The Government has compromised its ‘zero carbon home’ standard. Housebuilders will now be able to ‘zero carbon’ their new homes in 2016 using an offsetting scheme, rather than by installing more insulation, or renewable technologies like solar PV or solar water heating.
This must be the most housebuilder-friendly Government of all time. Taxpayer funded subsidies – Check. Relaxation of planning rules – Check. Make lending cheaper and easier – Check. Keep interest rates permanently low – Check. Making more public land available – Check. If that was not enough, the coalition government is even watering down one of it’s own policies after caving in to pressure from housebuilders and their lobby groups.
The policy that required all new homes built after 2016 to be zero carbon has now been diluted to such an extent it is virtually pointless. You have to question why the Conservatives ever bothered to change their logo to the current ‘green tree’ if their green policies would never be implemented.
So as the Government announced in the recent Queen’s speech, ‘Zero carbon homes’ will now not actually have to be zero carbon after all, provided the emissions are reduced somewhere else under a carbon offsetting scheme. No doubt the cost of the house builder’s offset contributions will be passed to all new home buyers, but they will not get any of the benefits from reduced energy bills (savings of around £300 a year) in return. So much for the industry’s claim that new homes are more energy efficient and more environmentally friendly!
The allowable solutions regime is being set up to give housebuilders an alternative to compensate for CO2 emission reductions that are supposedly difficult to achieve through design and construction. They will now be able to choose to do this by offering payment to alternative green schemes.
The Government still claims it is committed to implementing a zero carbon standard for new homes from 2016 but recognises that it will not always be technically feasible or cost effective for house builders to mitigate all emissions on site. A Government briefing added that the new measures “provide an optional, cost-effective and flexible means for house builders to meet the zero carbon homes standard, as an alternative to increased on-site energy efficiency measures or renewable energy (such as solar panels).” “Optional, cost-effective? Proof, if any was needed, that this was always about money, the housebuilders have lobbied the Government to get their own way yet again. It costs more to fit solar panels on the roof of a new home than not too. It is simple economics – nothing to do with “technical feasibility, design or construction.”
The new According to the Renewable Energy Association (REA) the ‘allowable solutions scheme’ will “….pass costs instead of savings on to homeowners. Diluting the Zero Carbon Homes policy is a missed opportunity for new homes to have lower energy bills. Instead, the Government is focusing on a complicated carbon offset scheme called Allowable Solutions, with costs rather than benefits passed on to homeowners – and exemptions from the regulations altogether for ‘small’ developments.”
Zero carbon homes will now only have to meet a basic performance standard defined in building regulations, according to a Government briefing, while the remainder of the zero carbon target “can be met through cost effective off-site carbon abatement measures.”
Leonie Green of the Solar Trade Association (STA) added: “In their efforts to ensure business as usual for developers, DCLG is proposing a very convoluted interpretation that is little more than a carbon offsetting scheme delivering little benefit to home buyers. Solar power and solar heating are particularly affordable in new build so it would make little sense to sideline these technologies and instead effectively tax house builders and new home buyers in order to develop carbon reduction schemes elsewhere in the UK. If you’re going to pay a modest premium for a new home, you should be able to recover that cost quickly through very low energy bills – that is what solar technologies enable. “
No doubt the large housebuilders will grasp this opportunity to carry on “business as usual” with both hands. They will treat the “Allowable Solutions” costs as a new tax, passing costs to homeowners who will not see any of the benefits of efficient new homes with on-site renewables and greatly reduced energy bills.
It seems strange that the Government would cave in to pressure from housebuilders at a time when solar technologies have become cost competitive and widely available across the UK. Indeed the Government even gives subsidies (via the feed-in tariffs) to encourage installation of solar panels on existing older homes.
Ryan Kohn, director Living in Space – a green design and building company, makes the point that it is always better to implement green measures in new housing rather than retrofitting some at a future date.
“New build housing is the perfect blank canvas to create a sustainable Britain, providing architects and designers with the opportunity to integrate sustainable technologies seamlessly into a home; and it doesn’t have to cost the earth. In fact the more common place this becomes, the cheaper it will be to implement. It is also much easier and more cost-effective to incorporate sustainable features such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting and ground source heat pumps from the outset rather than having to add them to a property at a later date. These features are also likely to give the property an edge in today’s competitive sales market – appealing to environmentally conscious buyers and those looking to reduce their energy costs. While the Government seems to have all but abandoned its zero carbon cause, I hope that savvy developers will continue to see the long-term benefits – both environmental and economic – of sustainable development and stay on the path towards creating a greener Britain.”
Small sites, which are most commonly developed by the small to medium housebuilders, will be exempt. The definition of what exactly constitutes a small site will be consulted on shortly and set out in regulation. It is also essential that Government provide a clear definition of what constitutes a small housing site. Perhaps when the housebuilders get their way [again!] “small” will mean any builder building less than 1000 homes a year and/or any site of less than 20 homes. Then we will see house builders splitting large sites into smaller developments of 20 plots to get around even these watered down zero carbon regulations.
But in the end even this backsliding won’t help the housebuilders as ultimately, provisions must be put in place to meet the requirements under EU’s Energy Performance of Buildings Directive 2010 that all buildings be nearly zero-energy by 2020. Exempting small housing developments from allowable solutions should therefore only be seen as a short-term measure.