BREEAM Communities

BREEAM Communities is an assessment method and standard that helps professionals design places that people want to live and work in, are good for the environment and are economically successful.

It helps developers, urban planners and masterplanning professionals achieve sustainable designs and plans for new communities and other large projects.

This assessment framework was originally created for use in the UK but is now being used internationally on a variety of large developments, including mixed-use communities and industrial office parks.

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BREEAM Communities, masterplanning, Integrated Planning 2014

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Wednesday, 16th July 2014

Mark Waller-Gutierrez, Eastleigh Borough Council

50 homes might merit use of BREEAM C as a framework but probably too small to expect or insist on a particular standard. Eastleigh are using a threshold of 100 homes or 10,000 sqm plus meeting the criteria for suitable schemes appropriate for BREEAM assessment set out in manual – time will tell if this is right or not. We are currently applying BC excellent requirement to one of our own schemes which is slightly below 100 dwellings – so we might derive a more developed insight on this Q soon.
Clearly BREEAM Communities is completely invisible out there so far. Ordinary people would have to be able to judge two contemporary developments side by side to judge the added value of BC ‘excellent’ say. We need more good results on the ground – which you can then badge up accordingly to spread the message.
In addition to the comments on social sustainability, access for disabled and elderly in SE15 very important to help include disadvantaged groups and counter a tendency to greater isolation, good cycle and pedestrian infrastructure gets more people out of their cars and meeting on the street, also GO 04 which encourages community engagement in managing local facilities.

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Thursday, 10th July 2014

Carol Somper, Temple Group

Temple’s corporate response to the Housing Standards Review is that BREEAM Communities has a real role to play in setting the strategic big picture because so many of the aspects covered in the review need to be addressed at the area-wide and master-plan level, e.g. orientation and sun-lighting, accessibility and water use. This is where I think LPAs can influence the built environment and how it works with natural systems. Get the master planning approach right and then decision-making about detailed design and compliance with higher building regs will finish the job. Trying to get building regs to cover too much will make them reductionist and ultimately limit the sustainability of communities.

I think BC works on small developments in principle but I think the scoring system would need to be adjusted because it would be so much harder to score credits for some important things like service provision, so for example the existing levels of service provision locally could be taken into account. This is where the old regional checklists had an edge.

Hopefully BC will become an important driver in buying a property – as it appears to be in the Netherlands, but its early days yet. We need effective post-occupancy evaluation and to share the results to establish what’s working well and what things need to be refined and enhanced. This applies to case studies both in and outside of the UK – we need to share experiences and learn from each other.

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Thursday, 10th July 2014

Andrew Waddelove, EC Harris

Firstly, as a former BREEAM Communities Manager, I think that the old scheme was overly complex. This was a consequence of where the scheme was developed from and a requirement to ensure it aligned with the technical areas of BREEAM. As such, I must say that the work the team at BRE have done in delivering an updated version that is being used and well received is great to see.

At EC Harris we are banging the drum for BREEAM Communities but there is an underlying knowledge challenge that we are consistently battling to overcome. In this sense, our Development Management and Project Management teams understand BREEAM at a building level as it is something that has been well established and, in being exacting in its requirements, they can feel comfortable in controlling. It is also tangible in that costs can be identified and improvements quantified so, not being overly critical of them, it is an area in which they feel comfortable. Also, where it is a planning or funding requirement there is a value in its delivery that they can understand.

BREEAM Communities brings in elements that are less tangible and this is where they begin to struggle to understand what the credit seeks to achieve, or that in their world of project delivery isn’t of a primary concern as it is delivered ‘somewhere else’ in the project lifecycle. It is not that they perceive BREEAM as a stumbling block, just that when you begin to look at the bigger picture there is less of an understanding of sustainability and that in the world of delivering projects something that is inherently intangible will become a struggle.

To overcome this we have to talk about planning, regulation / legislative and reputational risks. This isn’t scare-mongering but helps them see the benefits that a process like BREEAM Communities can bring. This is the language they understand and so it would be good to see more evidence of this from BRE and Planning Authorities. Any time saving that can be identified would support teams to identify the value in the process, in smoothing the process and potentially saving effort (money) in bringing projects forwards. Whether there is any additional subsequent demonstrable value in the development over equivalent sites would obviously mean it is not much of a hard sell, and so it would be fantastic to see any research in this area.

