Industry attacks Andrew Stunell’s claims that housebuilders do not take sustainability seriously enough

Communities minister Andrew Stunell has accused the housebuilding industry of not taking the battle against climate change as seriously as other threats, such as fire risk, in an escalating attack on the sector’s commitment to sustainability.

In a provocative keynote address at the Liberal Democrat conference this week, Stunell said zero-carbon homes were in danger of becoming little more than an “empty slogan” because of the industry’s failure to build to required standards.

In an interview with Building afterwards, the minister went further, claiming that no truly zero-carbon home had yet been built and that the energy performance of buildings needed to be taken as seriously as their ability to withstand fire.

We could be kidding ourselves that we are moving towards zero carbon

Andrew Stunell

Stunell’s comments have been immediately attacked by the industry, with the Home Builders Federation (HBF) reminding him of the government’s own zero-carbon responsibilities and others questioning his evidence.

Delivering his speech in Birmingham, Stunell revealed that he has “urgently” called an advisory committee together to look into how zero-carbon measures can be achieved ahead of the next upgrading of Building Regulations in 2013.

He called for changes in the culture of the industry, and pointed to the findings of a study last year by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust that found that one of its own low-carbon housing developments, Elm Tree Mews in York, was under-performing when completed.

Speaking to Building, Stunell - who studied architecture at university and has worked as an architectural assistant - said the Zero Carbon Hub had also provided evidence that design standards were not being achieved post-completion.

“If we look to 2016, we could be kidding ourselves that we are moving towards zero carbon when that is just not happening,” he said. “Zero-carbon homes are difficult to build. We haven’t mastered it yet but we need to take the energy performance of buildings as seriously as the fire performance of buildings.”

Stewart Baseley, chairman of the HBF, said the industry had made “significant progress towards what is a challenging target” on zero carbon.

“But the government also has its responsibilities, for example to ensure that the SAP software for modelling design is fit for purpose,” he said.

Mike Leonard, director of the Modern Masonry Alliance, said he was amazed by Stunell’s comments, which he claimed were based on a handful of homes on two sites.

“I cannot think of another scenario where you would make such a decision on such limited evidence,” he added.