New UK building regulations: government must act on software now

Ramboll’s Phil Kelly says that significant challenges remain for the new UK building regulations, and that the government must act now to benefit businesses, wider industry and the planet itself.

Ramboll’s Phil Kelly, pictured, says that significant challenges remain for the new UK building regulations.

This June saw the introduction of the government’s new UK Building Regulations, but significant challenges in the implementation of these regulations remain. 

These new regulations seek to provide a roadmap to lower-carbon building stock and a core tenet of them, Part L, requires government-approved software to complete its calculations. 

As of yet, however, only the first tranche of this software for residential schemes – which covers only a fraction of home heating and renewable technology – is available, and even this was only released the week before the regulations’ implementation. 

Part L hopes to achieve between a 27-31% reduction in emissions for new build domestic and non-domestic properties. Unfortunately, the handling of timelines around Part L has seen the update joining a long history of the government leaving insufficient time for industry to respond to new legislation, and industry looks set to shoulder the consequences. 

Businesses need this software to ensure that their project complies with legal regulations. Albeit depending on the scale of the development, project teams often perform many months of work before planning applications are made, testing designs against local and national policies. 

Ideally, the software would have been published alongside the new Part L 2021 targets themselves to provide teams that had begun work months before its introduction the opportunity to ensure their project is legally compliant. The London Plan, for example, requires all large developments in Greater London to have a minimum of 35% lower CO2 emissions than Part L on site, with the remainder offset. 

Numerous planning authorities also require a BREEAM certification that is linked to SBEM outputs, the Part L calculation software for non-domestic properties (SAP is the domestic equivalent). However, as beta versions had to be used, design teams have been unable to provide clients with this assurance. All markets need confidence to operate prosperously, and the built environment is no exception.

The software required by Part L also generates Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs), a touchstone in many current and imminent policies. However, new calculation methods in beta versions of the Part L software have shown that EPC ratings could change by two grades in either direction, leaving some landlords in for a shock. 

An ongoing consultation into Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES) suggests that the minimum EPC rating will be lifted from E to C in 2027, and again to B by 2030. What was previously exceptional emissions performance will soon be a standard hygiene factor, and developers will be concerned that they will not be able to sell or let the flats they built even just last year. Part L, therefore, forms the bedrock of the key assurances a design team must provide to their client, yet the situation remains precarious.

The next scheduled update to Part L is with the Future Homes Standard and the Future Buildings Standard introduction in 2025. Industry will hope that the government doesn’t repeat its previous mistakes. 

In preparation, Ramboll has invested in our digital capabilities, with bespoke tools for testing our designs against regulations, and it would be a positive step for the government to draw upon these sector wide skills for the next phase of Part L. 

Looking ahead, perhaps the roll out of Part Z, which had its first reading in the Commons earlier this year, will be a chance to change the tune. This legislation would see embodied carbon assessments on all projects and a cap for this embodied carbon, an essential step towards the UK’s Net Zero Carbon 2050 deadline if the government will continue providing VAT relief on new builds only. 

Refurbishment is currently charged 20% VAT, and a new development nothing, encouraging demolition and carbon heavy new builds. With legislation like Part L and Part Z driving industry to the essential goal of net zero, government cannot allow other policies or delivery to be undoing that progress.

For an industry weathering inflation, supply chain challenges and a skills crisis, the built environment sector must be able to draw confidently on all tools at its disposal, without being served a healthy dose of frustration. Yet the roll out of new regulations in the sector has a way to go before it truly starts to benefit businesses, wider industry and the planet. Only by prioritising the approval of supplementary methodology and technology can the government expect legislation to make this much needed progress.

Phil Kelly is director, head of sustainability – buildings at Ramboll.

If you would like to contact Rob O’Connor about this, or any other story, please email roconnor@infrastructure-intelligence.com.