HOLYROOD ministers are coming under fierce criticism from the energy conservation sector for backtracking on a commitment to higher standards for new buildings.

Industry leaders claim the Government's decision to delay implementing tough new measures and watering down some requirements will have a "severe and damaging" affect on businesses.

They believe it will also lead to job losses and cause financial hardship for firms that were expecting trade once the new rules came into force.

In 2007 the government appointed an expert panel under Lynne Sullivan that produced a report, A Low Carbon Building Standards Strategy for Scotland, the findings of which were endorsed by ministers.

The aim was to require new buildings in Scotland to approach Scandinavian standards of insulation and efficiency to tackle both fuel poverty and carbon emissions. It would have meant buildings using renewable energy and solar thermal systems for heat and fuel sources.

The report was described as a road map for zero-carbon building.

But the panel is now being reconvened due to the economic climate, with the possibility of amendments being made.

Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, has written to Finance Secretary John Swinney and Local Government and Planning Minister Derek Mackay, expressing his concerns.

He said: "You have already announced your intention that the 2013 changes to Section 6 (Energy) of building regulations be delayed until 2014 and watered down from the road map set out in the 2007 Sullivan report, and previously accepted by your Government.

"Now the Sullivan panel is re-convening, with the impression being given that their remit is to further delay and water down the 2016 changes.

"If this occurs, the effect on this industry will be severe and damaging, as those who know – the leaders of major companies concerned with this market – testify.

"I urge you to implement the original recommendations from the Sullivan report urgently."

David Robson of insulation systems designer Instagroup said: "Any decision to delay or weaken the Section 6 changes will further damage a fragile industry and result in further job losses."

Superglass Insulation chief executive Alex McLeod said implementing the changes was "critical to investor confidence".

He added: "Superglass PLC raised substantial investment capital in 2011. Critical to continued investment is confidence in the regulatory framework, which is a significant driver of growth in energy-efficiency products and service. Any delay in the implementation of Section 6 will have a huge impact on our future investment plans."

Jayne Law of Dow Building Solutions spoke of a "potential blow to the economy" if the proposals are watered down, while Eamon McDonnell of glass wool manufacturer Saint-Gobain Isover said future investments would be hit, adding: "It will also deter innovation in the housing sector and leave new house owners saddled with unnecessarily expensive running costs for their homes."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Scotland is demonstrating global leadership in cutting emission and creating a sustainable, low-carbon economy. We also recognise the current economic pressures on the construction industry and are doing all we can to stimulate growth.

"We are listening to the sector and that's why we have reconvened the Sullivan panel to provide us with a clearer view of the energy-efficiency improvements that can be achieved through building standards."

Any decision to delay or weaken the changes will further damage a fragile industry and result in further job losses