I also think that BRE need to make inroads, using BREEAM Communities, into the world of sustainable cities. There is a lot of hype around the sustainable cities agenda. Communities are the building blocks of cities, and as such a tool like BREEAM Communities to support regenerative / adaptation efforts could tie in to these opportunities and seek to rationalise some of the big data agenda to focus on the sound principles of sustainable urbanism.

I have also recently finished working with a client where the mantra was we can no longer be seen as a project business. We are an asset business. As a result delivering things on time and on budget cannot be our only benchmarks of success. We need to demonstrate whole life value across all elements of project delivery. I appreciate this mind-set is a challenge in the house building industry, but conveying this message in support of delivering BREEAM Communities projects and the areas they cover will help to ingrain a sense of delivering better quality projects.

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Thursday, 10th July 2014

Louise Cutts, Eastleigh Borough Council

It takes time for development to be delivered but already Eastleigh is seeing some newer development benefitting from a ‘good planning’ approach. As this approach is synonymous with BREEAM Communities I don’t see why it cant be used to drive choice when buying a house. I would certainly be happier living on a BC housing development than what we have seen developed in the not too distant past.

BREEAM Communities supports social sustainability as particular categories relate well to how places tick and research on what makes a place ‘good’. High scoring seems only possible if you have a mix of uses including community facilities so people have the chance to integrate through work, taking their children to school and chatting in t he school playground, attending clubs in the community centre, going to the doctors, the pub etc. Additionally sustainable transport is encouraged through the scoring mechanism which offers another area where people can meet. Allotments and community gardens encourage the same. The parking, public realm, public realm and design categories all offer points for good quality design where houses face each other and the street to allow ‘surveillance’ encouraging chatting in the street, neighbours popping in etc. There are plenty of other categories which also allow scoring for the integration of different social groups. In addition the availability for high scoring in the energy category may mean that all residents can get together either in the street, the park, on public transport, at work, in the school playground, in the doctors waiting room or the pub to talk about what hopefully will be their lower fuel bills! BC provides a method of building communities which emulate the most successful places of the past.

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Thursday, 10th July 2014

Helen Pineo, Building Research Establishment (BRE)

Just to clarify, Sheffield worked with BRE to produce a ‘bespoke’ version of the original BREEAM Communities scheme. This was a significantly altered version of the original manual which allowed Sheffield-specific planning policies to be added as requirements into the BREEAM Communities process. This is not an approach that we would take again as it increased the complexity of the assessment process and removed comparability with other places. We do have a ‘bespoke process’ for international projects which involves very light touch changes to the technical manual to ensure it can be applied in the country/region of use.

The scoring and weighting system for the new scheme is completely new. The original scheme had regional weightings across 8 of the 9 English regions. This meant that comparability was not possible. We now have a weighting system based on the principle that economic, social and environmental issues should be given equal importance, but there are still some actions that are more important than others (and are thus weighted appropriately). This weighting system is used on all projects in the UK and internationally, allowing for benchmarking and comparison with any BREEAM Communities certified project.

The costs for BREEAM assessments no longer include any fees for ‘BRE professionals’. BRE charge registration and certification costs (as with our building certifications) totalling £5,000 for BREEAM Communities assessments and do not provide any other consultancy or professional services associated with certification. Where the scheme is applied internationally, there is a fee for us to alter the manual and that is applied on a project by project basis.

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Thursday, 10th July 2014

Carol Somper, Temple Group

I agree that its suitable for any organisation to use. It is basically a form of sustainability appraisal at a site level and should logically draw on the local planning authority’s existing evidence base. The approach is ‘common sense’ and simply good planning so its really only going to be an independent guide and checklist for a good developer, their design and planning team who work well together. One the other hand, the Scheme provides real structure and guidance for developers and design teams who haven’t got to grips with sustainability. There is a concern amongst developers not familiar with BREEAM Communities that its going to add to their costs and generally makes the planning process harder for them, probably because they’re seeking to do the least possible to get planning permission. I think that this is certainly true of the volume homebuilders, so getting sites to outline planning consent with a BC certificate in place will make this type of developer raise their game. I think that it will also make life much easier for planning authorities if they've made the Scheme a requirement in planning policy.

