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27th July 2018

Hot house – will homes be built for higher temperatures?

Thrings solicitor Fred Quartermain considers recommendations from the recent House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report on the effects of rising temperatures in the UK.

The fittingly titled ‘Heatwaves: adapting to climate change’ report published this week predicts that high temperatures will be the norm by the 2040s and that failing to address the impact of heatwaves will threaten the wellbeing of an increased number of people.

The committee has called on the Government to take steps to ensure that the country is better prepared for extreme heat and concludes that certain types of homes and densely populated urban areas are at significant risk of overheating.

Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee said the “Government must change building regulations and planning policies to ensure homes and transport networks are able to deal with extreme heat, and that local authorities and cities have green spaces and heat-resilient infrastructure”.

Whilst it is right to say that building regulations do not currently address the prevention of overheating, it is arguable whether it is the role of regulations to do so.

The current regulations are intended to set minimum standards to protect the health and safety of people in or around buildings. As a result, there are standards that require a certain level of insulation (for energy efficiency purposes) and ventilation, but beyond a general requirement to limit heating gains or losses in buildings there is nothing that requires a maximum (or indeed a minimum) temperature.

The Government appears unconvinced by the need for new regulations and the process of amending existing regulations can be a slow one. That said, even if new regulations were introduced, the effect would not be retrospective and so would have limited impact on the types of existing homes that have been identified by the committee as being at particular risk, for example, single aspect flats and houses built in the 1960s and 1970s.

The position in relation to planning policy is perhaps more nuanced. The Government placed sustainable development at the heart of the planning system through the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework. The framework was updated this week and this emphasis remains.

As such, sustainable development as defined by national planning policy includes an environmental objective requiring that policy and decisions mitigate and adapt to climate change, including increasing temperatures. This means that whilst there is no single requirement to limit the effects of heatwaves, the system is set up to facilitate development that considers and deals with the effects of climate change.

Whilst current policy will not benefit older housing stock, newer properties should already be better equipped to deal with rising temperatures.

To discuss planning related matters, please contact Fred Quartermain or the Planning Team.

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