The Sullivan Report 2013 Update

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Building on the original ‘A Low Carbon Building Standards Strategy For Scotland 2007’ (Sullivan Report) a panel was appointed to review how the recommendations had been implemented and provide an update taking the unforeseen economic downturn into consideration. The panel met in May 2013 and considered how the objectives of the Sullivan Report had been met, reflecting on the difficult cost implications of meeting the standards while also making the construction of new housing viable in the current economic climate.

The update to the Sullivan Report was published in November 2013 looking at the three main issues below.

Eventual and Staged Standards – ambition and pace of change

The panel reviewed recommendations made in 2007 for a staged progression towards ‘net zero carbon’ new buildings. Weighing up the Governments’ commitment to meeting the targets against the impact of the economic downturn the panel considered the impact on development, which might result from Scotland imposing more stringent standards than the rest of the UK. As a result the decision was made to increase the lead in time for the proposed updates to the Building Regulations. While this can be seen as a step back from the original proposals, the new Building Standards to be imposed in 2015 can be considered from 2014 which provides a longer lead in time for the construction industry to future-proof proposals and address skills shortages. Although carbon targets are being met at a slower pace it could be seen that the recommendations allow for them to be met more effectively in the future, allowing industry to consider not only meeting targets but the socio-economic issues which surround the provision of new housing.

Process- delivering a ‘net zero carbon’ standard for new development

Based on a report by the Zero Carbon Hub, which looked at the practical issues of delivering zero carbon new homes, the panel looked into the concepts of ‘Net zero carbon’ and meeting the targets through ‘Allowable solutions’. These concepts would allow some of the carbon targets of a new development to be displaced off-site by implementing improvements to existing buildings concentrating on a fabric first’ approach. On one hand, it could be said that this is a watering down with regard to meeting the recommendations on new houses, however on the other hand it could provide improvements for twice as many households, creating not just comfortable new houses but improved existing properties. These recommendations could potentially increase the funding available for retrofit projects throughout Scotland.

Costings – recognising the value of energy efficient new buildings

The panel considered the relative costs required to meet enhanced energy standards and expressed concern that house buyers do not appreciate the benefits, and therefore these are not being adequately reflected in house values. Reflecting on the way the car industry has been able to successfully implement a common language and terminology when marketing low emission products, recommendations were made that research be carried out in partnership with the construction industry to develop standard criteria to be used in the marketing of low carbon buildings. The recommendations also asked that the Scottish Government consider introducing financial benefits for householders who choose to occupy low energy buildings. These recommendations should represent good value for construction industry, which often loses innovative energy saving measures to cost saving exercises. However on the other hand we wonder if offering financial benefits to those who choose to occupy energy efficient buildings may in-fact serve to negate their value and counteract any positive marketing research and innovation by portraying energy efficient properties as needing a subsidy, when the homes themselves already offer good value with regards to energy bills.

Overall, the update to the Sullivan Report has sought to address any delays or barriers, which have emerged with regards to meeting the original recommendations. In particular the agreement to focus on addressing energy efficiency in existing buildings could provide a positive impact to the greatest number of households while providing continued work for the construction industry in areas where the option of building new properties is not economically viable. The agreement to stage the implementation of the next Building Regulations update will allow designers and builders time to meet targets effectively. The proposals to increase awareness of the value of energy efficient new buildings could be crucial to helping Scotland meet key targets, however their successful implementation will not be simple.

The update to the Sullivan Report can be downloaded here

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