I’ve had experience in working with two clients now, advising them on how to use the Scheme. The first was for two sites requiring an ES each and the revised 2012 Scheme manual aligned well with the EIA process of evidence development. I also found that having to meet the Scheme compliance requirements made some very competent specialists think a little bit harder and not simply re-run the type of report they produce to meet the EIA Directive requirements, i.e.. not be complacent and try to achieve net positives where possible. The first developer was very sceptical at first but was pleased that an independent evaluation and certificate from BRE validated their proposals – that was really worth something to them. The second developer is proposing a much smaller and more ‘routine/standard’ development that doesn't require an ES, so we've agreed that the ‘main document’ will be the Design & Access Statement, which will need to fully reference the individual specialist reports and use these as appendices for an easy to check audit trail of evidence. Despite having explained the approach there is still a lack of understanding amongst the team because its new, perhaps requiring a slightly different mindset? I'm finding it surprising that people are clinging to their comfort blankets and seem to not want to even consider that there may be a need to rephrase or present information in a slightly different way. My assumption is that that they've not really taken it all on board, despite the meetings, phone calls and emails. I am planning to run a ‘wash-up session’ or meeting towards the end of the evidence collation process and find out why people were apparently so reluctant to respond, even to query what they were required to provide. I think there will need to be a volume of ‘BC developments’ and PR before we reach a threshold so that there’s greater understanding of what the Scheme is all about.

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Thursday, 10th July 2014

Andy Van Vliet, Sheffield City Council

Sheffield City Council used the BREEAM Communities version 1 to manage the relationship between the Council (as the land owner) and the Sheffield Housing Company set up to develop 60 Ha of brown field land over some 20 sites in Sheffield. The SHC is made up of the Council, Keepmoat Homes a house builder, and Great Places - an RP. We completed Phase 1 (3 sites totalling just over 300 homes) all achieving ‘very good’ certificates. A lot of administration for three relatively modest sites! I acted as the SHC Design Champion as well as preparing the bespoke Manual with Nick Buck. We used the first version of the Manual which has been overhauled.
We wanted an independently verifiable quality standard that both parties could defer to and we wanted to be able to add our (land owner) quality standards. The document needed to incorporate local planning policy so as to not add too much more of a regulatory burden. Good to see the version 2 focusses more on requiring evidence that will likely be part of a planning submission.

We liked the bespoke nature of version 1 which has now been removed. Can understand the issues, but this has also reduced the value of the tool for our purpose.
We like the fact the Manual covers most aspects of sustainable development, but we felt that there was not enough use of other standards such as secured by design for example.

We found the scoring difficult and remain to be convinced that there is comparability across the country. Some credits cost more than others to deliver and are therefore less likely to be voluntarily complied with. Scale has an impact on the cost of delivery as well with a number of credits. On the other hand we chose the BREEAM model because it gave our development partner choices, their challenge was to achieve the score in the cheapest manner.

Managing the information was a key task. The administrative costs were relatively high with additional consultant time, management of evidence, BRE professional and BRE costs. All heightened on smaller schemes.

It was useful to use the Manual to brief consultants and would be an improvement on a lot of developers current practice, who in my experience, can struggle with appointing consultants effectively.

We identified quite a few credits in Manual 1 that we felt did not contribute or drive a better scheme being more descriptive in their nature and a bit ‘tick-box-esque’. The team were cynical where credits were scored for a report but no action or development impacts followed.

There are a number of tools that we developed which may be of use to others. These included a summary sheet of the evidence required, assessment trackers, action trackers, and a diagram showing the linkages between the credits and the lead consultant responsible. We found that requiring a plan of action, explaining how the developer is going to go about procuring the evidence, was useful too.

Currently there appears a relatively low commercial/ professional visibility of the standard, and a developer view that consumers are overwhelmed by standards. Interesting to hear people’s views on how BREEAM Communities sits with the current design standards consultation and inevitable cull including for example Code for Sustainable Homes.

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Thursday, 10th July 2014

Helen Pineo, Building Research Establishment (BRE)

Integration of BREEAM Communities with planning - In the training that we run for local authorities about BREEAM Communities, I have explained that ‘encouraging’ the use of this scheme is one option that planners might like to consider if requiring it is not possible. Of the certified projects that we have, about half were required and half were entirely voluntary on the part of the developer. It will be interesting to see how this changes over time. I can see the advantages to both approaches. We have also discussed with local authorities opportunities to use BREEAM Communities on council-led developments where there may be other methods of encouraging the use of the scheme rather than planning policy.

Social sustainability is one of the key sections in BREEAM Communities 2012. It’s called ‘Social and Economic Wellbeing’ and covers nearly half of the issues in the technical manual. It links into the community engagement section very heavily (called ‘Governance’) and covers a variety of issues including: economic impact, housing provision, services and amenities, design of the public realm, local vernacular, inclusive design, training and skills, etc. That isn’t an exhaustive list but it gives you an idea of the breadth. This category is very highly weighted in the scoring process and is viewed as an essential aspect of creating a sustainable community.

