Sunday, 30 August 2015

'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.’

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