All new housing in Scotland will soon be required to meet the Passive House standard or a Scottish equivalent. The Scottish Government has said that it will begin developing the design standard in 2023 and formally implement it the following year.
This tectonic shift in housing regulations is based on the Domestic Building Environmental Standards (Scotland) Bill, a draft version of which was first introduced in Scottish Parliament in May of 2022 by Alex Rowley, Labour Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Mid Scotland and Fife. The final proposal of Rowley’s bill was lodged November 16, 2022. Rather than undergo the often lengthy and arduous process of pushing a bill through Parliament, the Scottish Government has opted to circumvent the legislative branch and will instead use what is known as secondary legislation to more quickly create new regulations based on Rowley’s initial bill.
“We have the knowledge and technology to build houses fit for the future, with occupant comfortability as a priority at a fraction of the heating costs of a standard build house now—it simply seems obvious to me that we should be doing this,” Rowley said after receiving word that the Scottish Government will make secondary legislation based on the bill he championed. “This will help futureproof housing stock, save people money, and tackle our climate emergency—a very welcome move! It is time to ensure we are building to the highest energy-efficiency standards possible and that those standards are verified during the building process so that residents can be assured of the quality of their homes.”
In a letter addressed to Rowley confirming that the Scottish Government will create legislation that preserves the spirit of the MSP’s proposal, net zero minister Patrick Harvie praised Rowley’s work raising awareness about the benefits of Passive House design. Moreover, he noted that while Passive House principles will play a role in the Scottish Government’s efforts to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, standardization will “increase assurance to households that the design and construction of these buildings will deliver the performance sought in practice.”
Rowley’s bill was drafted, in part, as a response to the recommendations of the Scottish Climate Assembly. The assembly consisted of 106 members who were selected to accurately represent the population of Scotland. They met between November 2020 and March 2021 and were asked to answer the question: How should Scotland change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way? The assembly heard expert advice, deliberated, and ultimately produced a set of more than 80 recommendations that were published in a June 2021 report. While several recommendations concerned amendments to building regulations, one of the most popular proposals was to require all new housing be built to Passive House standards or a Scottish equivalent. Ninety-seven percent of assembly members approved the recommendation.
Such strong support for climate action is not unusual in Scotland. A survey conducted in fall 2021 involving more than 2,200 people found that 82% said that climate change is a global emergency. Moreover, a majority (58%) said that Government has “the main responsibility” to tackle climate change.
In addition to helping Scotland reduce emissions and assure Scottish homeowners that their buildings will perform as they should, the policy also represents a long-term solution to the rise in utility costs in Scotland.
This is a problem that is affecting the entire United Kingdom.
Skyrocketing gas and oil prices helped push annual inflation rates to over 9 percent in the UK for the last eight months (April through November), and there is no indication that a reprieve will come anytime soon. Similarly, the rise in fuel prices has led to a notable increase in the number of people experiencing fuel poverty—when a household spends at least 10 percent of their income on energy bills. National Energy Action, a fuel poverty charity based in the UK, estimates that 6.7 million households are experiencing fuel poverty—an increase of 2.2 million from 2021. If this figure is correct, it would mean that more than one in five British households are currently enduring fuel poverty.
While these figures are appalling, modeling done by the fuel poverty campaigners Energy Action Scotland estimated that an average of 38% of households across Scotland in the spring of 2022 were unable to heat their homes adequately. In the Western Isles, the figure was over 50%.
By working to accelerate the implementation of Rowley’s bill, the Scottish Government has shown that it recognizes its responsibility regarding the climate crisis and that its goal of reaching net-zero will require significant changes to the built environment. Moreover, its actions highlight how policies to mitigate the effects of climate change can lead to tangible benefits like better housing and more manageable utility bills for working class households.
Hopefully the rest of the UK, and the world, will take notice.