We have also committed to developing a Post-Occupancy Evaluation for BREEAM Communities. We held an ‘Expert Group Workshop’ in early November to explore and scope out the possibilities for this tool. The early development work has started. For example, we funded a 6-month research project looking at what we can measure at the post-occupancy stage last year. We are still in the process of narrowing the scope of this stage of BREEAM Communities and considering the best ways to develop this tool, hopefully in cooperation with others who have developed tools in this area.

We have a monitoring system in place to evaluate how the assessment system is affecting developments in terms of holistic sustainability and the design and planning process. There have only been 6 certified projects so we don’t have enough data to make meaningful claims (there is also the added complication of the old and new schemes which are very different). We have also funded a PhD student at the Bartlett to evaluate the impact of BREEAM Communities on the development process. More information on these evaluation projects will come forward in the coming months and years as we grow our understanding of the impact of this scheme.

Helen Pineo - BREEAM Communities Manager

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Monday, 6th January 2014

Peter Badger, Stride Treglown

I have previously tried to apply BC to a project which exceeded the threshold required by the local authority’s BC policy of 100 homes or 10,000 m2 floor space. The site was relatively small and densely packed and the majority was taken up by a large retail store with the dwellings in effect wrapped around the outside. Applying BREEAM Communities to this small development was challenging and, for me, it highlighted that there is possibly a need for a ‘BREEAM Communities Simple Development’ - along the same lines as BREEAM New Construction 2011 Simple Buildings. In the end, for this example, the assessment didn’t go ahead (the LPA agreed that its policy could be relaxed as an exception), but the framework was used anyway as an aid to prepare the planning application and prompt the design team to think about certain issues.

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Monday, 6th January 2014

Peter Badger, Stride Treglown

I don't think the Housing Standards Review will have an impact as BC is not purely housing focussed, unlike Code for Sustainable Homes. However, the HSR strongly indicates the government’s ‘direction of travel’ regarding the use of non-governmental standards and I would not be surprised to see an attempt before 2015 to remove the ability of LPAs to request or condition the use of standard non-domestic BREEAM schemes, including BC. Having said that, one of the aims of the HSR seems to be to split out issues to be dealt with either Building Control or Planning. While Code and standard BREEAM schemes contain elements associated with both spheres of influence, BC is more clearly related to Planning, so the government may not consider its use (or schemes like it), something they are particularly concerned about, or particularly want to ‘meddle’ with.

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Monday, 6th January 2014

Mark Waller-Gutierrez, Eastleigh Borough Council

BREEAM Communities (BC) is suitable for all organisations but there must be a natural threshold of development size below which it is not appropriate.

I was responsible for putting the BREEAM C excellent requirement for all developments over 100 homes or 10,000 sqm. For the 2 pilot schemes, we asked at outline planning application stage for the mandatory standards and the interim BC certificate and pre-assessment estimates demonstrating how the masterplans could meet ‘excellent’ standard at detailed stage. Excellent standard part of the condition. We are now using BC for one of our own sites which is around 100 homes.

BC mentioned at the earliest possible stage, usually pre-app or even before formal pre-app and developers urged to both read the document and appoint an assessor. The document can be used as a reference point during pre-app discussions and the mandatory requirements concentrate everyone’s minds on some of the early strategic level studies that are needed, including consultation plan.

Planners and DC consultees (design, sustainability, env. health, highways, drainage etc) all benefit as there is someone independently chasing and coordinating the specialist consultants who wasn't part of the picture before. Politicians also benefit as they have a new reference document which can inform them and against which they can check and assess particular elements of the development.

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Monday, 6th January 2014

Rory Bergin, HTA

Having completed one assessment in Derby, with Compendium, we are pleased to have done so. We are now embarking on a second scheme with a different client with some confidence that it welcomed by the planning community. The first version was over complex and too prescriptive and the second version learned from that and simplified the process.

We found the tool to be helpful as it creates confidence in the client and planning authority that the outcome will be sustainable development. It gave the project team a focused list of actions to carry out, and it involved the entire design team in activity related to what they were already doing, but provided a framework for their work.

