Climate Change and the Scottish Built Environment


Climate Change and the Scottish Built Environment

The Scottish Government's legislative programme includes the Climate Change Bill, which includes a target to reduce CO2 emissions by 2050 by 80%. There are many ways to achieve this target and debate includes forms of energy generation (perhaps more nuclear), carbon capture, and the future of aviation. Law and policies in relation to the built environment provide an interesting example of the approaches being taken towards climate change, and the difficulties faced.

  • Climate Challenge Fund - £18.8m for new initiatives. There are also other forms of financial assistance available.
  • Energy performance standards - imposed on new buildings by the Scottish Buildings Standards and Building Regulations. These involve an holistic approach to insulation, boiler efficiency and the like.
  • Energy performance certificates - required when buildings are sold. White goods such as fridges have energy ratings, now our buildings will have the same. The hope is that this will create a market for better performing buildings, and in turn encourage investment to upgrade the energy efficiency of properties.
  • SPP6/ PAN84 - seeks new buildings to include low and zero carbon equipment contributing at least an extra 15% reduction beyond the Building Regulations standard. Examples of this equipment include biomass, micro-wind, solar power and ground source heat pumps.


Inevitably there are weaknesses:

  • focus on new, not existing buildings - ironically, as new buildings have to comply with the energy performance standards, those buildings use less energy, so it is harder to achieve the SPP6/ PAN84 requirements.
  • obstacles within the system - householders have sought planning permission for small wind turbines only to be asked to provide noise surveys which would cost more than the turbine.

The Scottish Government intend to extend permitted development rights for microgeneration, but it remains to be seen how much development will then avoid the need for planning applications. Another notorious problem are the restrictions on works to listed buildings.

  • interpretation and application of controls is not always straightforward, and there are inconsistencies between the different laws and policies
  • technical expertise - Do local authority planning officers have sufficient technical expertise?
  • maintaining standards - How do we ensure that the measures are maintained throughout the life of the building?


It has been mooted that there is a consumer tipping point, where enough momentum has been created to be self-sustaining without legal and policy intervention.

The classic carrot and stick approach is being applied to the built environment: the energy performance standards and SPP6/ PAN84 policies are the stick to force developers to improve energy performance of new buildings; at the same time there are carrots to encourage changes in consumer behaviour, either by providing financial assistance, or increasing the information available to enable informed choices to be made.

The current economic situation may slow progress.

Improvements to energy performance often add to build costs and in the current property market developers have less scope to recover increased costs from buyers.

The public sector has a dual role here. It is the regulator, through planning and building control regimes. It is also a consumer itself and can set an example by its approach to energy efficiency measures within new and existing buildings.

The planning system is being used (yet again) to achieve wider policy objectives. Although SPP6 and PAN84 are policy statements and not legal requirements, it is clear that the Scottish Government intend them to be applied rigorously.

However, some flexibility might be required in the current economic climate to avoid developments becoming unviable.

At the moment sites come forward and appropriate carbon reduction measures are bolted on. This can cause design headaches, particularly for high density developments. Will this evolve into carbon reduction factors becoming key determinants in the site selection process?

Further reading

SPP6 - click here

PAN84, including a useful reading list - click here