Failure to act is locking in higher energy bills for NI households and higher levels of emissions
The Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA) has today expressed its serious concern that continued inaction by the Department for Finance is going to result in households across Northern Ireland being locked into higher energy bills and excessive carbon emissions.
Current energy performance requirements of buildings in Northern Ireland are the least demanding across all regions of the UK and Ireland. They have been described in an official UK Government report as “poorer than the cost optimal level”. However a law, in place since 2014, states that from the start of 2021 all new buildings erected in Northern Ireland must be nearly zero-energy buildings. Despite this deadline having been in place for 6 years, the Department for Finance which is responsible for local building regulations, has not yet produced a technical booklet on how this requirement should be met.
The 2021 nearly zero-energy (NZEB) building law is understood to mean that any buildings completed after 2020 should achieve the standard irrespective of when they were started.
RSUA wrote to the Finance Minister in June 2020 calling for urgent action to address this issue. The Acting Head of Building Standards responded on the Minister’s behalf. He stated that the Department is “continuing to seek a common understanding on the matter between the UK government and the devolved administrations, in an effort to progress developments jointly”. RSUA was assured that “work on resolving the matter is being prioritised”. However, since then there has been no further update.
Ciarán Fox, Director of RSUA, said,
“Time is running out. The Department has had six years to get these necessary technical documents in place and yet here we are with just over two months until implementation and there isn’t even a draft. The desire for a common understanding across the UK is all well and good but the fact is that England, Scotland and Wales already have higher energy performance standards in place. It’s not acceptable for Northern Ireland to just wait for the next move in England.”
“There is growing disparity in the energy performance of buildings in the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is surging ahead with well-established NZEB regulations and technical guidance coupled with over €221 million funding announced for residential and community retrofit schemes in the 2021 budget.”
RSUA understands that for a typical new family house in Northern Ireland the new law could require a 75% reduction in its net energy consumption compared to the same house being designed to meet the current regulations.
“Buildings account for a high proportion of energy use and emissions in Northern Ireland. There is a pressing need for the energy performance of both new and existing buildings to be radically improved to lower fuel bills and reduce our contribution to climate change. Architects and builders have been left in the dark by the Government. In this vacuum, buildings are being designed today in line with the existing regulations and technical guidance which require a much lower energy performance. These new buildings will need retrofitted in the coming years.”