Benefits are that clients should get a better service as design teams benefit from the wealth of experience that is encapsulated in the tool. Planners get better development but have to work less hard to get it. There is an issue here where local policy can contradict best practice and send design teams in circles. End users of the scheme should benefit from a more considered approach to sustainable design.

I would like to see BREEAM Communities focus on qualitative issues such as the quality of the place, a sense of scale, and rewarding good design, just because design is hard to assess doesn't mean we can't try. I would like the tool extended into post occupancy, because after all it's the result that counts.

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Monday, 6th January 2014

Louise Cutts, Eastleigh Borough Council

I think the scheme represents tangible ‘good planning’. It lets a development team see how the different aspects of planning combine to make a good scheme and reduces or even eliminates troublesome silo thinking therefore cutting my workload in half!

I have used the scheme just once in our pilot study and was originally extremely sceptical, as were the developers. BREEAM Communities seemed to cover all the things that planners do anyway and the developers assumed it was just going to cost them more. But the policy was in our emerging plan so we all, however reluctantly, had to get on board. But, as time went on, it became clear that BREEAM Communities seemed to allow the sharing of responsibility for good planning between the developer and myself more fairly and allowed everybody to talk the same language as each ‘side’ had a clear objective in terms of what we were all trying to achieve. Everybody was working to the same high standards but the developers still had flexibility in how they achieved those standards. Having a good mandatory baseline for all aspects was a fantastic platform from which to start. So much of my time is wasted getting schemes up to a decent base level, let alone trying to get anything other than mediocre!. So the scheme is brilliant for both setting clear expectations right from the beginning and as a framework for day to day discussions with each or all members of the development team. The developers were pleasantly surprised too as a result of seeing a very fast approval.

Only today I have met with consultants for another large residential led mixed use scheme (700 dwellings, primary/secondary school, employment, community facilities etc) and am already using the manual headings as an agenda for our meetings. I have met with the expected reluctance on the part of the development team but as they watch me use the document, you can see they are becoming more curious!

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Monday, 6th January 2014

Peter Badger, Stride Treglown

I found the original scheme very complicated, but I am very pleased with how it has been further developed to become simpler and more straight-forward for all to understand and use. I think perceptions of BREEAM remain a stumbling block – many people see *any* type of BREEAM assessment as adding time and cost. In this respect I see consistently hammering home the message from people who have already used BREEAM Communities, that it can both *save* time and money, as key.

For me, the key benefit is being able to demonstrate in a planning application that all the bases have been considered, making the planning application process less adversarial and smoother for both the applicant and LPA. I would very much like to see more LPAs recommending that clients use BREEAM Communities. There are still a lot of planning officers out there (present company excluded) who appear to consider BREEAM Communities as something that should be conditioned when a planning application is approved, just like a standard BREEAM assessment might be, but this is pretty much shutting the door after the horse has bolted. I would like to see more LPAs adopt BREEAM Communities policies, although I’m not sure about mandating target ratings at present – a Bristol City Council-style policy, where an assessment is mandated, but no rating included, might be best to kick start the scheme further, but only if properly enforced for appropriate projects.

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Monday, 6th January 2014

Dave Bullock, Compendium Living

We decided to follow the BREEAM Communities framework, and seek accreditation, for our project at Castleward in Derby because we believed that it offered the first rigorous, objective and auditable mechanism for implementing and demonstrating all aspects of sustainability in development. Our company is specifically dedicated to complex urban regeneration and development projects which require a broad/holistic approach to sustainability in pursuit of our strategic place-making objectives.

We found that BREEAM Communities reflected our own approach (we use a five-pronged approach, summarised under the headings of Community, Economy, Environment, Design and Legacy), and enabled us to provide independent verification of our approach to our client bodies (in this case, Derby City Council and the Homes and Communities Agency) and to the planning authority. The criteria and information requirements were detailed; we understand that these have been simplified in the October 2012 relaunch, and look forward to getting to grips with them on subsequent phases and on future projects. We do think that it is important that BREEAM Communities becomes better known and understood within the industry, although we would be very reluctant to see it become a ‘minimum requirement’ imposed by clients.

We found that the process of satisfying the various requirement standards generated improvements to various aspects of design; and more importantly, facilitated the kind of broader discussions about how a place will work within the design team, which meant that the design team was focused on achieving sustainability in its broadest sense in its development of the masterplan and on into detailed design. In the much longer term, we would like to see the measures revisited once the development has been occupied for some years to assess which criteria are seen by residents and key local stakeholders as contributing more or less to the overall success and sustainability of the place.

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