I am really impressed by the Sullivan Report. Living in England, I’d not heard of it before today because it refers to Scotland. But as I’m lecturing in Glasgow this weekend, I have been mugging up on what lies in store for the Scots on the road to zero carbon, aware that the remit of the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) doesn’t spread north of the border.
In its place, in August last year, the new SNP government commissioned Lynne Sullivan, Broadway Malyon’s Head of Sustainability, to chair a panel of energy experts to create a roadmap for Scotland. It’s officially called A Low Carbon Building Standards Strategy for Scotland and unlike the CSH, it’s full of common sense and good ideas. For a start, it doesn’t veer off into water saving issues (possibly because Scotland is not and is never likely to be short of water). Nor is there any of that noise about improving ecology, waste management and sustainable drainage. No, the report just sticks to carbon. Like the CSH, there are some roadmap dates for changes in building regulations: in fact the dates, 2010, 2013 and 2016 are identical to the CSH dates.
So far so good. But what really caught my eye was that its really realistic about what is achievable and what isn’t. Two points in particular stand out.
First, a pull back from making micro renewables compulsory. The previous Labour government in Scotland had put in place a strategy that looked suspiciously like the Merton rule whereby new developments would have to produce 15% of their electricity from onsite equipment. I always thought this was a ridiculous target. Sullivan agrees:
We do not consider that the industry is yet sufficiently developed to justify mandatory requirements in building regulations for low carbon equipment or to require all buildings to become generators of electricity.
The report is suggesting that community-wide schemes, particularly CHP, would be far more effective and that it is expensive and pointless to insist on building specific solutions.
Secondly, there is some scepticism about whether to adopt wholesale the PassivHaus standard, as CSH appears to do. Sullivan’s panel had members on it from Austria, Denmark and Norway and their input was listened to and absorbed. In particular, the Austrian delegate expressed concern about wholesale adoption of PassivHaus.
Although having many examples of ‘PassivHaus’ (2,500 in total) in his own country, one of our European members was most insistent that you could not impose ‘PassivHaus’ living habits on home owners and occupiers. The main issue associated with ‘PassivHaus’ is that to realise the enhanced energy performance and to avoid mould growth arising from condensation, the occupants must be prepared to adjust their lifestyle to rely solely on mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), including frequent changes of filters and the associated running costs. In his country there was significant subsidy for those who elected to build and occupy such houses, but most importantly these people had made the decision themselves and had not been forced to live this way through regulation.
This is such an important point and it appears to have been completely missed by DCLG in London who produced the Code for Sustainable Homes. At the moment, England is on course to impose PassivHaus by 2013 and microrenewables by 2016. No one seems to have sat down and asked whether this is sensible, let alone possible.
So I award full marks to Lynne Sullivan for putting this report together so quickly and making so many sensible suggestions. And having the courage to point out where Westminster has gone wrong with its vision for low and zero carbon homes. And full marks to the SNP for commissioning it. It’s a shame they don’t run in England: I’d be sorely tempted to vote for them.