The Future Homes Standard: Part L Building Regulations
In January 2021, the Government published its response to its 2019 consultation on changes to Part L (conservation of fuel and power) and Part F (ventilation) of the Building Regulations. This was the first stage of a two-part consultation which proposed interim uplifts in the energy efficiency standards of new homes while the Government develops the details of the new Future Homes Standard to come into force from 2025.
The Government's response confirms that it will implement the "Fabric plus technology" approach from June 2022 which requires new homes to deliver carbon dioxide savings of 31% compared to current standards through a combination of low carbon heating and increased fabric standards. This is a significant step-change for new-build developments and paves the way for the more ambitious requirements of the Future Homes Standard 2025.
For developers, the new interim uplift needs careful consideration – particularly in the context of phased developments and build programmes where works are not due to commence until after June 2022. The new requirements are likely to impact heat strategies (including potential upgrades to centralised heat generation plant) and enhanced build specifications. Early assessment of the implications on a proposed development in the context of existing plans and permissions is key to navigating this period of significant change and providing flexibility for the future.
Key outcomes of the consultation are:
Zero-carbon ready homes by 2025
The Government is set to introduce the new Future Homes Standard in 2025 which will require CO2 emissions produced by new homes to be 75-80% lower than those built to current requirements. This forms part of the Government's strategy to improve energy efficiency in buildings – which is required in order to meet the net zero by 2050 target.
Although the technical derail of the Future Homes Standard is not yet certain, it is clear that from 2025, new homes will be required to be future-proofed with low carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency. Homes will need to be "zero carbon ready", meaning that no retrofit work will be necessary to enable them to become zero-carbon as the electricity grid continues to decarbonise.
A full technical consultation is planned for Spring 2023 which will build on the draft building specification set out in the consultation and provide further technical detail, draft guidance and an impact assessment for implementation. In the meanwhile, and to ease the step up to the Future Homes Standard, the Government is introducing an interim uplift in standards from 2022 which will mean new homes will go some way to meeting the 2025 standard. It should be noted that while the interim uplift is a positive stepping stone, homes built to the interim standards will still require further retrofit works in order to achieve the net-zero by 2050 target.
"Fabric plus Technology" from 2022
The consultation identified two options for the interim uplift - Option 1 ("Future Homes Fabric") proposed a 20% reduction in carbon emissions compared to current standards and Option 2 ("Fabric plus technology") proposed a 31% reduction in carbon emissions compared to current standards.
The consultation response confirms that the Part L 2021 Uplift will introduce Option 2 as a stepping stone to the Future Homes Standard. This is the preferred option because it represents a meaningful and achievable interim increase to the energy efficiency standards of new homes. It has also been designed to encourage the use of low-carbon heating in new homes (rather than gas boilers) in order for the market to develop the supply chains and skills that will be necessary in order to deliver the more radical Future Homes Standard.
The Government recognises that there is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution to the implementation of low carbon heating technologies, but it has identified that heat pumps are likely to become the primary source of heating for new homes under the Future Homes Standard. There is also an important role for heat networks - which are expected to be utilised for new buildings in towns and cities in order to capitalise on large-scale renewable and recovered heat sources. The challenge for the heat network industry is navigating the technical and financial implications of decarbonising existing gas or CHP led networks in time so that new buildings can be connected and meet the new energy efficiency levels.
The Government has also decided on a revised package of performance metrics which will ensure a fabric first approach. The driver for this is that the Future Homes Standard cannot rely on grid decarbonisation in order to achieve a reduction in emissions and that improving airtightness and reducing building consumption are key. As part of a four-part performance metric, Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard has been retained - which is likely to be a relief to many that raised concerns about its proposed removal.
No change to Local Planning Authority powers (yet)
The Planning and Energy Act 2008 (as amended) currently allows planning authorities to require energy efficiency standards for new homes that exceed the requirements of the Building Regulations. While this has allowed some planning authorities to push more ambitious targets, the Government proposed that these rights are removed, in order to provide a more consistent approach.
The Government has confirmed that new planning reforms will clarify the longer term proles of local planning authorities but to provide certainty for now, it will not amend the Planning and Energy Act 2008 - which means that local authorities will retain powers to set local energy efficiency standards for new homes.
Stringent transitional arrangements
The Government's response confirms that the 2021 uplift in standards will apply to individual buildings (not across development sites as was the case previously) and that transitional arrangements will apply only for a 12 month period.
For transitional arrangements to apply to an individual building, developers will need to both (a) submit a building / initial notice or deposited plans by June 2022; and (b) commence work on each individual building by June 2023.
This means that:
- where notices or plans are submitted after June 2022, transitional arrangements will not apply and homes must be built in line with new Part L standards.
- where notices or plans are submitted before June 2022, but work on any individual building does not commence by June 2023, the uncommenced buildings must build in line with the new Part L standards.
The impact of this is that developers cannot lock-in building regulations at the point of commencement of an entire development (which has been the case up until now). Save for where transitional arrangements apply, individual buildings will be subject to the new regulations at the time work commences. This creates new issues for phased developments as different building regulations may apply over the build programme – having an associated impact on viability and land value.
The Government has also published the second part to this consultation – The Future Buildings Standard - which focusses on changes to Parts L and F of the Building Regulations for non-domestic buildings, new standards to address overheating in new residential properties and new standards for renovations. Part two of the interim consultation closes on 13 April 2021.
The final version of Part L and F will be published in December 2021 and will come into force in June 2022. Following that, a full technical specification for the Future Homes Standard will be consulted on in 2023 and legislation tabled in 2024, ahead of full implementation in 2025.