The construction industry, house building and home-buying all featured heavily in this year’s Queens Speech. The emphasis on encouraging us to build more homes with an economic and environmental mindset looks to be one of the final key aims for this term’s Coalition Government.
Two of the sections covered by Her Majesty were issues which we've hinted / speculated at in previous blogs in recent months. So now that they've become key points on the Cameron-Clegg agenda, what can we expect to happen? The first paragraph which pricked up our ears was… “Legislation will allow for the creation of an allowable solution scheme to enable all new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard…” This isn't going to be a quick win – the definition of a Zero Carbon Home has been reshaping for many years now, and will continue to alter in the run up to 2016 (this is the steadfast date which the Government intends to bring Zero Carbon Homes into mainstream building regulations.
The latest definition of a Zero Carbon Home refers to ‘Allowable Solutions’ – given this terminology featured in the Speech, we can expect to hear about it more and more in the next few years. The Allowable Solutions (AS) concept is something which has been on our radar for a while – it’s all to do with offsetting carbon emissions so that a developer’s gross CO2 total from new projects is zero or lower.
The missing link in the chain is How. How will AS be calculated? How will AS be enforced? How will AS be proven? How will AS work in the real world? Three potential options for AS are thought to be:
- If a builder constructs a new home which isn't zero carbon, they could offset by upgrading an existing dwelling to make it more energy efficient.
- If a builder constructs a new home which isn't zero carbon, they can invest into a local solar or wind farm to offset, or pay into a renewable projects pot which is administered by the local authority.
- If a builder can construct a home which achieves better than zero carbon, they could then build their next home to a worse than zero carbon standard (reverse offsetting).
Nothing is set in stone, but we believe these are some of the options currently being reviewed. Another line which grabbed our attention in the Speech was: “My government will… reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness” This is another topic which has been covered recently by the Housing Standards Review.
The aim is to make planning policies easier with local authorities to be given less control over what is required on new developments. This is so developers are not forced to spend more money on sites where the local planning departments have more stringent targets than their neighbouring authorities.
One of the biggest changes will impact the Code for Sustainable Homes… we are expecting this to be phased out in early 2015 – some of the Code requirements are to be moved into Building Regs to make them mandatory. Currently, councils can ask developers to comply with the Code (which goes above and beyond building regulations), but not all planners use the scheme… others dip in and out depending on the size or location of a site.
Also, it’s expected that planners will still be able to request that X% of the new development’s energy is created on site, but other requests (such as lower water use targets, additional reductions over Part L targets) will not be allowed in the future. This will streamline the creation of documents such as Energy Statements and Feasibility Studies. Keep an eye out for our future blogs, as we’ll be discussing the details of these topics and more as and when they are signed off by Parliament.