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News: Industry hails Merton Rule revision

Tue, 30 Oct 07

The BPF has welcomed moves by planning Minister Yvette Cooper to revise the Merton rule, outlined in a letter to the south London council...

The rule requires new buildings to provide a set percentage (10% rising to 20%) of their energy solely through onsite renewables – such as wind turbines or photo voltaic panels. Industry leaders insisted that being straight-jacketed into one approach would undermine the ultimate aim of cutting carbon.

However, in the letter to deputy leader Cllr Samantha George, the minister has opened the door for larger, more efficient and cost-effective off-site sources of energy to be included.

Critics of the Merton rule felt that it failed to take into account whether onsite sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels, were appropriate for all developments which may not have been particularly windy or sunny.

By removing the scope for innovation, it threatened to further complicate the planning process, adding greater cost burdens to developments and potentially reducing the supply of homes, by preventing the adoption of other innovative technologies.

Scope for innovation

In the letter, Yvette Cooper said: "Councils will be able to continue with and adopt new Merton Rules, although it is very important they are properly tested as part of the development plan documents. Clearly Merton Rules must be well-founded to ensure they are achieving their ultimate aims – of cutting carbon

"We believe they should be sufficiently flexible to allow for off site as well as on site renewable technologies and councils should also consider wider local low carbon opportunities. The emphasis should be on minimising carbon emissions and mixing the scope for innovation."

The minister also outlined some of the things that would appear in PPS22 – the new planning policy statement on climate change. They include "area specific targets for locations where higher proportions of renewable and low carbon energy are feasible and viable."

Greater flexibility

Liz Peace, chief executive of the BPF, said: "We have long championed carbon performance targets on new buildings. However, policy on energy supply has to move on and it is unrealistic to expect all developments to stick to a rule that may not be workable in their area. We are pleased therefore that the government has taken on board our recommendations on the Merton rule and listened to the advice of the industry.

No one has ever opposed the principle of a Merton rule, only the rigidity of a one size fits all approach. However, we welcome the fact that the minister has opened the door to greater flexibility, and developers will now be better able to rise to this challenge for greater innovation and to deliver greener buildings through the best method possible."

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