Breeam Communities is a standard that helps developers, local authorities and design teams improve, measure and certify the sustainability of developments at the neighbourhood scale and beyond. It covers economic, social and environmental sustainability – assessing issues like housing provision, transport networks, community facilities, and economic impact. Simon Purcell explains what it means for FMs.
In March 2012, The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) replaced over 1,000 pages of national planning policy with around 50, a spectacular simplification of the planning system we have known for so long. The underlying principle is this widely-bandied term ‘sustainable development’ which at the time, left many furrowed brows. The NPPF says that sustainable means ensuring that better lives for ourselves doesn’t mean worse lives for future generations, ‘change for the better’.
Since the NPPF was published almost two years ago the industry has adopted the sustainable development approach wholeheartedly despite it still sometimes being ambiguous in its actuality. The planning system requires developers to demonstrate that they have built in measures to ensure their plans are sustainable. But, without a framework of standardisation, all is not equal from local authority to local authority. There has long been a feeling that development can be ad hoc at best.
This is where Breeam Communities comes in. Breeam Communities is a standard that helps developers, local authorities and design teams improve, measure and certify the sustainability of developments at the neighbourhood scale and beyond. It enables a holistic sustainable approach right from pre-planning, that is independently verified. It means that from day one when you’ve just got a green field, there is a framework within which you can plan the future community with standardised criteria for sustainability. It also means that the sustainability measures are enshrined in the planning process and can’t be dropped further down the line.
These criteria include transport, energy, water, flood risk, geotechnical, economics and ecology. Like Breeam for buildings, it designates points according to what criteria you meet. Appointing an ecologist might give you a point, providing a landscape strategy that takes into account transport access and flood risk for the next 25 years might give you some more. For facilities managers this means that they will have modern sustainable energy efficient buildings to operate in the future.
Ultimately the framework doesn’t require developers to do anything differently in their planning applications but it does mean that you’ve got that sustainability box firmly ticked when you go into the planning process. The benefit then to developers is that it gives them some protection. The independent audit is a powerful tool in demonstrating the virtues of the application and it reduces the risk of going to inquiry if you have this stamp of approval. This is a major plus for the developer, potentially saving them significant time and money. Of course, as with anything there are costs involved upfront, but the theory is that they would be recovered well and truly through the smoothing over of the planning process.
However it is just a theory currently because in practice there are too few examples of it working successfully. Not to say that there are many of it being unsuccessful just that it’s early days so there is little data to base any presumptions on. There are a few stand out cases, for example that of Media City in Manchester – Peel Holding used Breeam Communities to get this project through the hoops and sings its praises.
So we need more instances of it being used to back up the theory and give confidence to the industry to use it. If local authorities incorporated it in their Local Development Frameworks (LDF) any major development in that region would need to comply, and then we would begin to see real evidence of the benefits in practice. Currently the only LA I am aware of having done this is Eastleigh.
But there is definitely a shift towards it with other LAs considering adopting the framework. One of the major pros of this scheme is that it is truly a living document, adapting with the industry as the environment we operate in changes. It began as 500 pages and is now down to 150, reflecting the need to simplicity and flexibility. We need to be able to adapt to the local needs and policies so a prescriptive approach just won’t work.
Ultimately Breeam Communities has got merit but it needs industry buy-in to really take it forward. The Building Research Establishment (BRE) is doing its best to get it out in front of the right people but more needs to be done.