UK: Impending Changes - Building Regulations in Scotland

Last Updated: 5 January 2011
Article by Robin Corbett

The Scottish Government has a declared objective to move towards challenging but realistic targets for energy performance with a view to matching, or least making a significant move towards, the most vigorous energy performance levels in Europe (which are in Scandinavia).

To that end, the Minister for Transport Infrastructure and Climate Change appointed a panel to advise on development of a low carbon building standards strategy. The panel reported in 2007 Its report (the Sullivan Report) made 56 recommendations to be considered by the Scottish Government.

Strongly influenced by the Sullivan Report, and with regard to the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 ,which among other things sets out targets for progressive reduction of carbon emission, the Scottish Government has begun to work towards a new generation of "low energy homes". There is also an ongoing process with reference to non-domestic properties, but these are seen to present different, and larger, challenges.

Again with reference to what is most likely to be achievable, the focus is on applying more demanding standards to new homes, rather than "retrofitting" existing buildings. (The Sullivan Report nevertheless recommended that practical performance standards for existing buildings should be "considered")

Section1 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003 provides that (my emphasis):

  1. The Scottish Ministers may, for any of the purposes of-

    a) securing the health, safety, welfare and convenience of persons in or about buildings and of others who may be affected by buildings or matters connected with buildings,

    b) furthering the conservation of fuel and power, and

    c) furthering the achievement of sustainable development,

    make regulations ("building regulations") with respect to the design, construction, demolition and conversion of buildings and the provision of services, fittings and equipment in or in connection with buildings.

The Scottish government wishes to have sustainability embedded in building regulations, rather than rely on voluntary codes of practice. The Scottish Building Standards Agency, which is responsible for building regulations, therefore is at the forefront of the Scottish Governments plans in this area. The Building (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 2010 came into force from 1 October 2010. The amendments made changes to mandatory standards, including "raising the bar" for carbon emissions in relation to new houses. Technical manuals have been updated. Additionally, the Building Standards Agency is currently in a consultation process for the introduction of a labelling system which would involve, it appears, the awarding of different kinds of "badge" (which might actually be fixed to the buildings) showing what level of energy performance is achieved. Based on current proposals, a "bronze" badge would indicate a building which meets whatever are the current regulation standards, with other badges (silver and gold, and possibly even platinum) indicating the extent to which the building, in addition to compliance with regulations meets overall sustainability goals.

From the point of view of the Scottish Government, and consequently the Building Standards Agency, "sustainability" includes, among other things, reducing energy use for both space heating and water heating, and increasing water use efficiency.

Against this background, residential developers must turn their attention to their standards and methods of construction. This is driven partly, of course, by the need to comply with new building regulations, with those in force and those likely to come into force as the Scottish Government pursues its emissions targets. There is also evidence, however, of demand in the market for low energy housing which goes beyond compliance standards. Certain residential developers may choose to target this "aspirational" market with some of their products.

To date, various experimental houses have been created. The most recent, and in many respects the most successful, is the "Aurora" house constructed, for industry training and education purposes, at South Lanarkshire College, East Kilbride. The main contractor was Dawn Homes, and the architects were Jowett,,Arschavir & Wilkie. The remit was specifically to provide a building which met the best available standards for sustainability, but was at the same time capable of being reproduced within a volume development. The project succeeded in achieving its aims, and allowed many local and other contractors to showcase materials and systems which can be incorporated in low energy housing. These include methods to reduce substantially heat loss, and a ground source heat pump ( a technology which now seems now to be becoming viable in economic as well as technical terms). The house is now a Case Study (122) on the Built Environment section of the Scottish Government's website.

It is quite clear in what direction the Scottish Government is moving, by various means, in particular building regulations. All those involved in the design and construction of new homes, and in due course other kinds of building, will have to pay close attention to this process.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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