero-carbon hydrogen. We would welcome continued support and leadership from Government regarding technologies that will help in replacing existing gas boilers.

​​​​​​​Areas that don’t have access to the right resources or infrastructure for heat network deployment will see a higher cost energy transition. Given the increasing role that heat networks will play in national and local ambitions to reduce carbon, it will be vital that the Government continues to work with local authorities to encourage heat networks to be provided and address the challenges of capability, capacity and cost.

​​​​​​​Any new policies to encourage heat networks and, all low carbon heating and energy efficiency measures should also be made and implemented with the consumer at the centre to ensure a fair energy transition. As stated by the ADE, some buildings will simply never reach high levels of fabric efficiency suitable for low carbon, low temperature heat.

A just transition will be required to ensure that any decarbonisation process is fair, especially for those who are vulnerable or already in fuel poverty. This means that the benefits from the shift to net zero are shared widely, while also supporting those who stand to lose economically.

6. Developing local low carbon skills, jobs and supply chains

Low carbon supply chains

The LGA agrees with the consultation that the industry will need to develop the necessary skills and supply chains. However, the step change required to meet the scale needed to decarbonise all buildings by 2050 is significant. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) state that cost reductions for key low-carbon technologies are driven by scale manufacturing and that Government will need a policy framework to support UK manufacturing in a way that does not drive manufacturing overseas and benefits UK jobs and investment (page 125).

They also advise that low-carbon markets and supply chains particularly for insulation, heat pumps and heat networks must scale up if the building sector is to be fully decarbonised by 2050 (page 109). Their net zero pathway requires all new buildings to be zero carbon by 2025 at the latest and 100% of heating system sales be low carbon by 2030 for public buildings (page 112).

The UK Green Building Council suggest that aligning non-domestic and domestic approaches can help to deliver sufficient scale to attract the level of investment required to develop low carbon markets. The government should ensure that grid requirements are adequately met to meet increasing demand.

Councils can play an important role in maturing supply chains as significant building owners and place-shapers. According to statistics published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on local authority finance and capital assets, capital expenditure on acquisition and existing buildings by local authorities in 2019-20 was £4.4 billion, and £13.7 billion on new construction, conversion and renovation in the same period. Councils are also significant consumers of electricity. The most recent Building Energy Efficiency Survey, which reports on non-domestic building stock in England and Wales, shows that owner occupied premises account for over half of total energy consumption with 80 per cent of this consumed by the public sector.

Schools, leisure centres and community buildings account for a large proportion of energy use for councils across non-domestic buildings. These buildings as well as councils’ own housing stock provide opportunities to develop innovative energy efficiency programmes and generate significant cost savings for councils. By investing in councils to meet their own energy efficiency and carbon ambitions, they can send a strong signal to businesses, residents and investors to help promote wider take up and investment in renewable energy sources and low carbon technologies, as well as providing a valuable income stream to support local services. As early adopters, local authorities can provide a pipeline of projects to stimulate growth in the low carbon energy sector and support adoption of low carbon technologies.

In non-domestic buildings, Stoke on Trent Council installed a 90kW closed loop ground source heat pump system in the Stoke Local Service Centre, providing heat to a 1,314m2 new build extension with underfloor heating. Rochdale Council retrofitted an existing leisure complex, Heywood Sports Village, by installing roof mounted solar PV panels. Councils are also demonstrating leadership in the construction of new low carbon non-domestic buildings. Sutton Council built the first Passivhaus secondary school in the UK which opened for pupils in 2019 and generates more energy than it uses. The council also built the BedZed eco-village in 2002.

In domestic buildings, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) received funding from the LGA’s Housing Advisers Programme to develop a method to model the need and opportunity to retrofit existing homes, supporting their ambition to become carbon neutral by 2038.

Low carbon skills and jobs

Implementing the Future Buildings Standard will require the right skills at the right time to transition all UK buildings to net zero. This is a priority for local authorities, as building owners, enforcement bodies and as leaders of local place and economies.

The demand for low carbon jobs will require a diverse range of skills and expertise to roll-out low carbon technologies. However, to date, the ability to meet the skills needs of businesses has not been successful. Pre-COVID-19, four-fifths of UK manufacturers struggled to hire the staff with the right qualifications and experience, according to the British Chamber of Commerce. LGA research also revealed real concerns about immediate (2020 – 2025) skill gaps in nuclear construction, design and planning supply chain, design and installation of heat pumps, and within the financial services.

Local government is ideally placed to understand how employer demand is changing and how the local skills profile of an area needs to adapt. This is difficult to do within the confines of what is still a highly centralised and fragmented employment and skills system. Whilst national and local government’s net zero targets will drive demand for low-carbon goods and services over the coming years, it is crucial that there is a workforce in place to deliver the change needed by 2050. These challenges have already been highlighted in the Environmental Audit Committee’s survey about the Green Homes Grant scheme.

The LGA’s published analysis on local green jobs – accelerating a sustainable economic recovery found that nearly 700,000 jobs could be created in England’s low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2030, rising to more than 1.8 million by 2050. Nearly half will be in clean electricity generation and providing low-carbon heat for homes and businesses (manufacturing wind turbines, installing solar panels and installing heat pumps). Around a fifth (21 per cent) of jobs will be involved in installing energy efficiency products, such as insulation, lighting and control systems. According to the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) investment in energy efficiency alone could create 34,000 full-time jobs within the next two years. Around 40 per cent of jobs will be involved in installing energy efficiency products; providing low-carbon services, including financial, legal and IT; and producing alternative fuels, such as bioenergy and hydrogen. The remainder will be directly involved in manufacturing low-emission vehicles and the associated infrastructure.

