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Government considers scrapping BREEAM requirements for schools

The Department for Education is proposing scrapping BREEAM requirements for new schools under its £2bn priority schools programme, Construction News has learned.

Under the cancelled £55bn Building Schools for the Future programme, schools were required to meet a minimum ‘Very Good’ standard.

However delivery body Partnership for Schools has already begun to reduce BREEAM requirements under its academies programme.

The government is considering removing them altogether within weeks, as part of its drive to streamline procurement and reduce costs in the process.

The UK Green Building Council and environmental campaigners the Aldersgate Group have written a joint letter to education secretary Michael Gove and the Prime Minister as well as urging members to lobby government ministers.

Marcus Fagent, partner at EC Harris, one of three technical advisers to PfS, said: “We are already seeing PfS dripping in new standards into the academies programme. We are expecting they will lessen the impact of BREEAM and might go so far as to say ‘we don’t want it anymore’.

“However quite often local planning authorities require BREEAM so you can’t say it’s going to disappear altogether. BREEAM is worthy but with the focus on lower funding it has become more about reducing energy consumption now.”

Sebastian James’ Capital Review for the Department for Education, published last April, heavily criticised the excessive burden of regulation and guidance in procurement, including average costs of up to £3,000 for carrying out pre-assessment of BREEAM for schools.

James Review on BREEAM

BREEAM has been criticised for being very prescriptive, providing incredibly detailed guidance on matters such as cycling facilities (8 pages long) or of the ecology allowed on site (25 pages long).

BREEAM has been revised for 2011 to consolidate criteria and reduce the bureaucracy, detail, and complexity required, which represents a good start.

The transport criteria - including cycling facilities - have been consolidated, and a number of compliance notes have been removed. However there are still too many detailed areas with which schools must comply in order to reach the required standard.

Whilst the current move to simplify BREEAM should be welcomed, it could go further, and the expectation that it should be used at all times does not allow for Local Authorities to best determine the tools that they should use to ensure sustainable buildings

Recommendation: That the Department revises its school premises regulations and guidance to remove unnecessary burdens and ensure that a single, clear set of regulations apply to all schools. The Department should also seek to further reduce the bureaucracy and prescription surrounding BREEAM assessments.”

The DfE is also looking at reducing acoustic and thermal performance requirements as part of new procurement guidance for local authorities.

In his letter to Mr Gove and other cabinet ministers (see attached), UKGBC chief executive Paul King said: “This is deeply concerning, with implications not just for the quality of the nation’s schools, but for the productivity of the construction and property sector more widely.

“BREEAM is well understood and widely recognised by the construction industry. Removing it would introduce enormous complexity for non-expert construction clients, arguably increasing bureaucracy and thereby causing delay in the design process and driving up costs.”

Willmott Dixon, Bam Construction, Laing O’Rourke, Interserve and Wates are among the contractors to create standardised school solutions in response to concerns over school costs and procurement.

Rob Lambe, managing director of Willmott Dixon’s Re-Thinking and Energy Services division, said: “We don’t think this is a positive move to take. BREEAM is not ideal, it’s not perfect, but it is the best assessment available at the moment and is a driver of a lot of the right outcomes.

“We have seen a general dilution of support for BREEAM but I think there is a perception that there is a cost burden associated with going from ‘Very Good’ to ‘Excellent’ to ‘Outstanding’. But in terms of driving the government’s agenda of best practice in procurement I think this sends a bad signal.

“There is an administrative burden but you need to have some comparison from one scheme to another. With standardisation the level in construction is still low and limited and schools are not just about standard solutions as you have to go through a process of assessing location for example, transport links and biodiversity, all of which are site specific.”

Contractors are still waiting for full details of the £2 billion Priority Schools Building Programme, due to start procurement in the spring. The government was due to announce this month which projects will get funding however the decision has now been delayed until February.

Interserve director Ian Renhard told CN: “We want to move away from slavishly following target ratings and spending a lot of money to achieve that with no long-term benefit to the project but location is an important factor.

“But whether you say BREEAM has taken us this far and go back [to not demanding BREEAM] I’m not sure that is right as it is a good accreditation and benchmarking scheme.”

BRE Global has held ongoing discussions with the department about ‘simplifying and de-cluttering the BREEAM scheme’ under new streamlining proposals and have stated that scrapping the scheme could have negative consequences such as schools adopting poor-quality ‘green’ solutions.

UKGBC chief executive Paul King:

The James’ Review of Educational Capital questions what it perceives as the prescriptive nature of BREEAM and recommends reducing bureaucracy around assessments. Clearly, there are improvements that could be made, but we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The assessment methodology is constantly being updated and BRE Global (the operators of BREEAM) has worked with other departments on ensuring a flexible system that is fit for purpose. We see no reason why this path could not be taken with DfE.

In July 2010, Faithful&Gould published an assessment of the costs of achieving various levels of BREEAM compliance in new build schools, which estimated a 3 per cent additional cost for achieving BREEAM ‘Very Good’ compliance.

The report found that “in some circumstances the exponentially increasing costs of achieving the additional credits for an ‘Excellent’ rating can detract significantly from the project’s affordability”.

BREEAM assessment uses recognised measures of performance, which are set against established benchmarks, to evaluate a building’s specification, design, construction and use.

The measures used represent a broad range of categories and criteria from energy to ecology. They include aspects related to energy and water use, the internal environment (health and well-being), pollution, transport, materials, waste, ecology and management processes.

However, director Sean Lockie (who has written a piece for CN outlining the cost of BREEAM to schools) said contractors and designers have become very astute at being able to focus their efforts on getting BREEAM compliant scores.

BREEAM becomes a problem [in terms of cost] if it is used far too late as a tick-box, hassle exercise rather than a design tool and there is also a cost difference  between a poorly located or rural school which has to fight harder for credits in transport for example.

“If the school is not located near adequate transport links for example, those credits have to be found through solar panels or insulation for example and the bigger contractors are able to buy at bulk to achieve a good price.”

Speaking at a UKGBC learning legacy event on the Olympic Velodrome last week, former ODA head of sustainability and regeneration Dan Epstein said the assessment was “not the right tool to drive innovation” but was a ‘useful industry tool’ because it is externally assessed.

Former PfS regional operations director Mike Coleman is overseeing the £2bn Priority School Building Programme after academies framework chief Colin Howell left this month.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We are currently considering the outstanding recommendations in the capital review, including the recommendation on BREEAM. We will respond shortly.”

Speaking at a UKGBC learning legacy event on the Olympic Velodrome last week, former ODA head of Sustainability and regeneration Dan Epstein said the assessment was “not the right tool to drive innovation” despite being a ‘useful industry tool’ as it is externally assessed.

He added: “Other [Olympic] buildings achieved BREEAM Excellent ratings far easier [than the Velodrome] but that is the problem with introducing one system for all buildings.

“[Assessments like] Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM are essential but they are there for the lowest common denominator. On a standard project today you don’t need it when you have good designers and a good project team. If you took them away however there would be a tendency towards lowering standards.”


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