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Scrapping zero-carbon policy costs new homeowners £200 a year, says report

Sustainble house home shutterstock 299518760

Owners of new-build homes are paying £200 more a year on bills because the government scrapped zero-carbon energy standards, according to a report

The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) claims that new homeowners would have been making significant savings on their energy use if the super-green standard for all new homes had been brought in during 2016, as originally planned.

First announced 12 years ago, the abandoned zero-carbon homes policy demanded that all new-build homes should not result in the net release of any carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during day-to-day running.

The standard, which was due for full implementation in 2016, included requirements for new housing developments to generate energy through renewable sources such as solar panels or ground-source heat pumps.

But the proposed regulation was dropped by the Treasury in July 2015 just a few months before it was set to go live – as was the planned zero-carbon Allowable Solutions carbon offsetting scheme – in a bid to boost housebuilding.

The ECIU’s head of analysis Jonathan Marshall said: ‘As well as future-proofing new homes, the policy would have saved families money, reduced Britain’s vulnerability to energy supply shocks, and cut carbon emissions.’

The report [see attached] reads: ‘Building a home to zero carbon standards would in theory increase the purchase price. However, the sum involved is small – 1 to 2 per cent of the overall cost – and would be recouped through energy bill savings within years.’

According to the ECIU, progress in reducing carbon emissions from the residential sector in the UK has stalled in recent years.

Since the start of 2016, some 380,000 homes have been built, but the heating efficiency of most has fallen below what would have been required to meet the zero-carbon homes standards.

The report says those who moved into their homes at the start of 2016 will have shelled out on average an extra £208 to £233 a year to heat their houses compared to ones built to the super green standards.

Marshall, added: ‘Successive governments have struggled to devise effective domestic energy-efficiency policies, meaning carbon emissions from homes are rising, but zero-carbon homes could have made a real difference …

‘Tackling new-build homes is one of the easiest ways of improving the UK’s leaky housing stock, and reintroducing this policy could also deliver a boost to firms involved in insulation and low-carbon heating.’

CBI energy and infrastructure director Tom Thackray described the report as ‘a sobering account of missed opportunities’.

He said: ‘The government’s decision to scrap its Zero Carbon Home policy sent the wrong message to business and consumers about its commitment to reduce carbon emissions from buildings.

‘With a spending review planned for later this year, it is crucial the government fills this gap, while also outlining how a long-term framework for decarbonising heating in buildings can be established.’

But speaking to ITV, housing minister Kit Malthouse: ‘I don’t agree with the assertion that energy-efficiency regulations have been watered down – in fact new homes built in England have increased in efficiency by over 30 per cent since 2010.

‘As well as cutting carbon emissions to tackle the threat of climate change, our efforts have actually put an average of £200 a year back into the pockets of families.

‘There is more we can do to secure more efficient homes and, following our ongoing review of Building Regulations, we will likely consult on further energy saving proposals later this year.’


Readers' comments (3)

  • Kit Malthouse is being slippery here, i'm not sure if its deliberate or a lack of understanding.

    Yes building regulation were tightened a bit but government policy has reduced local councils ability to condition energy performance which has had the net effect of reducing standards overall. He needs to be asked to respond to this directly.

    It is planning policy and building regulations that form the framework for standards within which the vast majority of new homes are built. This framework was severely weakened by the abolition of the Code for Sustainable Homes and further undermined by the scrapping of the Zero Carbon Homes plan. Further, the Written Ministerial Statement (25 March, 2015) stated that ‘Local Authorities would only be able to require energy performance standards higher than Building Regulations up to the equivalent of Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4’. This was implemented at a time when there were plans for Part L 2016 and an
    update to the Planning and Energy Act 2008. Either statute may have brought forward stronger regulations, but neither has happened.

    Since 2015, in districts outside London, house builders have successfully challenged both local planning policies and planning conditions related to energy standards in new homes. The net result
    is that in practice, due to councils not being able to condition code 5 as they used to do, the current performance requirement on new homes is typically less that it was six years ago. Even in areas that were envisaged as Eco Towns, such as Whitehill Bordon, under the most progressive of councils, can only legally condition that: ‘new build residential development should achieve reductions in CO2 emissions of 19% below the Target Emission Rate of the 2013 Edition of the 2010 Building Regulations (Part L)’. This represents what are currently the most stringent council requirements, as noted by the UK Green Building Council’s (UKGBC) Driving Sustainability in New Homes: A resource for local authorities VERSION 1.2: Sept 2018.

    This national‐level under achievement has been exacerbated at Parliament when the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, was asked whether local authorities can set energy efficiency standards higher than Level 4 of the former Code for Sustainable Homes. The response was: “Local authorities may include in their local plans policies which set reasonable requirements
    for new development to meet higher energy performance standards than those required in building regulations. Policies must not be inconsistent with relevant national policies. The Written Ministerial Statement of 25 March 2015 set out relevant national policy.”

    This question was asked in order to clarify the July 2018 Statement by the Government on Building Regulations:
    “Local Authorities are not restricted in their ability to require energy efficiency standards above building regulations. The Government remains committed to delivering the clean growth mission to halve the energy usage of new buildings by 2030”. There has not been an updated Part L and the legal context explained above establishes Code 4 as the maximum improvement that Local Authorities (outside London) can demand of developers.

    What was previously set as a minimum standard from which to progress towards Carbon Zero has in reality become the maximum standard enforceable. Sadly some councils, such as Waverley in Surrey,
    don’t even advocate this low ambition.

    Considering the Government’s target of constructing 300,000 new homes a year and at least 1 million new homes in England by 2022 we are at the start of house building boom and, unless things change quickly, a worsened environmental disaster.

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  • I think I would like to see the energy savings figures projected against the additional mortgage and deposit savings costs.

    Some very rough and ready calcs with the figures above, using average house prices and a mortgage calculator on money saving expert suggest monthly savings of about £6 for carbon neutral once the additional mortgage payments are factored in, which equates to a payback period of about 64 years. Obviously the calculator is very simple and I don't have the data (quite possibly the knowledge) to really check for things like projected energy or mortgage cost fluctuations.

    Like I said it would be nice to see these claims cross referenced against the increase in mortgage costs by someone who knows more about what they are doing with the figures.

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  • Central and local government are clearly failing here. But building regulations are monitored by private inspectors, there are building federations involved, and British Standards. Many local authorities have not produced guidance, and it is expensive and time consuming to do so. So what are we as designers and consumers to do?

    A public enquiry? The experts at our Universities to produce definitive guidance. An IPCC policed rulebook? The RIBA to lead the profession, who are in the right place to meet standards, but are only involved in a small proportion of the building work undertaken?

    Sounds like Michael Gove and DEFFRA. In the meantime, work it out ourselves, and make it a selling point for responsible developers and builders. The potential saving is hundreds of pounds a month.

    Get rid of the car, and legalise drugs, cutting the cost, regulating quality and providing a tax take. Staycation. Sing song in the local. Live virtually free?!

    Seriously, we can do this, and help save the planet.

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