Energy efficiency in new homes is the subject of heated Whitehall debate at the moment– but the government must keep a cool head to get its targets right
Whitehall is about to make some very big decisions on sustainability. It will be soon be formulating policy that will dictate the energy efficiency of the next generation of homes.

It’s a tricky business; the government has to strike a delicate balance. If sustainability targets are too onerous, developers will not be able to build enough homes to meet the UK’s housing demand. If energy targets are too lenient, the government will miss its carbon emissions targets laid out in the energy white paper.

The Sustainability Building Task Group sounds like a talking shop, but it is the government body charged with the task of finding cost-effective ways of providing sustainable development. Its recommendations will form the basis of government sustainable policy for years to come.

Building has obtained a leaked document detailing some of the task group’s proposals. The outline recommendations make interesting reading for any developer looking to make a killing in the Thames Gateway and other priority growth areas.

For new homes in development areas, the energy working group suggests reducing CO2 emission to 25% below the standards laid out in the Building Regulations. This 25% differential would be maintained whenever energy regulations were upgraded, which is likely to be in 2005 and 2010. The estimated cost of providing these eneryg efficiency improvements - a small matter of £3000.

The energy working group is also suggesting mandatory air-pressure testing to ensure that builders comply with the regulations governing energy – Part L. It says that for large housing developments, checks could be carried out on 10% of the homes.

Developers may be forced to raise the efficiency of their buildings through the planning process. The working group says that planning policy standards could be used to insist that developments meet certain standards in the Thames Gateway and other development zones.

To ease the developer’s burden of providing more costly energy efficient buildings, the task group proposes to introduce fiscal incentives. These could be in the form of stamp duty rebates for home movers or developers.

The task group also says that the government should take a stand and insist in green procurement. It says that, as a tenant, it could insist on renting energy efficient buildings, and it could insist that PFI bids include buildings’ whole-life energy performance.

The task group is expected to hand the government a full list of recommendations in May. We will then see how the brave Whitehall is feeling. The big question is whether the government will still insist on ultra-sustainable homes if that jeopardises its chances of hitting its ambitious housebuilding targets.