Shadow housing minister hits out at government’s failure to implement zero carbon homes agenda

Labour has reaffirmed its commitment to delivering on the zero carbon homes pledge that it first made when previously in government.

The current government has a long-standing commitment to introduce regulations to ensure that all homes built from 2016 are zero carbon - a pledge first made by the previous Labour government.

However, these have been hit by a series of delays and have been watered down – then in June the government said small developments would not be subject to the standard.

Speaking last week, shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds hit out at the government’s failure to deliver on the zero carbon homes agenda.

As part of a wide-ranging speech on Labour’s housing policy, in which she outlined the party’s plans to ensure 200,000 new homes are built each year by 2020, Reynolds said: “We will match our drive for [housebuilding] numbers with a zeal for quality and making places and communities where people want to live.

“That’s why we’re committed to the zero carbon homes agenda. The Tory-led government claim to be on board. But they’ve dithered and delayed, and then they watered down the commitment.

“Labour remains committed to zero carbon homes and we will succeed where this government has failed.”

This week Labour also outlined further detail of its Help to Build scheme, which is aimed at improving small and medium-sized builders’ access to finance.

The scheme, based on the government’s Help to Buy scheme, which uses the government’s balance sheet to guarantee mortgages, would involve the government underwriting bank loans to SME builders.

Labour first announced the plan in March, but this week fleshed out further detail, saying the scheme would involve:

  • The government underwriting loans to a set threshold, with banks taking the first tranche of any losses, if they are incurred
  • A cap on the amount of loans available for each development or to each firm to ensure the scheme is focused on SMEs
  • As with Help to Buy, banks will pool all loans to be guaranteed and will pay a fee for the guarantee, while all SMEs will still be subject to bank checks on ability to repay

The plans have emerged from Labour’s Lyons Housing Commission, which is expected to be published in full in September.

Reynolds said: “Under David Cameron, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s. We need a more diverse and competitive housing market to build the homes we need but in recent years small builders have fallen into decline.

“Through our Help to Build scheme, Labour can boost small builders, increase housebuilding and help make home ownership a realistic aspiration for the next generation.”“

Shadow Treasury secretary Chris Leslie said: “Most people recognise that balancing supply and demand is the solution to tackling affordability - most, that is, except the chancellor.

“While the Help to Buy underwriting scheme may increase access to mortgages, what we now need is to use the strength of government guarantees to help increase the supply of affordable properties.”

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said the Help to Build scheme would help SMEs “because current restrictions on access to finance for SME house builders still remain very severe”.

He said: “When it comes to loans for smaller residential developments the default answer from many banks is ‘no’.When finance is available, it is too often being offered on steep terms; at high rates of interest, low loan to value ratios and often with exorbitant fees attached.

“What is concerning is that there has been very little sign of improvement in this situation over the past year.

“The SME house building sector used to deliver around two thirds of all new homes. It now delivers less than one third and the number of firms in the market has plummeted over the past five years, further reducing the industry’s capacity.

“Without access to finance on reasonable terms, SME house builders will remain hamstrung in their ability to increase the supply of new homes.”