The chief executive of the new public-private partnership says industry collaboration will be key

Since we launched the Zero Carbon Hub two weeks ago, the first question people ask me is "How are you going to deliver?" They rightly want to know how we are going to make this ambitious policy a reality when many consider zero-carbon new homes from 2016 to be impossible.

Even before the "credit crunch", the industry was grappling with a lack of data, too many tools and conflicting zero-carbon definitions.

Now, with unprecedented market conditions, people assume that the drive towards sustainability will be abandoned. But this view underestimates the strength and long-term vision of the sector. The need for low- and zero-carbon homes will still be there when we come through these tough times; those who do little now will have less time to adapt.

Of course, current market conditions put pressure on research and development budgets, and people have emphasised to me the need to focus on nearer targets, like achieving energy requirements of levels three and four of the Code for Sustainable Homes, as well as steering the way towards zero carbon. I believe that the Hub can play a vital role in these challenging times – all those involved in delivering zero-carbon new homes need greater clarity and support to deliver this ambitious policy.

About the Hub

Announced last week, the Hub answers last year’s recommendation in the Callcutt Review that: “Government and the housebuilding, construction products and energy supply industries should jointly sponsor a delivery unit to monitor, co-ordinate and guide the zero carbon programme.”

The Hub reflects a commitment from both private and public sectors to find solutions to delivering the zero-carbon policy. Its work will engage organisations active in low- and zero-carbon homes in various workstreams, including energy efficiency, energy supply, examples and scale-up, consumer engagement and skills and training.

The Hub will lead on day-to-day operational responsibility for delivering low- and zero-carbon new homes and will provide a direct conduit to the 2016 Taskforce, consisting of three ministers and senior leaders from the private, public and NGO sectors. Our small board, led by our chairman, Paul King of the UK Green Building Council, will oversee the Hub’s operation.

We’ve been very encouraged by the number of organisations who have approached us to offer their support and involvement since we announced the Hub last week. I am delighted that we have David Adams, seconded from Knauf Insulation, on board as director at the Hub.

Moving in the right direction

Many housebuilders are already taking steps towards zero carbon which should be recognised and applauded. But to make the step change, the sector needs and wants an organisation that can actively clear the path.

There are a wide range of issue that we will need to tackle: fabric, air leakage, thermal bridging, energy sources and more. Crucially, the Hub has the support and opportunity to engage the resource and expertise to make this happen.

We will also continue the development of a practical and workable definition of zero carbon, building on the UK GBC’s work in May and feeding into the Department for Communities and Local Government’s (DCLG) consultation.

As part of that consultation, we will be canvassing views from across the industry from organisations and energy providers to directly engage housebuilders of all sizes to feed back to DCLG to help inform its conclusion. We hope that as many companies and organisations as possible step forward and contribute.

Additionally, the Hub will identify a series of example homes and sites across the UK, particularly to help small and medium housebuilders. These case studies will be shared with the community, so that best practice and the appropriate technical tools are available to all.

Tackling challenges together

Clear goals and direct action as a result of collaboration, engagement and expertise will be key to the Hub’s success. Our greatest challenges lie ahead, but it is essential that we keep progressing towards the 2016 target – we have to tackle the contribution of new homes to the UK’s carbon-dioxide emissions.

Our assumption on zero-carbon new homes is that similarly challenging actions are taken in all sectors: existing building stock, industry, overall energy supply, transport and so on. From a zero-carbon homes perspective, if we involve the whole supply chain in the process and form workable solutions we have every chance of making zero-carbon new homes from 2016 possible.