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Aim higher or be left behind

The construction sector tends to treat legislation on energy efficiency and carbon reduction as minimum requirements. But the government has seen through that approach, and from 2022 is set to ramp up requirements over the next decade, ensuring that ‘just enough’ won’t be good enough to stop buildings from becoming stranded assets.

The government published the new Parts L (Energy efficiency), F (Ventilation) and O (Overheating) in December just before we all clocked off for the year. The new legislation doesn’t come into effect until June 2022, giving everyone six months to read and absorb what’s in there.

The highlights are updated requirements in CO2 footprint reduction. For example, new homes Homes have to target a 30% reduction in carbon against current standards. For non-dwellings, the figure is 27%. And that’s in addition to new rules on ensuring good ventilation in buildings. And a new Part O specifically addresses overheating in homes. It’s hard to imagine in a chilly UK winter, but many of our cities will feel the effects of rising temperatures, making overheating much more of a risk in the coming decades.

But I think the most crucial aspect of these new and updated Regulations is that they show the government has seen through the ‘just enough’ approach that’s been going on for too long. As a result, the 2022 uplift in requirements is only a stepping stone on the journey to 2025, when further and higher targets will be coming along.

It’s a manoeuvre that shows that someone in government has noticed the construction sector’s tendency to wait and see before running for the deadline of regulatory changes. But now, that 2025 uplift is so close that some larger projects may not finish before the new standards are in place – so you might as well aim higher now. The benefit for the environment is that we start shrinking the carbon footprint of our buildings so much sooner.

It’s also becoming apparent that major property investors and the big corporates who lease the buildings are keen to develop and occupy environmentally-sound spaces that resonate with their focus on being greener.

Money is a massive driver for change in the construction sector, and this should be incentive enough to think ahead of the 2022 Regulations and perhaps even beyond 2025. A stranded built asset that’s 20 years old is bad enough. One that has just opened its doors and is already behind the regulations, well, that’s not going to look good on the corporate ESG report.

I’m not naïve enough to think that a new Part L will stop clients fixating on the capital costs of projects; old habits die hard. But everyone paid to give expert advice on projects (domestic and commercial) can lean into these new Regulations. They should provide substantial leverage when persuading main contractors and their clients to pay attention to energy efficiency, low-carbon systems and better building management for the long term.

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