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ZERO CARBON AXE

Building new homes to a zero carbon standard has been a landmark event which has been on the horizon for nearly a decade- so why has the Government ditched this proposal just months before it’s due to be a reality?

Way back in 2006, when a fresh-faced Gordon Brown was Chancellor, when the Da Vinci Code was on the silver screen and when Justin Timberlake was bringing Sexyback, it was announced that in ten year’s time, all new dwellings would be built to a zero carbon standard in the UK. This was a brave decision at the time, as assessments such as Energy Performance Certificates and Part L (or Section 6 in Scotland) SAP and SBEM reports were only just starting to come into force.

Since then, Government-set Target Emission Rates for all new buildings have been getting progressively tighter, insulation thicknesses have become more stringent, minimum efficiencies of heating systems has been stepped up, and schemes such as Ecohomes and the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) have come into force. But there has always been a collective of experts which has believed this was too high a mountain to push our house-builders over.

The idea that every new residential development would need to generate enough power through solar, wind or hydro power to offset its annual heating, ventilation, hot water and lighting demands, still feels as much a pipe dream now as it did nine years ago. And now, just months after it was announced that CSH is being phased out, and that local planning authorities would have their renewable requests on developments capped, the Government has conceded, and this month announced that:

  1. Approved Document Part L (for England) will not be updated in 2016
  2. Zero carbon dwellings will not be a requirement come 2016
  3. The use of Allowable Solutions (to offset emissions on one site for savings made somewhere else) is being axed.

Some articles have gone with the terminology of ‘scrapping’ zero carbon homes. That’s possibly over-egging a little bit, as we’re still committed under EU legislation to build homes to a ‘near-zero-carbon’ standard by 2019. Quite how ‘near’ we need to be before falling foul of EU penalties is another story entirely.

So what does this mean for developers? Ultimately, it gives the industry some breathing space. Emission targets on houses became mandatory in 2006, and were reduced in 2010 and again in 2014. Each of these revisions has led to more efficient homes, and each time this has led to houses costing more to construct, and more headaches for architects and site teams alike.

Many were guessing ahead to what would be required in the 2016 rewrite to reach zero carbon (both in terms of practicality and financially), and the widely-felt feeling is that it would be too much to ask too soon. You could argue that industry needs to be constantly pushed in areas such as energy efficiency, as without regulations leading the way, who’s going to push the boundaries? There will always be developers who are keen to build the greenest home possible, but these are few and far between.

So, why make this announcement now, and is it the right step? That entirely depends on your viewpoint… The realists may suggest this announcement should have been made a while back, as it’s been clear for some time that we were going to fall short of our zero carbon targets. The cynics may suggest that Amber Rudd (who is Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change) is the first Conservative to run the department since John Major abolished the department in 1992, so this is the first time the Tories have been able to stamp their mark on the department. With recent news reports about cuts to solar and wind farm incentives and giving local authorities the option to allow fracking, it could be said this announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The optimists may suggest this is a good move. It’s widely accepted that we need to build new homes, quickly. Why put extra hurdles in the way by making houses more difficult to build than before? Why not give the housing industry an extra year or two using today’s standards before stepping up the emission rate targets.

Whichever way you look at it, zero carbon homes as standard has been delayed, the Code for Sustainable Homes is being phased out, and local planning authorities have had their hands tied on renewable technology. Whether this has been a good or bad year in terms of housebuilding entirely depends on where you sit in the industry. If you need more advice, we are more than happy to discuss these changes with you. Contact us at info@energistuk.co.uk or just give us a quick call 08458 386 387.

Jon Ponting

Author: Jon Ponting

This article was published by Jon Ponting on 04.08.2015.