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Pickles sets out to thwart green council ambitions
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The Government update to its Housing Standards Review, announced this week still lacks detail, but does, as rumoured, propose the scrapping of the Code for Sustainable Homes. A last minute amendment by Eric Pickles goes further.

The original consultation was part of the Government’s plan to deregulate the housing sector and condense the range of standards that are applied through local plans to a few nationally applied standards. The consultation proposed a number of measures including:

• The winding down of the Code for Sustainable Homes;
• A set of prescribed National Technical Standards that could be applied locally under the plan making process; and the
• Integration of a range of local standards into Building Regulations

And the following proposed amendment to a Cabinet Office deregulation bill, proposed yesterday by Eric Pickles, will effectively prevent any local council from ever again setting higher standards

Amendment of Planning and Energy Act 2008, NC13

‘In the Planning and Energy Act 2008, in section 1 (energy policies), after subsection (1) insert—

“(1A) Subsection (1)(c) does not apply to development in England that consists of the construction or adaptation of buildings to provide dwellings or the carrying out of any work on dwellings.” ’.

Member’s explanatory statement

Section 1(1)(c) of the Planning and Energy Act 2008 allows local planning authorities to require that buildings meet higher energy performance standards than those set out in building regulations. The new clause inserted by this amendment disapplies this for dwellings in England, as Government policy is that all such requirements should be set out in building regs. described this move as 'disgraceful' and 'hypocritical' saying "The objective is clear. It is to stop any English local authority from ever again being able to set any energy standards for any building even marginally better than the ones Pickles allows. Or rather, than the volume housebuilders are prepared grudgingly to accept.

What is most disgraceful is that the original “localism” legislation, which allowed progressive authorities to promote greater energy efficiency, was put onto the statute book as the Planning and Energy Act in 2008 by the current energy minister Michael Fallon when he was a backbencher.

He took up this private members’ bill very much at the instigation of the then Conservative party chairman, then loudly embracing the “go green, vote blue” banner. And who was then the Conservative party chairman? None other than Eric Pickles himself.

Since he became community secretary in 2010, Pickles has time and again proved himself to be hostile to energy saving. He has delayed the introduction of the new building regulations by 12 months, to April 2014 rather than 2013, and lowered their energy saving requirements way below the levels consulted upon.

The 2008 Act has succeeded in delivering higher standards of energy efficiency in new buildings, and so reducing future running costs for occupants. Particularly well-known examples are the Greater London Authority, set to deliver 40% higher energy standards than Pickles’ standards in 2016, and Cambridge council."

Meanwhile the update published on the 14 March confirms that the Government is to progress with its original raft of deregulations, with the new policy expected to be implemented by the end of the year, and it is not just energy efficiency which is affected, but also water and space requirements.

Colin Morrison, Director and Head of Sustainability at Planning Consultancy Turley said: “The update confirms that the Housing Standards Review will remove the ability of local authorities to request water efficiency measures above Building Regulations unless the development is in an area of water stress, and then only a nationally prescribed standard can be requested following viability assessment. Perhaps the most surprising of announcements under the Review is the confirmation that a single national space standard is to be developed outside of the Building Regulations, with an additional standard to be applied only when viable. This announcement is the only significant variation from the consultation and runs contrary to industry representations.”

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