Construction industry is failing to build to required standards says Communities minister in Lib Dem keynote

Zero carbon homes are in danger of becoming little more than an ‘empty slogan’ because of the construction industry’s failure to build to required standards, Communities minister Andrew Stunell has admitted.

Delivering his keynote address to the Lib Dem conference in Birmingham, Stunell revealed that he has “urgently” called an advisory committee to look into how zero carbon measures can be achieved in practice ahead of the next upgrading of building regulations in 2013.

He admitted that government had been alarmed by the findings of a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last November which found that one of its own low carbon housing developments, Elm Tree Mews in York, was significantly under performing when completed.

He said: “we already have the evidence that the existing standards they set aren’t being met.

“Although residents (at Elm Tree Mews) were comfortable and pleased with their lower heating bills, the homes were losing 54% more heat than designed.

“The report concluded that many processes and cultures within the industry and its supply chain need to change if Zero Carbon Homes is to be more than an empty slogan.

“That’s why, as part of the work my department is doing ahead of the next upgrade of Building Regulations in 2013, I have urgently called together an Advisory Committee on

Compliance to look into what more we can do to make sure that standards are met, and that carbon reduction in the built environment becomes a reality.”
In his speech, the minister also said that the government is considering allowing councils to charge extra council tax on empty homes.

“We have 700,000 empty homes in this country,” he said. “Over 300,000 of them are long-term empties - vacant for more than six months. That’s two years’ new housing supply. It’s a scandal, in fact it’s a crime when thousands of families cannot get a decent home.

“That’s why today I can announce that we will shortly be consulting on whether councils should be given the power to charge extra council tax on homes in their area that have been empty for more than two years, through an Empty Homes Premium.”

He added that the government would also look to promote ‘homesteading’, where empty homes are brought back into use through self-renovation - in the UK.