Ministers fail to agree over size of ‘small’ housing developments that will be exempt from zero-carbon homes standard

Heat sensitive house picture

Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers remain locked in a row over the size of “small” housing developments that will be exempt from the zero-carbon homes standard, with the argument delaying a consultation on the issue.

The government announced plans to exempt “small sites” from the zero-carbon homes standard in June as a way of easing the pressure of regulation on smaller builders, who work mostly on small sites.

The move, to be implemented through amendments to the Infrastructure Bill, is part of a wider push to relieve small developments from Section 106 obligations in order to boost housebuilding.

However, the government has not set out how it will define a “small site”, stating only that it would consult on it soon.

The government already defines schemes of fewer than 10 units as “minor developments” in the planning system, but the Home Builders Federation has argued that sites of up to 50 homes would be “a good starting point for the debate” on where the exemption should kick in.

Liberal Democrat communities minister Stephen Williams is understood to be fighting to secure the threshold at the lower limit of around 10 homes, but has opposition from Conservative ministers in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), who are understood to be after a higher limit of around 15 homes, with the disagreement delaying publication of a consultation on the plans.

Lord Ahmad, a Conservative peer and junior minister in DCLG, said in July the government intended to consult on the threshold “shortly”. However, it is understood the row means the promised consultation is yet to be published.

Ministers say the exemption is necessary in order to ensure SME firms are not deterred from investing in small-scale developments due to the costs of adhering to the zero-carbon standard.

But both the UK Green Building Council and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which advises the government on green policies, have criticised the exemption, while the RIBA has warned it could encourage some developers to cut costs by phasing larger developments into a series of smaller sites, which could lead to a slowdown in housing supply.

This week Lord Deben, CCC chair, said any extra costs for housebuilders as a result of the zero-carbon standard were “minimal” and “there is no logical reason for exempting small sites”.

“This is a ridiculous thing to look at,” he added.

Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: “Setting a more realistic threshold for small developments will help increase housebuilding and lower the cost of housing.”