Q&A: Peter Caplehorn

New Part L regs come into force this month. We give Building Regulations Advisory Committee panel member and technical director at Scott Brownrigg Peter Caplehorn a penny for his thoughts.

How far will the incoming Part L regs bring the UK to a zero carbon future?

They demand different things in England, Scotland and Wales, but the big thing is that key recommendations of the consultation weren’t taken up. Effectively, these latest regs seem to diverge from the trajectory we need to get to a zero carbon 2016, which is disappointing.  And how this all fits in with the recent EU commitment to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 remains to be seen.

So if we’re diverging, how do we make up the compliance gap between now and 2016?

Part of that would be in the term ‘zero carbon’. We stopped talking about a definitive ‘zero’ a while back, so it’s open to interpretation – which is a handy get-out clause. And there’s always ‘Allowable Solutions’ to take into account – carbon offsetting, linking to district heating systems, yet–to-be-developed technologies etc – that might give us wriggle room in the meantime…

Aren’t these just a smokescreen though?

Sometimes the right general direction of travel has to be enough. I’m trying to think more pragmatically. We’ve improved things like airtightness considerably. Contractors are building better and getting installed fabric to perform better. We’ve achieved a lot, but need a stronger show of political will to deliver the crucial push.

So who helped water down the regs this time round?

I know big house builders lobbied the government hard and probably had their ear. There was a concern that during the recovery excessive Part L performance demands would stifle economic growth in the housing sector. The government would have been wanting to balance decarbonisation with all-important growth.

Can we ever put a positive spin on using less?

It’s deeply engrained culturally. Even sustainability seems to have a selfish gene. People think more about return on their PV outlay, for instance, than the bigger idea of cutting primary energy demand. It’s more about personal gain than collective moral responsibility. Maybe if we realised that and approached it from that angle, we might make more inroads into promoting a sustainable UK. People need to see what’s in it for them.

Like the Green Deal?

We need the UK to buy into it but let’s face it, it hasn’t sparked the national imagination. The government needs to act to reverse the sense of stall and stagnation. And its financing has to be not-for-profit: this 8% interest on loans is silly frankly. The political thinking needs to be far more ‘big picture’ – which means don’t expect anything to happen before the next election! 


April rules

New Part L (Conservation of Fuel and Power) Building Regulations come into force on 6 April 2014 and will apply to all developments not yet submitted as a building notice, full plans submission or initial notice before this date. This allows for the ‘build out’ of projects without unnecessary revision to specification part way through the planning/ construction process – as long as the Building Regulations application begins before April 2015. Amendments differ for England, Scotland and Wales.