Sense and feasibility

Published:  04 April, 2012

BREEAM, Building control
A responsible attitude from planners — John Simpson.

Are planners are over-reaching their knowledge base by requesting a ‘wish list’ of eco-friendly measures and unachievable BREEAM ratings on top of the statutory requirements of the already challenging Building Regulations. John Simpson shares his views.

It’s a tough time for businesses of all types, but it’s fairly widely acknowledged that in construction we have a particularly complicated set of challenges to contend with. The economic downturn has resulted in swingeing cuts to public- and private-sector building projects alike — and a marked decline in refurbishment activities too. The situation isn’t showing much sign of improving over the next couple of years either; the Construction Products Association forecasts a 3.6% fall in output for 2012, and no growth in 2013.

At the same time, our industry as a whole is assimilating the changes in working practices and building methods made necessary by more stringent Building Regulations. Given this context, it can be frustrating to find that the planning system can cause additional complications, particularly in terms of energy-efficiency requirements, with planners striving for excellence to such an extent that sometimes the measures being requested are not actually practicable.

One of the most common candidates for this type of wish-list thinking is a renewable-energy system — partly, I think, because they’re (mistakenly) seen as a panacea. I’ve been involved in many a project where the planners state that renewables must be used to achieve a 20% reduction in carbon emissions, even though the constraints of the build don’t make this addition technically or economically feasible.

For example, I’ve seen requests for ground source heat pumps to be included to achieve a 20% renewable target, when a gas-fired heating system would achieve a lower resultant annual carbon footprint, lower running costs for occupants and have a lower capital cost. I’ve also seen requests for biomass heating installations for inner-city locations — with their associated delivery issues.

Planning policy often does include an ‘if-feasible’ statement, which is intended to prevent this type of situation occurring — although I have found that on some occasions there might be insufficient expertise within the planning department to fully understand the technical details of the submission and, therefore, an inability to accurately judge feasibility.

Local authorities are regularly asking for non-residential schemes of all sizes to achieve BREEAM ‘Excellent’. While achievable with careful thought on sizeable projects such as this NHS centre in Southwark, this is not financially viable for smaller commercial schemes.

In addition, there is a trend towards some local authorities requesting up to a 35% improvement on top of the Building Regulations’ Target Emission Rate (TER). Given that the latest Part L has already raised the bar and already created a significant challenge to system designers, this additional requirement really tests the bounds of possibility and makes some schemes simply unviable. What’s more, the difficulty of meeting this stipulation looks set to increase further in future years as we approach the target of ‘zero carbon’; better knowledge within planning departments is going to be even more critical, so that they can understand the limitations on certain schemes.

Planners have also been setting a minimum BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’ across all schemes in London, but I’d like to see a more realistic approach to this since it places significant and often unrealistic costs on small projects.

A small retail shell, for example, might have a build cost of just £20 000, but the huge team of consultants required to meet the BREEAM rating could add at least another £20 000 of fees. Even if it is possible to argue that the rating is not achievable, so these fees are not incurred, we’re finding that our clients have to spend additional money on reports to demonstrate why.

BREEAM was never intended to be used for small projects, and in fact the BRE notes that it is are considering producing a specific scheme for this type of situation.

It’s not that it’s not admirable for the local authorities to lead the way to lower carbon emissions from our new-build homes and commercial premises, but perhaps a more realistic perspective is called for.

A common-sense approach, where the right solutions for each individual project are worked out in an intelligent and objective manner, will, after all, lead to the most sustainable solution — both in economic and environmental terms.

For this to work, it seems clear that we need to ensure a higher level of technical training within local authorities, so that planners can genuinely achieve the best practice results that they are striving so hard to attain.

John Simpson is Director of AJ Energy Consultants.

comments powered by Disqus



Welcome to Modern Building Services Online, the web edition of Modern Building Services (MBS) journal and the UK's most popular Building Services engineering site. Modern Building Services covers the entire Building Services Engineering industry. This site contains archived content from the journal, plus web-specific content.

When you go to our digital edition, you can also access the archive of digital editions.

Modern Building services has a group
on Linkedin - join us!

Construction Week



  • Field Sales Executive

    Successful professional technical salesperson required to sell to consultants and contractors. Unique opportunity to sell ultra-low energy, patented technology, ventilation products from a UK manufacturer. ...

  • Property Surveyor

    Property Surveyor/ Building Service Surveyor needed to work within the Technical Services team for the management of water hygiene/ legionella risk within DCC's property portfolio. We are looking for an experienced and dynamic team member to join our T......

more jobs »


"Is the Building Services industry lagging behind in the implementation of BIM?"