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Architects back MPs’ call to bring back zero carbon policy

Green Deal
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Leading architects and sustainable builders have backed a report by MPs urging the government to rethink its zero carbon homes policy 

The Environmental Audit Committee report, Sustainability and HM Treasury, published earlier this month, recommends the zero carbon standard for new homes, which was ditched last year, should be reinstated.

The report blasted the Treasury for its role in scrapping the zero carbon standard. It said: ‘We heard multiple examples of where the Treasury has ridden roughshod over other departments’ objectives, changing and cancelling long-established environmental policies and projects at short notice with little or no consultation with relevant businesses and industries. These decisions caused “shock” and “uproar” among sectors affected, with some businesses describing them as “devastating”.

‘There is a risk that costs to the economy and householders will increase in the long-term […] because new homes will need to be retrofitted to improve their energy efficiency and therefore contribute towards meeting the UK’s 2050 carbon targets.

’The decision [to scrap the standard] harms the development of new markets for innovative energy-saving products, and wastes years of the industry’s sunk costs.’

Now leading sustainability architects and other green experts in the industry have come forward to support the MPs’ report and call on the government to reconsider its environmental strategy on housing. 

Tom Dollard, head of sustainable design at Pollard Thomas Edwards, said that in London where the zero carbon homes policy has been reintroduced as part of the London Plan, the tough environmental requirements were not affecting viability ‘at all’.

He added that zero carbon would be even easier to achieve in lower-density developments outside London. He said: ‘Scrapping the zero carbon homes standard has done nothing to help increase numbers of new homes built, but has instead increased running costs for residents.

‘I’m afraid the [ditching] of this policy is another example of the house-builder mafia bullying a conservative government into “reducing the regulatory burden” in order to build more homes. Numbers of homes built is proportional to land available, limited by land banking and lack of workforce, and not limited by regulations such as zero carbon homes.’

Meanwhile, Clare Murray, head of sustainability at Levitt Bernstein, who has previously criticised the inaccurate methodology used to calculate zero carbon, said  the report offered an opportunity to question whether the government’s targets were realistic in the first place.

Acknowledging that the abolishment of the policy ‘sent out the wrong message to the industry’, she said: ‘It is time to define new targets and use new tools to make a meaningful impact on the actual performance of homes. This should take into account not only realistic levels of carbon reductions, but also the environmental design for improved thermal comfort, daylight and ventilation.’

The UK Green Building Council has also come out in favour of the report and is calling on the government to reinstate the zero carbon homes policy.

Describing the deregulation as ‘ill-conceived’, John Alker, campaign and policy director at UK Green Building Council, said: ‘The scrapping of the zero carbon homes policy showed not only an irresponsible disregard for the steps we need to take to tackle climate change, but it also overlooked the years of investment and preparation made by thousands of businesses across the construction supply chain. This volatility in the policy landscape is highly damaging to industry, jobs and investor confidence.’

He added: ‘New homes should keep bills low for households, avoid placing unnecessary burden on national energy infrastructure and should not need to be expensively retrofitted in 15 years’ time in order to meet our carbon targets.’

The Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) has also issued a statement in support of the report.

Tassos Kougionis, principal consultant for residential at BSRIA’s sustainable construction group, said: ‘Long-term sustainability targets should always be favoured over government short-term priorities, especially if this ensures value for money. Zero carbon buildings, both domestic and non-domestic, are energy-efficient, comfortable, and contribute positively to the occupants’ wellbeing.’

He added: ‘Having supported the formal ratification of the Paris climate agreement, reducing carbon emissions from buildings is crucial to achieving our climate change commitments. Implementing a long-term policy as such would also provide industry with the certainty required to continue investing in new skills and technologies vital to our progress as a society.’

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