Fewer than 1pc of our buildings will meet EU climate targets
Fewer than 1pc of commercial and public buildings will meet tough EU targets to reduce energy consumption and help tackle climate change.
The Department of the Environment has failed to update regulations to force developers to built more efficient buildings, despite a review supposed to have been completed early last year.
It means that commercial buildings can use more than four times as much energy than allowed under stringent EU rules due to come into force by 2018 for public buildings, and in 2020 for all other non-domestic properties.
Emissions from the building sector account for almost 40pc of our national total, and failure to introduced higher standards will hamper efforts to tackle climate change.
While buildings regulations for new homes are sufficient, a 'gap analysis' produced by the Department of the Environment shows how far the commercial sector is lagging behind.
It was produced for the European Commission to measure progress on meeting higher standards.
For example it shows that to meet the EU rules, a retail building with air conditioning should use no more than 239 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per square metre over the course of a year - but the current regulations allow for up to 726.
For office buildings using natural ventilation, a limit of 52 kWh applies, but the regulations allow for 247. The limit for offices with air conditioning is 102 kWH, but 366 kWH is allowed. For a hotel, the current regulations allow for 507 kWH, but the EU standards are 284 kWH.
The lower standards are significant as the construction sector increases output following the downturn.
Some 200,000 square metres of commercial development has been approved since January last year, and there are no official statistics available on whether only basic standards are being met.
Currently, just 265 out of more than 34,000 certified buildings hold an 'A' rating. Another 4,849 hold a 'B' Building Energy Rating (BER).
Industry sources suggest that only in cases where the developer occupies or owns the building after construction is completed, were higher standards applied.
Regulations for the domestic sector have been changed three times since 2005, resulting in a 60pc improvement in energy standards.
But unlike the residential sector, there is no requirement for renewable energy in commercial buildings, despite clear benefits, with one source saying that updated regulations were long overdue.
The analysis, sent to the European Commission in 2013, said the regulations were undergoing a review process to be completed in "early 2014".
It is understood that a public consultation on new standards will begin soon, with a view to producing new regulations by the end of 2016.
"Our minimum standards are not a bad standard, but they are not where we need to be," a department source admitted.
"There is much more rigorous accountability on designers, owners and builders in terms of lodging compliance documentation. We will be ramping up the inspectorate capability."