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How will BREEAM be used in Bristol; planning and beyond

Bristol City Council’s ‘Bristol Local Plan Review Draft Policies and Development Allocations’ document is proposing the mandatory incorporation of BREEAM requirements. Draft Policy CCS1 will require the following for major development:

  • For major non-residential development, a BREEAM assessment will be required. A BREEAM “Excellent” rating will be expected.

It also states that for masterplans; mixed use schemes with > 200 dwellings a BREEAM Communities “Excellent” rating will be expected. What does this mean for the way buildings will be designed in Bristol, and how they will be procured and constructed, and what will it achieve?

BREEAM was launched in 1990 and has now become the industry norm to demonstrate sustainability credentials in the UK; with over half a million buildings which have been assessed and certified under the rating system. Increasingly, local authorities are requiring a minimum BREEAM rating of ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’.

Using BREEAM requires consideration from RIBA Stage 2; the intention is to embed sustainability requirements from planning throughout design and construction, in effect ‘holding to account’ the project team as a BREEAM certificate must be delivered at practical completion. The rationale for planners conditioning BREEAM is sound; it provides a benchmarking tool against targets and allows comparisons between buildings to be made regardless of locations and use class. Crucially, it gives confidence to non-technical experts within a Council planning department that there is a robust assessment system in place, that is third party verified by the BRE.

As well as a planning tool, engagement at RIBA Stage 2 is also essential for the developer. If BREEAM becomes an ‘add-on’ measure later on in the programme, it becomes costly and inefficient because many credits can’t be achieved after early design stages because of BREEAM rules or a frozen design. Naturally, this means the potential for picking the cost-effective or complimentary credits is lost and the project team then need to work harder to pick up the smaller pool of available credits.

How BREEAM will practically address BCC’s aspirations

One of BREEAM’s core strengths is its integrated, holistic approach to sustainability. This works for local authorities as they need to ensure that development demonstrate sustainability goals in a wide-range of themes; Energy, Water, Ecology, Health and Wellbeing etc. BREEAM can mitigate the need for isolated multiple reports that need to be verified by the local authority and aggregate them via the BREEAM assessment process, which should result in some holistic thinking within project teams.

For example a typical BREEAM strategy to target ‘Excellent’ would comprise the following:

  • A substantial CO2 reduction; 25%+ improvement over Part L and the inclusion of renewable technologies.
  • Incorporation of SuDS design, such as including green roof and permeable paving.
  • The introduction of biodiverse species and additional planting.
  • A Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) to close the performance gap after occupation.
  • A lifecycle assessment (LCA) of the proposed materials to determine the embodied carbon and broader environmental impact of the scheme over 60 years.

These are ‘goods’ that would not practically be able to be picked up individually and conditioned as part of the planning conditions. Furthermore, these are not items that would be considered or be incorporated to such an extent in a business as usual development.

Benefits beyond planning

BREEAM self-evidently makes embedding sustainability easier and more effective for the planners, however, there are many economic, environmental and social benefits that accrue to the end user and building owner. The 2016 report ‘Assessing carbon emissions in BREEAM’ demonstrated that the average CO2 saving for a BREEAM assessed building is 22%, whilst a BREEAM Excellent building is expected to reduce carbon emissions by 33%. Typically, lower carbon means lower energy consumption and lower costs when in use. Other benefits include improved occupant satisfaction because of better quality daylight, improved thermal comfort and air quality. Moreover, there are clear benefits to the developer, even for speculative builds; greater marketability, increased rental or sale value and a more favourable industry standing.

In essence, BREEAM can function as a ‘quality hallmark’ for a development, and should prove to be a worthwhile investment if implemented properly and in good time within the programme. The existing Bristol Core Strategy does reference BREEAM; it states that it ‘should’ be included and ‘will be expected’ on all major developments. This policy wording can be open to interpretation. The new Local Plan states that BREEAM will be required and is far more definitive. Policy CCS1 will raise the bar across the built environment within Bristol and will place it on a level footing with other UK cities, a welcome step forward.

As accredited Bristol BREEAM consultants, we offer a portfolio of sustainability services in the built environment. If you would like to discuss BREEAM requirements for any development please contact info@nulleightassociates.co.uk.

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