Building surveys industry reactions to yesterday's government proposal to make zero-carbon housing targets more achievable
Yesterday, the government announced proposals to make its zero-carbon target for UK homes more easily achievable by allowing carbon offsetting and retrofitted energy-efficiency improvements to be taken into account and putting a cap on what housebuilders are required to spend.
Under new proposals from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), developers would be allowed to hit the 2016 zero-carbon target by counting improvements made to the energy efficiency of existing homes around new schemes.
Any renewable power generated by the development and sold on to other developments would also be taken into account, as would section 106 payments towards renewable energy infrastructure. Moreover, the government would also set a financial limit for housebuilders on the cost of making homes carbon neutral.
Housing minister Margaret Beckett said herself of the new proposals: "I am absolutely committed to our 2016 target, and this demanding goal is already spurring action here and abroad. With the consultation process we are launching today, we are confident we will be able to achieve our ambitions while giving the industry flexibility for how they get there."
But what do those in the industry make of the new announcement? Building went in search of reaction to the proposals.
Paul King, chief executive of the UK Green Building CouncilSimply offsetting emissions in nearby existing homes through energy-efficiency improvements is not a solution – we need radical action in both new homes and existing homes; it's not an either/or. We urge government to stick to its guns and rule this option out. A “zero-carbon home” built using this mechanism would not be doing what it said on the tin.
Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat shadow housing ministerYet again the government is shirking from its environmental commitments.
Energy-efficiency improvements to existing homes are essential but developers shouldn't be able to cheat the standard by offering insulation for neighbouring homes. Allowing carbon offsetting is simply a get-out clause that undermines the aim of making new homes genuinely environmentally friendly.
Bill Dunster, founder of Bill Dunster ArchitectsThe government says we can only meet 15% of electricity demand from renewables and the 15% will be needed from the existing homes. So what about the 8 million new homes making up 30% of stock by 2050 that is yet to be built? The opportunities for renewable energy generation offsite are limited.
Most of the complaints from the UK-GBC are about cost. But we have built true zero-carbon homes at reasonable cost at densities of 50 homes per hectare or about 70% of UK housing. You only get into trouble at much higher densities - around 200-250 homes per hectare.
The reason there's been so much lobbying of the government is that the people with the real money who own the land will have to take a significant reduction in land value before they build anything if they are going to have to have onsite power generation.
Imtiaz Farookhi, chief executive of the National House-Building CouncilIt is a positive step in the right direction and allows for the flexibility essential to make this agenda happen. We are at a crossroads on the journey to zero carbon, and this is arguably the most significant policy decision for decades. It is therefore critical that we get it right and agree a workable definition... I strongly urge the industry, despite the dire market conditions, to put its weight behind the debate and respond fully to the consultation.
Mark Clare, group chief executive of Barratt DevelopmentsA workable definition of zero carbon is critical if we are to deliver environmental ambitions in an affordable way - particularly in the hostile economic environment that we face today. A more flexible definition of zero carbon, as we recommended in the UK-GBC report back in May, is welcome, but we need to be very clear about exactly what needs to be delivered and how the solutions can be delivered by the developer, working in partnership with the energy supply industry.
Stephen Stone, chief executive of Crest NicholsonThe economic downturn we are battling with at the moment does not mean that climate change goes away. The government needs to decide what its priorities are, and we believe that cutting carbon emissions should be at the top of the list. But that means other things might have to give, and government has to act to help the industry deliver much-needed new homes.
Karl Whiteman, managing director of Berkeley Homes Urban RenaissanceWe're committed to the zero-carbon target, and stand by the recommendations of the UK-GBC report on the definition. There's been a lot of innovation over the last couple of years, and we'll see more - but only if the industry is confident that government is going to stick to its policy, and help the housebuilding industry through these challenging times.
Andrew Eagles, Sustainable HomesThe ideas are potentially useful but they need quite close monitoring. It may be over time that getting to zero carbon might become more cost effective; they could still push for zero carbon but right now in some instances it will be far quicker and easier to get CO2 reductions from existing than new stock.
Helen Taylor, sustainability consultantThe government has proved itself quite big in this. There are better ways of improving energy efficiency than achieving code level six, with all the embodied carbon and messing around with technology, etc. I think it's an admirable improvement. But it's a cop-out, definitely. An admirable cop-out.
Neil Jefferson, chief executive of Zero Carbon HubWe welcome today's announcement by the DCLG… It is a direct response to industry uncertainty and concern over the previous definition, which was seen by some parts of the industry as unworkable. We will now seek to evaluate the new definition hand-in-hand with the industry as part of the Zero Carbon Hub's core dissemination and delivery role.
Simon McWhirter, homes campaign manager at WWF-UKThere is no doubt that the government needs to re-examine its definition of zero carbon if it is to set developers on course to reaching the 2016 target. But making this target more achievable should not by any stretch of the mark result in a weakening of the current guidelines. WWF wants to see much stronger regulations that clearly define the minimum energy efficiency of new homes, as this will be vital to ensure the UK is making deep cuts in CO2 emissions under the new Climate Change Act.
We need to be improving the energy efficiency of all the existing stock as it is, and that will be covered by a separate consultation due (hopefully) in the summer. We are robbing Peter to pay Paul if we allow a zero-carbon definition to include the existing stock when both have to be done anyway.