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Robert Sakula: 'Government has turned its back on zero carbon housing'

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By scrapping zero carbon homes the government is wasting the knowledge the industry has already gained, says Robert Sakula

The new government has turned its back on achieving carbon neutral housing by 2016, a target set up by then-chancellor Gordon Brown in 2006. In so doing, they are depriving Britain of a global lead in the field, sentencing future home occupants to higher energy bills, and surrendering in one the crucial battles necessary to combat climate change.

Ironically, the government claims it has abandoned the target in order to ‘reduce net regulations on housebuilders’. Ironic because housebuilders and developers have been among the first to criticize the decision, dubbing it a backward step in a country which has some of the most energy-inefficient homes in Europe. Ironic also because the housebuilding and development industry has spent ten years getting in step with the carbon reduction regulations only to find that all that hard won, step by step knowledge is going to be largely wasted, because without the level playing field of regulation, market forces will inevitably lead to a cheaper, less resilient product.

Like many architects, we have spent the last few years getting to grips with the complexities of creating low energy, low carbon housing. We’ve been overcoming all the technical, financial and societal difficulties necessary to create authentic fabric-first homes which work not just by virtue of their design, but because they engage positively with their occupants’ lifestyles to promote an ethic of eco-living.

Recently Ash Sakula completed a terrace of three prototype carbon neutral houses in the eco-town of Whitehill Bordon in Hampshire. This followed our winning first prize in an international design competition for the site. Building these houses has created a virtuous circle for every stakeholder: the local authority promoted their environmental aims, we as architects have honed our skills in getting the most out of the least, the housing provider and contractor demonstrated their ability to excel at carbon neutral housing, the occupants have got thoughtful houses with lower bills, and the planet is just a little less stressed.

Britain could have had houses like these as the norm, but now it won’t.

Robert Sakula is co-founder of Ash Sakula Architects 

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Government by knee-jerk.

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  • Ben Derbyshire

    Our snapshot analysis at HTA Design LLP, corroborated by other consultants, suggests that each home produced to current building regulations will emit two tonnes more carbon per year than those previously proposed under the “zero carbon” target.

    Should the government hit its target of building 200,000 homes a year over the next five years, then by 2020 those homes will produce an additional two million tonnes of CO2 each per year as a result of the government’s decision.

    HTA’s calculation is based on estimates produced to support the design of our zero-carbon homes for housebuilder Barratt at Hanham Hall in Gloucestershire.

    The axing of the targets also means new homes will be affected by higher running costs. Rory Bergin, our partner for sustainable futures, estimates additional energy bill costs in the region of £200 per year per household, totalling a yearly £200m spent on energy by consumers.

    Ben Derbyshire
    Managing Partner HTA Design LLP
    Chair, Housing Forum

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