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Just how important is a BREEAM rating?By: Dr Roger Griffiths

Dr Roger Griffiths

Generally whenever local authorities are involved in the planning process you become conditioned to reading between the lines. What is policy one minute becomes outdated the next. Some would say it’s hard enough trying to keep up let alone stay ahead of the game.

So while the BREEAM assessment method has been in place for more than 20 years, local authorities are now routinely stipulating BREEAM ratings as part of planning conditions - but with significant differences between one authority and another.

For example Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council requires developers to hit BREEAM’s Very Good rating while others, such as Camden Council have a BREEAM requirement of Excellent, although with added specifics.

If developers fail to achieve the right credits and hit the required rating, the building can be worth substantially less and the developer or contractor can potentially be exposed to a breach of contract and litigation.

BREEAM measures a broad range of categories and criteria from energy to ecology. It also includes aspects related to water use, the health and well-being of occupants, pollution, transport, materials, waste and management processes.

It has been around for a while with many of the blue chip companies and large developers implementing these standards on a voluntary basis to demonstrate their strong CSR credentials, maintain their market presence, or attract suitable tenants. However, now that local authority local plans have to be aligned with the new National Planning Policy Framework, which has sustainability at its heart, the goalposts are changing.

The majority of the big developers and construction firms will be well aware of this but many of the small and medium-sized companies may be coming against BREEAM requirements through planning for the first time and have little idea of how they can gain the correct credits. Lack of BREEAM experience and unsubstantiated organisational environmental performance will also put them at a disadvantage when it comes to tendering.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states: “At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking” and that “Policies in Local Plans should follow the approach of the presumption in favour of sustainable development”.

Utilising BREEAM, as the most well established and recognised mechanism to demonstrate the sustainability of non-domestic projects in the built environment, enforced as a condition of planning is, therefore, seen as an easy way of meeting this criteria by putting the onus on the developer and other key stakeholders.

Therefore, in conjunction with existing BREEAM requirements for institutional buildings (eg higher education, health care), new public sector builds and blue chip organisations who often stipulate high BREEAM standards to be in line with their CSR strategy, the requirement to achieve BREEAM Very Good as a minimum is going to become more and more common for all non-domestic properties.

The situation in Wales and Scotland is slightly different in terms of planning legislation and supporting guidance. However, in Wales all developments built or funded by the public sector require BREEAM assessments while all Scottish further or higher education buildings require BREEAM Excellent.

As well as being at a disadvantage, developers and construction companies may also need to improve their organisational status as BREEAM Management credits are available for such aspects as being ISO14001 accredited, members of the Considerate Contractor Scheme and having appropriate procurement strategies.

In addition to appropriate credentials, construction companies are being asked to achieve a particular BREEAM status but with no increase, or minimal impact, on price, particularly in the current economic market. Being able to achieve BREEAM standards in a cost efficient manner is, therefore, becoming increasingly important.

An environmentally-friendly office can help to increase office productivity, reduce operating costs, improve employee morale and display an impressive corporate image, particularly with the importance that is placed upon the environment today.

A building with a high BREEAM rating will gain a coveted position in the commercial property market and presents even further incentives to lease that particular office space. Although only 25 per cent of UK buildings are currently BREEAM certified, it is becoming an increasingly important factor in effective office design.

In an ideal world local authorities would adopt a more consistent approach, with understandable minor local variations, but they don’t and developers need to be aware of this before it’s too late.

Many potential credits can be lost if appropriate surveys are not carried out before the diggers roll in so it’s important to maximise every opportunity, whether it’s an ecology survey or how to make the most of waste materials.

About the author

Dr Roger Griffiths is Technical Director at Delta-Simons, a company that provides regeneration, compliance and sustainability consultancy to the property and industrial sectors across the UK and around the world.

Features April 2013

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