Though expensive and complex to implement, the potentially short-lived Code for Sustainable Homes does have its merits, says Mark Brinkley

Farewell, little loved Code. It seems that the Code for Sustainable Homes is about to bite the dust, just before its seventh birthday. Was it too meddlesome, too much box ticking, too damned expensive?

The housebuilders hated it, as did most self builders who came across it. That’s probably because some local authorities started using it as a condition of planning permission: ‘House to be built to Code Level 3.’

It isn’t so much the requirements themselves which are troublesome, but the need to hire a Code Assessor in order to see that everything is tickety-boo. Code Assessors have to be licensed and qualified — and they usually cost upwards of £2,000.

When it was originally envisaged in 2007, it was assumed that the Code would slowly become redundant as the green features it included would gradually be subsumed into the Building Regulations. But now, it looks as though the Code will be abandoned without the bulk of its requirements being enacted. Many of the softer green issues included in the Code, like biodiversity and daylighting, will simply be jettisoned.

What’s behind all this, of course, is the changed political climate and the new emphasis on economic growth at all costs. The Government is keen to boost the housebuilding sector and anything that stands in the way – like the Code – is likely to be chopped — it’s seen as just another piece of ‘green crap’.

But new housing is not just about numbers. We have just had a winter dominated by stories of flooding. Not only are new homes still being built on flood plains, but they do not appear to be resilient enough to deal with flooding. Lo and behold, this is an issue that the Code addresses obliquely via its insistence on permeable drainage solutions. Could this bit of ‘green crap’ actually be a valuable addition to our Building Regs?

Shouldn’t we be pushing improving the energy performance of our homes, too? Surely building a home with a low energy demand is the best way yet invented to deal with high fuel bills? Is the new obsession with housing numbers simply returning us to the bad, old days when new housing estates were thrown up whenever they could be most easily and cheaply built, with little regard to what the homes would be like to live in?

So, while the Code was little loved and its passing is unlikely to be mourned, its original intentions were good. In its short life it was horribly undermined by political lobbying and infighting. The final destination of the Code was the zero carbon house — which it suggested should become the Building Regulations minimum by 2016. But instead of becoming a clear goal, we got bogged down in arguments about the definition of ‘zero carbon’. Ultimately, it was probably a little too challenging for our housebuilders.

It’s not yet clear whether the Code will be entirely abandoned, but the writing seems to be on the wall. Local authorities may soon be prohibited from using it as a planning requirement which will effectively neuter it. Maybe then, when we are no longer forced to pay for it, we will at last begin to appreciate what a good idea it was in the first place.

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