Garden centres and nurseries planning extensions or rebuilds have to develop an on-site renewable energy source that provides at least 10 per cent of the building's energy needs.
The new requirements are part of planning regulations being introduced gradually into council strategic plans and are designed to help meet the Government's move towards creating more energy-efficient buildings. Among the measures being introduced are Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) which, from 6 April, will provide energy ratings for buildings being built, let or sold.
A Department of Communities & Local Government guide, Improving the Energy Efficiency of our Buildings, released in January, provides details on how changes might be implemented.
Malcolm Scott Consultants architectural director Simon Kirton said: "There is going to be a wholesale change in the way energy is reviewed. This, combined with amendments to building rules, will see significant changes in the way buildings are planned and constructed."
The impact on the horticulture industry is that anyone planning to sell, lease or construct a building not used as a dwelling will have to get an EPC, while those planning or redeveloping a building will have to consider generating energy on site by installing a geothermal, solar, wind or water power system.
Non-dwellings are responsible for almost 20 per cent of the UK's energy consumption and carbon emissions, and the EPCs are designed to help buyers or tenants consider energy efficiency when buying or leasing property.
The EPC will provide an energy rating based on the performance potential of the building and its services - heating, ventilation and lighting. It will also contain recommendations on how to improve its energy performance.
Kirton said the "Merton Rule", so-called because it was developed in the London Borough of Merton, was gradually being built into local authority planning policies as they were updated. "The rule is all about trying to deliver at least 10 per cent of the energy (requirements) of new buildings or extended buildings from renewable sources."
Renewable energy can be derived from a number of sources - wind, water, ground, sun - anything that doesn't draw electricity or power from the National Grid, he said. And while garden centre and nursery operators would face bigger construction bills, they could also provide an opportunity to showcase their green credentials.
"There are many spin-offs to this legislation that garden centres can take advantage of - whether it's the introduction of green retailing policies or sustainable awareness in their garden centres for customers."
But Kirton said it was not yet clear how the EPCs were going to be linked to current legislation. "It's the building regulation side of things that is going to be the frontline of this legislation. And it's the way this will be tied in with the planning rules that will be interesting."
Director Paul Pleydell of Pleydell Smithyman, which designs garden centres, said it was already developing a system with one operator because a planning condition required 10 per cent on-site renewable energy.
"We're putting in a geothermal ground source heat pump system for under-floor heating in the new extension we're doing."
He said the requirement was for 10 per cent at present but that there was a move towards 20 per cent.
Some councils had changed their planning policy because they had updated their Local Development Framework, but other local authorities would do so as they were required.
"So we do have to understand what it means and how it can be achieved. That's looking at various sources of energy depending on the nature and viability of the site - whether it's wind, geothermal or solar."
He added: "People need to decide whether they do it because: they're told to; because they have an environmental conscience as a business; or because it will be cheaper with energy costs going up. There are three drivers there - one moral, one financial and one external. The downside is that Great Britain plc has to find a way of properly funding these types of initiatives. It's still expensive to do."
Pleydell believes there will be increased focus on generation, management and conservation of energy in buildings. "It does become a bit silly if you're not dealing with energy efficiency within the building and how you control the heat you use, yet you're generating your own."
Ironically, while the desire to have onsite generation is increasing, and more councils add it to planning requirements, there is no standard on how it is done. Kent-based Cooling Nurseries has been seeking planning permission for a £1m redevelopment of its Outdoor Inspiration store for almost three years. A wind turbine was proposed on the site but planners rejected it over concerns about its impact on green belt land. A ground-source heat pump will instead provide warmth for the building.
Energy performance certificates: the facts
What is an EPC?
It's a rating system designed to make potential buyers or tenants aware of a building's energy performance. The better the rating, the more energy-efficient the building is and the lower the fuel bills should be.
Why do I need one?
So potential buyers or tenants can consider energy efficiency as part of their investment or business decision to buy or occupy a building.
When are they being introduced?
Depending on the size of the building, they will be phased in from 6 April. By October, all non-dwelling buildings being built, sold or let will need them.
Who is responsible for getting one?
If you are building a new garden centre or nursery it is the builder's responsibility. If the building is being sold or let, the seller or landlord is responsible.
How do I get one?
A list of assessors will be drawn up.
What happens if I don't get one?
Building Control will not issue a certificate of completion until they are satisfied this has been done. A penalty charge notice could be issued if you fail to get one.
How long is it valid for?
Ten years or until replaced with a newer one.