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The death knell for Zero Carbon

Main Image 01 October 2015

In December 2006, the UK government introduced stringent sustainability legislation, promising that all new homes would be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016.

Following the big reveal of the ten-year plan, the government progressively strengthened Building Regulations (Part L) to help improve the energy efficiency of properties. Meanwhile, the Zero Carbon Hub, formed in 2008, began to work with housebuilders and NGOs in a bid to make zero carbon homes a reality from 2016.

That was an era of optimism for the building industry with record new builds going hand-in-hand with booming profits. The reality however, is that the housing sector has since suffered along with the rest of the economy, with just a fraction of the number of expected new homes being built.

Therefore, with the industry struggling to juggle emission reduction targets with slashed budgets, the government took steps to ‘water down’ it’s zero carbon targets. And now, following the Budget announcement on 8th July, the Government has announced the contentious decision to scrap its 2016 zero carbon homes target to ease the path for the delivery of new homes.

Not many could foresee the decision to discard the legislation altogether, which came as part of the Conservative party’s productivity plan, Fixing the Foundations’.

This stated that it “did not intend to proceed” with the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards. Instead, the document said it would “keep energy efficiency standards under review”, giving developers the time they need to build energy efficient homes required by recent changes brought in during the last parliament to Building Regulations to improve efficiency.

The proposal also outlined plans to scrap the much debated Allowable Solutions carbon offsetting scheme.

Many have been quick to argue that the additional cost attached to building zero carbon homes has been halved over the past three years.

The problem is, building zero carbon homes comes at a price that was and remains out of reach for many housebuilders and developers. This is because more often than not, they have shouldered the costs of energy efficient technologies because there hasn’t been a significant enough price premium attached to sustainable homes and a lack of incentive for homeowners to buy green.

But is the removal of the much-debated legislation going to prevent the build of energy efficient homes? The fact is the UK is already building some of the most energy efficient homes in the world under the current exacting standards. So much so, homes built today are a third to 50% more energy efficient than existing homes, saving buyers hundreds of pounds a year on energy bills.

Part L of the Building Regulations in particular is currently helping housebuilders and developers to deliver high quality homes, while driving carbon reduction in the built environment. This is because the latest revisions to Part L, which came into force in April 2014, included the reduction of carbon emissions of new homes by 6% compared with Part L 2010 and the introduction of a new target for fabric energy efficiency standard (FEES), which has already gone a long way to reducing energy consumption in the home.

While there is evidence that zero carbon is entirely feasible, albeit ambitious; as we neared the deadline, question marks remained as to whether the government could successfully balance the delivery of zero carbon homes without jeopardising the supply of new homes across the UK.

With that said, while it remains to be seen as to whether or not this move will kick-start increased activity in housebuilding, I’m not sure it’s a gamble the industry could afford to take.

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