Cast your mind back to before the general election when the coalition government was in power. Towards the end of March 2015 the government announced that the Code for Sustainable Homes policy was to be withdrawn.
First to provide some background; Initiated in 2006, the Code for Sustainable Homes has provided the national standard for design and construction of sustainable new build housing schemes. Used as a tool by local planning authorities, the Code rated the sustainability performance of all aspects of new housing on a 6 point scale. Some of you may remember the Grand Designs Eco House (designed by Architects Studio Bark) which achieved Code level 6 and how stringent both the design and build processes were.
However, the vast majority of planning conditions imposed by local authorities for ‘regular’ new build schemes over the last 9 years have usually stipulated conformance to Code Level 3 or 4, prior to the occupation of any dwelling with a final Code Certificate required.
For us landscape architects it has provided an opportunity to create diverse and rich landscape schemes that have delivered widespread ecological benefits and biodiversity enhancements, since a proportion of the Code assessment quantified the ecological gain of the proposed site when compared to the existing situation. Our ecologist Susan Deakin regularly carries out ecological assessments (including Code Assessments) for many residential schemes, as well as advising on how the landscape proposals could deliver greater biodiversity gains. This award winning scheme at RAF Bentley Priory achieved Code level 4 with the help of substantial biodiversity enhancements, including the planting of new native woodland belts, extensive areas of species rich wildflower meadow and a palette of predominantly native planting.
So what does this change mean for developers in the residential sector going forward? Those schemes which already have a legal obligation to meet a particular Code level and where planning conditions relate to Code for Sustainable Homes, these will still apply and the scheme will remain open in order to fulfil such obligations. Housing developers may wish to appeal or seek to remove planning conditions related to the Code, given the change in legislation but this will be dealt with on a case by case basis at the discretion of the local authority.
The change in legislation was of course brought in by the government as one of several measures to help speed up and streamline the planning process, so that more homes can be built at a faster rate to cope with the ever growing demand. Hopefully house builders have recognised the benefits of delivering sustainable homes and whilst the obligations of the Code may have been removed, we anticipate the principles will live on and we will continue to build sustainable homes in attractive landscape settings, whilst minimising potentially adverse effects on our environment and natural resources.