We were, of course, being ironic on our cover, but it’s no understatement to say the drive to make new homes zero carbon by 2016 is a venture into the unknown.
As Paul Pedley, the Redrow boss, puts it: “It’s like sending a shuttle into space. We need to know what we don’t know.” Like, for example, what “zero carbon” actually means (is it different to “carbon neutral”?).
Base camp was established last week at a summit led by the Home Builders Federation, where they agreed with the Construction Products Association to draw up a road map of what needs to happen when. The technical side of this is complicated. Far more research has to be conducted into how we can supply zero carbon electricity, particularly as demand could be as much as 200,000 houses per annum. And given that each passing year brings ever more smoothie makers, hair straighteners and PlayStations, so the demands on future technologies grow. At some point the government may have to consider tax breaks for the parsimonious – or tax penalties for the prodigal.
Rather that trying to turn homes into power stations, surely it would be easier to set up local power networks? Problem is, councils and housebuilders are not natural bedfellows; and utilities companies don’t have a reputation for being engaged with the sector, so how are these networks to be planned and run?
What’s clear is that we need, right now, to start building dozens of prototype green homes – and then monitor them closely. The HBF’s summit was emphatic about the need to integrate public and private R&D, but hazy on how it would be paid for. And what will happen to the rest of the industry’s research effort?
Then there’s the government’s own commitment? The news that 3,000 new homes in Stratford City will fall short of the government’s carbon reduction targets by 2013 is a potential embarrassment. But it’s also a timely reminder of the competing pressures the industry is under: when budgets are as tight as the timetables, being green is still a luxury.
Reality catches up with Gordon Brown
The great schools building programme that never was has been rumbled. Gordon Brown’s pre-Budget claim that every secondary school in the country is on course to be rebuilt has been exposed as so much moonshine. A little digging by the Tories has revealed what Building readers have known for a year, and Times readers found out on Monday: the £45bn initiative is seriously adrift. If our children are ever to be taught in decent schools, the procurement model has to be rethought. Expecting headteachers to thrash out contracts with contractors and local education officials was always going to be problematic. The new man at the Department for Education and Skills appears to have grasped this. But regaining contractors’ confidence will be a slow process. And until that is done, Mr Brown would do well to curb his boasting.
Denise Chevin, editor