Wednesday, 03 September 2014

'Greenest government ever' under threat

Sustainability figures have questioned the coalition’s claim to be the ‘greenest government ever’ after the Budget scaled back policies on zero carbon homes and retrofit.

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The Budget’s growth document says zero carbon homes will be delivered on a ‘practical basis from 2016, with significantly reduced costs to industry, compared to previous proposals’.

The zero carbon homes definition will include much lower requirements on ‘allowable solutions’, which are agreements where developers pay a set sum of money to make up for any carbon emissions they cannot mitigate on-site.

Developers will be expected to pay for local low-carbon infrastructure or retrofit projects, but the costs will be much lower than previously recommended.

Sources had indicated before the budget announcement that this requirement was being dropped entirely, but the Communities and Local Government department insisted that allowable solutions would be retained, albeit in a less costly form.

The U-turn also means housebuilders will also only need to account for emissions covered by building regulations rather than appliances within the home. This will mean the amount of emissions addressed by allowable solutions will in turn be lower.

All new homes are expected to meet zero carbon standards from 2016. The Zero Carbon Hub has been consulting on the final definition of zero carbon, and published its findings on addressing fabric energy efficiency and renewable energy sources last month. The growth document said the government would use the hub’s recommendations ‘as the starting point for future consultation’.

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: ‘In the space of two weeks, this government has gone from a firm commitment on zero carbon homes, to watered down policy. A zero carbon home will no longer do what it says on the tin.

‘The world-leading commitment that new homes would not add to the carbon footprint of our housing stock from 2016 has been scrapped despite a remarkable consensus between industry and NGOs in support of it.’

Darren Shirley, campaign manager for sustainable homes at WWF, said: ‘Tucked away in today’s budget is a totally unacceptable announcement that fully reneges on [the government’s promises].

‘The government has undermined a unique example of the UK leading with a unique policy in Europe. Zero carbon new homes are now nothing of the sort.’

John Slaughter at Home Builders Federation said: ‘HBF welcomes the move to set a realistic objective that is within the gift of housebuilders to actually deliver. It is critical that if we are to build the homes the country desperately needs we reduce the overall regulatory burden on house building sites.

‘Not to do so will mean many sites remain unviable. The industry remains committed to playing its full part in reducing emissions where it is best placed to do so.’

A spokesman for the Communities and Local Government department said: ‘The new approach is a practical and realistic solution to achieve a 100 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from new homes, without piling unfair costs on housebuilders.

‘Carbon savings will be made through increasing the energy efficiency of new homes, and also beyond the bricks and mortar – by building homes both with renewable energy technologies on site, such as solar power, and through off-site measures such as a local tariff. All new homes started after 2016 will be built to this standard, so housebuilders can now start working towards this date.’

Readers' comments (5)

  • "We have a responsibility to protect the rights of generations, of all species, that cannot speak for themselves today. The global challenge of climate change requires that we ask no less of our leaders, or ourselves.” -Prof Wangari Maathai

    unless of course it piles 'unfair' costs onto housebuilders!

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  • The ruling elite has always been fond of citing the 'future unborn' as a reason why it must deny rights to the living and can shy away from addressing their material needs. Who knows, many citizens of the future may not thank today's middle classes for its virulent opposition to house building . In view of the scale of the housing crisis the pragmatism from this Government is welcome. Hosuebuilders will still be building to world beating environmental standards.

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  • In reply, I wish you luck in gaining planning approval through Community Referendums for your world beating housing proposals.
    Becoming much used now, but we may become a BANANA Republic:
    'Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody'.
    I cannot criticise the construction industry for wishing for a level playing field (as indeed I am part of it), however nothing I have seen today convinces me that things will improve in the long term, though no doubt many short term and profitable gains will be made by a few.

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  • Melvin Bone

    Green intentions always go by the wayside when the economy turns sour.

    Besides that the future generations can't vote.

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  • Starting with a "zero" target (as CLG did in 2006) and giving industry 10 years to find a way of reaching this for mass housebuilding was always a dumb way to design a building. PassivHaus takes the opposite approach by starting with the actual engineering, and then seeing what targets are achievable en masse as technology and techniques are improved......and we now have over 15,000 Passivhaus examples in Europe that are genuinely low-carbon (not just low-carbon as modelled).

    So the year-on-year watering down of "zero" is completely inevitable - if the engineering doesn't reach the target, then the target has to reach the engineering. But the above spokesperson for CLG in the above article is absolutely shameless (or completely ignorant). The sentence can be translated as "we've changed 100% to about 70% and as a result this will be cheaper to reach". Well....yeah.

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