The Queen’s Speech set out the government’s programme for the next year. In contrast to recent years, it was almost silent on energy matters.
A ‘Better Markets Bill’ seeks to ‘improve Britain’s competitiveness… open up markets, boost competition and give consumers more power and choice and make economic regulators work better.’ It promises to give consumers ‘more power and choice through faster switching’, give greater consumer protection when things go wrong, improve the way regulators operate and cut red tape. This addresses the manifesto commitment to increase competition and consumer choice in the energy market.
According to the government, enhanced consumer power will be a key element, seeking to encourage customers to switch providers and get a better deal, ‘[helping to] keep bills as low as possible’; there is no mention of using energy more effectively.
The Bill will seek to create more open markets by ensuring they are ‘competitive to keep costs low and deliver for bill payers’. It will implement the Competition and Market Authority’s recommendations to promote competition.
A ‘Wales Bill’ will devolve powers to the National Assembly for Wales over energy, transport and elections, giving it control over consents for onshore wind projects in the principality. In addition, Welsh Ministers will be able to give consent for other onshore and offshore energy projects up to 350 megawatts.
There is no mention of reducing bills by using energy more effectively
Finally, under the heading ‘UK Role in the World’, the government restates its commitment to ‘reducing emissions and increasing investment in clean energy technologies following the Paris climate agreement’. The government is also ‘using the transition to a low carbon global economy to maximise commercial opportunities for the UK in areas of British expertise’.
These are the only references to energy in the speech. While the Markets and Wales Bills largely address supply and regulatory matters, the commitment to clean energy technology may be more relevant to some Journal readers; it remains to be seen how that commitment will be manifested in practice. Two signs of how this may pan out emerged in the past month:
The Housing and Planning Act 2016
This achieved Royal Assent on 12 May. Although some peers sought to reinstate a legislative commitment to zero carbon building, the government twice removed the amendments. A compromise was reached in the form of a review of the energy requirements of the Building Regulations.
Some may see this as a triumph for the dissenting peers but, under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the government has to review its minimum energy efficiency requirements by 2018. It is not clear what the government has conceded, but it has conjured a face-saving formula from the European requirement.
Updated versions of the four Approved Documents under Part L of the Building Regulations were published in April. There are no technical changes, with amendments principally reflecting withdrawal of Regulations 29 to 33 of the Building Regulations 2010 and their replacement by Regulation 7A of the Energy Performance of Buildings (England and Wales) Regulations 2012,1 as well as revised wording of Regulations 24, 25, 26, 26A, 27 and 27A of the Building Regulations 2010.
The government says: ‘The amendment regulations give, for the first time, a definition of the “energy performance of a building”, and revise the definition of “operational rating” and amend the definition of “asset rating” in regulation 24 of the Building Regulations.’ Readers may wish to review the change in detail,2 form a view on whether they merely alter the wording without making any technical changes, and consider implications.
Part R – High Speed Broadband infrastructure
The amendments to the Building Regulations introduce a new Part R, which requires incorporation of physical infrastructure for high-speed electronic communications networks into new buildings. A new Part 9A (physical infrastructure for high-speed electronic communications networks) in the main Building Regulations covers application of Part R to buildings outside the scope of the Building Act 1984 (c.55), for interpretation, and for exemptions. A new Approved Document R: Physical Infrastructure for high-speed electronic communications networks, has also been published.
All Building Regulations changes came into force on 6 April 2016.
The final recent change is that to the Planning Portal, which provided a single source for all government planning and Building Regulations documents. It has now been absorbed into the government website; facilitates access to a number of documents relating to the Building Regulations.
- Readers may note the irony of replacing aspects of the Building Regulations that apply in England with a new Regulation in the Energy Performance of Building Regulations that cover both England and devolved Wales.
- See the comprehensive list of the changes here.
Hywel Davies is technical director at CIBSE