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Industry slams move to exempt small schemes from zero carbon commitments

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Today’s Queen’s Speech has confirmed the government’s plans to water-down its commitment to making all homes zero carbon by 2016

The move will see small housing developments exempt from adopting zero carbon standards which will become mandatory in the new building regulations [due to come into force in 2016].

The ‘loophole’ has been slammed by the industry, with many warning the back-pedalling could hamper sustainable innovation in the housebuilding industry.

Chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, Paul King, said: ‘’The government risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by letting small developments – a large chunk of the housebuilding market - off the hook. Zero carbon homes save a fortune for households in energy costs and are better for the environment.’

The government risks snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

RIBA president Stephen Hodder, agreed: ‘The step will stunt the zero carbon home delivery plan by opening a loophole in legislation for developers to avoid zero carbon regulations, for example though phasing development into smaller sites, or manipulating definitions of the scale of their development.’

While Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, felt the move could have a significant impact on overall carbon targets.

He said: ‘The idea that “small sites” may be exempt from the zero carbon standard is a concern, and given that the aggregate of “small sites” (however that is determined) will be a significant proportion of the whole, it must impact negatively on the headline targets for carbon reduction’, he said.

The Queen’s speech also confirmed the long-awaited adoption of allowable solutions. The scheme which will allow developers to offset a scheme’s carbon emissions has been cautiously welcomed.

King said: ‘The policy of allowing developers to pay into a fund to offset emissions they cannot reduce is a sound idea in principle, despite its lukewarm reception this week. If implemented properly, this could lead to investment in local, community energy schemes and drive innovation in clean technology. On the other hand, a weak scheme, that generates little investment that has no connection to the housebuilding which is taking place, would be a deeply disappointing outcome.’

Sustainability director at WSP David Bownass added: ‘This solution is great for the house builder, but less so for the end customer, the homeowner, who won’t benefit from the reduced energy bills if the carbon is offset off-site.

‘Given that existing buildings are where there is the biggest potential to save carbon, if we restricted the allowable solutions to a simple buy out mechanism we could use the money collected to make all Green Deal loans zero per cent interest, addressing a key limitation in the Green Deal offer as well as directly benefiting the general public.’

The Queen’s speech also outlined plans to reform the planning system, support for Help to Buy, and the creation of new locally-led garden cities.

Extracts from the Queen’s speech

‘Legislation will allow for the creation of an allowable solutions scheme to enable all new homes to be built to a zero carbon standard and will guarantee long-term investment in the road network.

‘My government will introduce a bill to bolster investment in infrastructure and reform planning law to improve economic competitiveness.

‘My government will increase housing supply and home ownership by reforming the planning system, enabling new locally-led garden cities and supporting small house building firms.

‘Legislation will be brought forward to sell high value government land, encouraging development and increasing housing.

‘My ministers will continue to promote the Help to Buy and Right to Buy schemes to support home ownership.’

Previous story (AJ 02.06.14)

Government ditches zero carbon homes commitment

The government has abandoned its commitment to make all homes zero carbon by 2016

After renewing its zero carbon homes pledge in last year’s budget, the government has back-pedalled on its promise that all new housing should meet stringent energy efficiency standards - a move which the UK Green Building Council called ‘deeply worrying’.

Later this week small housing developments are expected to be exempted from the zero carbon standard when new legislation within the Infrastructure Bill is announced in the Queen’s speech (4 June).

Developers will also be allowed to build homes at just Level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, not Level 5 which is widely accepted as the zero carbon standard. The bill will then allow them to offset the scheme’s carbon emissions, effectively letting a developer buying its way out of adopting zero carbon standards.

In support of the changes the Liberal Democrats said this would allow ‘carbon emissions reduction to be met through flexible, cost-effective measures (‘allowable solutions’).’

But the announcement is seen by many as a further watering down of the standards which were originally proposed to ensure all new buildings meet increasing levels of energy efficiency.

Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said: ‘It’s good to see the coalition is following through on its promise to introduce allowable solutions, an integral part in ensuring our homes will be zero carbon from 2016. The industry urgently needs clarity on this part of the policy and we look forward to hearing more details in the Queen’s Speech on Wednesday. 

‘However, it is deeply worrying to hear suggestions that ‘small sites’ could be exempt from the zero carbon standard. This decision could cause confusion and lead to perverse outcomes, for example the slowing down of housing supply as developers phase the delivery of ‘small sites’ to avoid regulations.’

RIBA president Stephen Hodder, added: ‘While we welcome the government’s commitment to provide clarity to the UK construction industry on how we should achieve a zero carbon standard for new build homes through viable solutions,  we are concerned by the proposition that ‘small sites’ might be exempt from the zero carbon homes requirement.

‘The step will stunt the zero carbon home delivery plan by opening a loophole in legislation for developers to avoid zero carbon regulations, for example though phasing development into smaller sites, or manipulating definitions of the scale of their development.’

The government is set to publish what it means by a small development after a later consultation.

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