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The good, the bad, and the broken promise

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The government made an announcement today on zero carbon: but it wasn’t the one we expected.

Every week for the past two months, I’ve called the Communities and Local Government department to find out when the definition of zero carbon might be published. I was acting on a promise: at the end of May, housing minister Grant Shapps announced he would ‘nail’ the definition of zero carbon ‘within weeks’.

He told Inside Housing that he wanted to press ahead with publishing the standards which all new homes must meet from 2016, and that the industry had waited for too long. We were promised that we would get it before the parliamentary recess, which starts today.

But each week when I spoke to the press office, I was told that there was ‘no date’ for the definition yet, and even yesterday, officials said they couldn’t tell me when the publication might be.

Mr Shapps himself told me only a few weeks ago that he thought the industry wanted more time on pinning the definition down, so it wasn’t a huge surprise when today’s announcement about moving closer to zero carbon failed to actually define what zero carbon is.

Whispers in the corridors of Whitehall that have reached Inside Housing suggest that the definition’s publication will be closer to November, which builders are warning will put the sector on a short deadline to prepare for the advent of zero carbon in 2016.

Although it might seem that today’s announcement was made purely so the government could say that it has at least done something before parliament breaks for the summer, it did include a number of interesting measures. Here’s a rundown of the good and the bad:

Good

-    A community energy fund, which developers can pay into to support local energy projects. This means they don’t have to install expensive (and potentially not very useful) renewables on-site, or construct their own off-site renewable energy generators.
-    The Zero Carbon Hub is to be part-funded for its work this year to the tune of £600,000.
-    We have a confirmation that future revisions to the building regulations will include minimum standards for fabric energy efficiency.

Bad

-    Mr Shapps has instructed the Zero Carbon Hub to reconsider the carbon compliance target, which demands that developers mitigate 70 per cent of carbon emissions from their sites using renewable energy. There’s a strong hint that the government thinks the current target is too costly, and will try to scale it down.

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