Importantly, these jobs are projected to be generated across England’s local authorities and regions in the North, Midlands, East, South and London. Matching skills supply with industry demand through effective local targeting is critical and local government is committed to ensuring residents benefit from new employment opportunities. However, most employment and skills funding and programmes are nationally commissioned, which makes it difficult to meet, and respond to local need and demand. Energy efficiency measures are often delivered by local SMEs and there is potential to target policies to create jobs in deprived areas, including those most impacted by COVID-19, supporting the Government’s levelling up agenda.

​​​​​​​Work Local is the LGA’s positive proposal for change, providing a platform for supporting the shift needed for the green and sustainability sectors. It provides a framework for an integrated and devolved employment and skills system that is fit for the future and should be used as a blueprint for skills and employment devolution that works for all people and places. The Government should back and fund the trialling of the Work Local model.​​​​​​​

West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership is an example of what councils are doing now to develop low carbon skills locally. They have committed to achieve net zero by 2038 at the latest. The energy sector is identified as fundamental to the region’s success. The Combined Authority is scoping out the pathway to deliver on net zero and identify sub-sectors that will require skills and training support, for example scaling up domestic energy efficiency retrofit and increasing the pace and scale of deployment of heat pumps. Ensuring collaboration between stakeholders (including further education, employers and individuals) will ensure skills provision is geared up to deliver for a low carbon sector that is considered the cornerstone of regional activity.

7. Council capacity and enforcement

There is currently a disconnect between the energy efficiency criteria provided in a planning application and its enforcement. This undermines Local Plan policies and guidance from being fully effective in improving construction energy. An example is that Building Control focuses on ensuring that the construction achieves the Building Regulations, while planning departments are often overstretched with the planning approval process. This means that in practice there is little join up between the energy efficiency criteria specified in the planning application and the enforcement of building regulations, which is by Building Control rather than the planning officers. We recommend that this is addressed prior to laying any legislation and/or publishing guidance.

Implementing the proposals in the Future Buildings and Homes Standard will need to align with capital programmes such as the Building Safety Programme and changes as a result of the Environment Bill. The implementation and enforcement of all of these will collectively impact on the capacity and resources available to councils. The CCC noted that “[p]roper enforcement of standards, including avoiding overheating risks, and an effective approach to skills are essential”.

The LGA’s recently published climate change survey of Directors of Environment or equivalent in councils across England, found that lack of workforce capacity (88 per cent) was one of the most frequently identified barriers to tackling climate change, along with funding (96 per cent) and legislation or regulation (93 per cent). This is supported by the CCC’s Local Authority Sixth Carbon Budget which identifies a lack of skills, capacity and long term funding within councils as barriers to delivering a pipeline of projects in areas such as retrofit and low carbon heating.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Any proposal for a Future Buildings Standard must acknowledge and recognise the cost implications and will require greater government investment to ensure delivery on all these programmes. Any new burdens on councils identified in the impact assessment must also be fully funded.

8. Implementation and timeframes

We support the proposals to introduce a more stringent set of transitional requirements in 2021 so that developers do not build to older efficiency standards for longer than necessary. We recommend, however, further consultation with industry to ensure that the new standards can be implemented.

In line with Government’s response to the Future Homes Standard 2019 consultation to accelerate and consult on the Future Homes Standard in 2023, the LGA recommends that consultation on the technical details of the Future Building Standards is also accelerated. This will allow the implementation to commence sooner than 2025 and align more with the domestic sector which could send a stronger signal to the market to develop supply chains. The Government should ensure that grid requirements are adequately met to meet increasing demand.

The Government may wish to consider implementing a year-on-year uplift to Part L for non-domestic buildings until the Future Buildings Standard comes into force. This could help to close the gap between the interim uplift in 2021 and the new Building Regulations in 2025 and send a stronger signal to the market to develop the necessary skills and supply chains sooner.

We previously raised our concerns about alignment with Building Safety Reform. We again recommend that the Government conducts an impact assessment on the implications of the two proposed options for buildings affected by the ban on combustible materials before finalising the text of Part L in as much as it applies to those buildings. A separate impact assessment should also be undertaken if the proposed new standards are applied in future to refurbishment of high-rise residential blocks.  

9. Impact and Equalities Assessment

A just transition will be required to ensure that any decarbonisation process is fair, especially for those who are vulnerable, on low income or already in fuel poverty and BAME communities. This means that the benefits from the shift to net zero are shared widely, while also supporting those who stand to lose economically. The Scottish Government has sought to ensure fairness by establishing the Just Transition Commission to maximise opportunities of decarbonisation, tackle inequalities, while delivering a sustainable and inclusive labour market.

We recommend that the Government reevaluates the Future Buildings Standard Impact Assessment upon receiving responses and feedback from this consultation. It will be important that the phasing in new Building Regulations does not have negative impacts on the health, wellbeing and productivity of people and businesses.