You may have missed it among all the headline-grabbing talk of increasing the minimum wage and yet more cuts to welfare, but as part of George Osborne’s summer budget announcements, this Conservative government also abolished the requirement for all new homes to be ‘zero carbon’ from April 2016.
Whilst it is reported that some housebuilders had already started work to meet the challenge, the major plc housebuilders would have probably known all along that the election of a Conservative government would at the very least, have enabled some ‘wiggle-room’ to water down or delay the requirements – if not the full scale capitulation reversal of the zero carbon policy that Osborne announced.
This pointless reversal – an appalling act of policy vandalism, will undoubtedly raise energy bills and carbon emissions well into the next century, sending out totally wrong message for the Paris climate talks. The Conservative government has cynically chosen put both house builders’ and energy providers’ profit making ahead of its deep moral responsibility to act to mitigate any possible impact on our climate in the future.
The zero-carbon commitment begun in 2006 and supported through successive governments has now been re interpreted as unnecessary ‘red tape’, allegedly holding back new house building projects, productivity and even the general UK economy.
The original zero-carbon homes policy, focused on radically reducing the emissions from housing through a combination of energy-efficient building design and use of low or zero-carbon energy generation, such as solar panels.
More recently, various forms of carbon offsetting were allowed during the ‘zero’ calculation so that carbon could be mitigated away from the imminent housing projects. The Conservative government has now scrapped both the allowable carbon solutions policy; the increase in on-site energy efficiency standards and in the process has taken away the foundations of zero-carbon compliance. The meaning of ‘zero’ had already been diluted and the closely related “Code for Sustainable Homes” torn up in a previous, pre-election gift for the house building industry. But despite this, the zero-carbon requirement was still in place, albeit in a limited form.
But now it’s gone! The HBF has done its job and lobbied the requirement for zero carbon new homes out of existence. This is a pity because it would have given housebuilders a reason and an opportunity to completely re visit both the design and the way they build new homes. They may have discovered that they could give the UK new homebuyer more for less, at a higher quality. Instead it is business as usual. The ‘Help to Buy’ taxpayer subsidy was extended to 2020, the requirement to build social housing has gone and there is an ongoing relaxation in planning rules. Basically thanks to this Conservative government, the large housebuilders can virtually do what they want, when they want, where they want.
Now even zero carbon has gone. After nine years of intensive collaborative work by the Zero Carbon Hub, set up after the obligation was first put in place to work out exactly what the zero would mean, how it would be calculated and to provide guidance to housing industry on all sorts of detailed aspects of compliance.
Laughably, the government has tried to justify this policy U-turn by claiming that scrapping the zero-carbon obligation will stimulate house building and even help reduce house prices! This fails to acknowledge that high house prices are a function of the dysfunctional way that property markets work in the UK.
Conservatives and housebuilders are all “in it together”