Environmental 1,598 views Oct 03, 2017
Strategic approach to energy and sustainability

Balancing environmentally sound proposals with commercial viability can present a number of challenges and is further complicated by planning requirements.  With many local planning authorities now requiring an energy and / or sustainability statement to be submitted as part of a planning application, Darren Evans of Darren Evans Assessments explains why a well prepared, professional statement will play a critical role in ensuring planning consent for a site.

The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to sustainable development, which has economic, social and environmental dimensions.  The main aim of an energy and or sustainability statement is to promote high standards of design and to reduce the environmental impacts of new developments. The requirements of these statements are set regionally and will differ from council to council across the UK.

An energy statement will involve demonstrating a specified reduction in energy demand or CO2 emissions beyond building regulations. This is usually through the use of onsite renewable or low/zero carbon technologies with examples including solar PV, solar thermal, air / ground source heat pumps and biomass boilers.

A sustainability statement will incorporate these reductions but include additional requirements such as flood risk assessments, water consumption targets, transport and cycle storage, on site recycling, district heating connections and in depth feasibility studies for additional renewable and low/zero carbon technologies.

A local plan

With regional differences in requirements for energy statements the point could be argued that these planning policies do not go far enough in terms of sustainability. For example, Bristol City Council require a 20% reduction in CO2 through on site renewable technologies whist the bordering council South Gloucestershire has no requirements for an energy or sustainability statement.  A good example of where planning policies are going further in terms of sustainability is London where all new housing must follow the guidelines of the London plan, regardless of which borough the development lies.

The London plan requires that a sustainability statement must be undertaken which amongst other requirements demands a 35% reduction in emissions over building regulations. Interestingly, this does not have to be through renewables or low/zero carbon technologies, although it is very difficult to achieve solely through a fabric first approach. The planning departments which fall under the London plan can then dictate if they choose to, reductions through the use of renewable technologies or other polices such as communal heating systems or the ability to connect to future district heating schemes.

“Most projects that come to us for sustainability or energy statements will not initially meet the requirements outlined in the local planning policies and we will propose different options on how to comply that work with the development both practically and financially,” commented Darren Evans.

Some contractors will want to avoid these policies for varying reasons, some genuine and some not. In this case, the approach taken is to try and demonstrate the reduction through a fabric first approach which is achievable in some areas but as previously mentioned in London can be very difficult. It also varies from region to region as to whether a development meeting the targets through the building fabric and no renewables will be approved through planning. However, more often than not the requirements will be strictly enforced.

Meeting energy targets

With many councils requiring schemes to provide minimum performance against BREEAM, contractors are not always up-to-speed on what is required for this standard and at what stages things need to be completed. This applies to non-domestic buildings over 1,000 m2 and the condition is either Very Good or Excellent and that is what needs to be met. The project teams are not always forthcoming with BREEAM evidence, and often when they do send evidence in it is incorrect or incomplete.  With the other pressures of the build, the BREEAM requirements seem to be a low priority and it is left until the ‘last minute’ to get information back to the assessor therefore making it harder to gather the evidence and incurring a higher risk of losing credits, which results in not meeting the necessary BREEAM rating.  This causes great stress to the design team and even the end client.

To tackle this, the client could appoint a BREEAM Accredited Professional /Sustainability Champion at the early design stages and throughout the project to ensure the whole project team are aware of what is needed and guarantee the design team incorporate the necessary details into the design drawings and specifications.  This person should also proactively gather the required information from the various design team members. This will make it easier for the Design Stage assessments to be completed and allow contractors to focus on the Post Construction Assessment. They can highlight particular credits where evidence needs to be collated throughout the project.

Contractors could appoint a project team member who is dedicated to BREEAM evidence collation to ensure BREEAM credits are not lost, so any day-to-day issues or changes can be assessed.  Having regular BREEAM team meetings, either by phone or in person, to check the process is moving forward will ensure it remains a high priority throughout the project.

A future policy

To improve the planning situation in relation to energy and sustainability in the built environment, it would be beneficial to see a nationwide policy rolled out which set out the requirements for these planning conditions. This way it would not come as a surprise to developers that they need to include renewable and low/zero carbon technologies with every development.  In an ideal situation from a sustainability point of view there should be a requirement that a given percentage of a dwellings total energy demand needs to be provided through on site renewables.

Visit: www.darren-evans.co.uk