Consequential Improvements – the Consequences

  • Building Design Expert
  • 7 years ago

The government department tasked with, amongst other things, keeping a watchful eye on the Building Regulations and fire safety – is the Department for Communities and Local Government. An innocuous name if ever there was one, but who in reality would want their job? It’s one of those damned if we do, and damned if we don’t appointments that rides the metronome between the public interest, and public opinion; and often given an extra wind up via back bench politics. Would we have it any other way?

One particular metronome to-ed and fro-ed on the issue of ‘consequential improvements to existing dwellings’. So first of all what are these? To be clear, we already have consequential improvements. They are improvements in the efficient use of energy required by regulation 28 of the Building regulations. The ahh but, is that these are only applicable to any building other than a dwelling. The thinking is that with existing homes responsible for around 27% of all UK carbon emissions, and an estimated 85% of them predicted to still be in use in 2050, we have gone way past critical and must be being seen to be doing something, anything to get the stats down.

The consequential improvement regime proposed for alteration and extension of existing dwellings required that around 10% of the project cost to be made available to pay for such as:

  • Upgrading heating systems – Bolier, radiators etc.
  • Upgrading lighting systems – Energy efficient bulbs and control systems
  • Installing energy metering – smart meters
  • Upgrading thermal elements – Insulating walls, roof and floors
  • Replacing windows – thermally efficient double and triple glazing
  • On-site energy generation – Renewables

Applying measures proposed in a recommendations report accompanying an Energy Performance Certificate – The Green Deal

So the current Building Regulations Approved Document L2B Conservation of fuel and power in existing buildings other than dwellings is currently playing it’s part. Some say that AD L1B should be following suit.

The arguments

On the Pro lobby side the argument is simple, straight forward and obvious. The improvements called for relate to reducing energy use. If we can reduce the amount of energy used, we reduce people’s reliance on energy and therefore the amount of money spent on it. It’s all about the money, but this time not with an undertone of greed, but with an humanitarian goal of taking the poorest communities out of ‘fuel poverty’ – where more than 10% of their household income is spent on energy; to relieving the middle classes, and everyone in-between, of an exponentially increasing burden where otherwise part of the money spent could be redirected back into the general economy, and not to the energy companies.

This simple argument is flawed by the pay back on the capital expenditure. Energy use improvements have an immediate effect generally in terms of stabilising heat loss, and temperature variation and providing a more comfortable environment. That’s the good news. The not so good news is the pay back period on capex can be huge, and will vary according to the measures undertaken. No easy answers though. The more energy we try and save, the greater the capex required to achieve it. The savings will trickle back over 5, 15 or as much as 25 years, which many people find less than appealing.

The Against lobby appear to have won, for the time being at least. Cabinet minister in charge of DCLG, Eric Pickles announced the recent scrapping of energy saving proposals under ‘consequential improvements’ as such legislation could “discourage people from undertaking home improvements” at all. You don’t have to dig too deep to expose the government’s train of thought. As if the construction industry doesn’t have enough troubles in the current precarious economy without this acting as another nail in it’s coffin. A risk that government clearly are not prepared to take. Energy Saving Trust research has produced figures that show around 40% of home owners would ditch plans for alterations and extensions to their properties.

The Green lobby are highly critical of the governments decision, insisting they are missing a prime opportunity to integrate the Green Deal to fund the un-budgeted improvement measures. It could become complicated, but then only if we let it.

There is a huge argument that puts the Green Deal front and centre and ideally placed to fund consequential improvements. But taking that all important reality check, the government forgot to communicate with the public exactly what the Green Deal is, and how it was going to offer a positive impact upon their lives.

Multi million pound corporations live or die as a result of great or mediocre marketing and public relations. In the western world government schemes and legislation often fall neatly into this slot. Coca Cola would no more look from side to side, then over their shoulder before whispering about their latest fizzy drink, than burn down their own headquarters. So the recent Green Deal ‘soft launch’ does much to underline an incompetent public awareness campaign that has just not happened.

Government expect industry to conduct the campaign, but then householders just view it as another opportunity for private companies to rip them off. Communication is the golden key here. Failure to communicate is a crime punishable by increased carbon levels and ever increasing energy prices. Will our economy not buckle under that pressure then?

Okay clever clogs what’s the answer? The truth? No simple answer. There, that’s got me off that hook. The reality? the reality is that doing something is always going to be better than doing nothing. But doing nothing is our government’s current avenue of choice. They have wavered too much, and too far on implementing what is a simple opportunity to further meet the UK global carbon reduction obligations. If the first wrapper isn’t selling, then take a leaf out of the corporate manual and re-brand, and importantly re-market.

The consequences of not seeing through an energy reduction strategy such as consequential improvements are huge, but then not to replace it with a similar measure aimed at the same goal is shirking any kind of responsibility at the highest level.

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