Shadow energy secretary fights to preserve councils’ authority to set higher energy efficiency standards

zero carbon

Labour has launched an effort to derail the government’s plans to revoke the ability of local councils to set green building standards over and above those laid out in Building Regulations.

Following its wide-ranging review of housing standards, the government is currently in the process of trying to pass a law in parliament that would remove local authorities’ ability to set energy efficiency standards over and above the level set by Building Regulations.

The move comes as part of the government’s drive to reduce the burden of regulations on industry and streamline the set of standards that the housebuilders and the wider industry must adhere to.

However, the change in the law has been opposed by campaigners, as well as London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose London Plan specifies that developments have to be 36% more carbon efficient than 2010 Building Regulations and has been credited with improving the sustainability of schemes in the capital.

Writing in Building last month, Andrew Warren, director of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, said the government’s move showed that communities secretary Eric Pickles, who has presided over the plans, was “hostile” to energy saving and a “poodle of the big housing developers”, which he accused of lobbying for the change in the law.

Now an amendment to the Deregulation Bill, tabled by Labour’s shadow energy minister Jonathan Reynolds last week, has stated that local authorities should only be able to have their powers in this area revoked once the “secretary of state has laid a zero-carbon housing strategy before both Houses of Parliament”.

The government has committed to introducing zero-carbon homes in 2016, but has yet to unveil its full policy proposals.

Speaking to Building, Reynolds said: “I think that the amendment is worded in such a way that people from any party can sign it and give a big signal to industry that we are all behind zero-carbon homes.”

He said it was “confusing” for the market to hear that the government was pushing ahead with plans to water down building regulations while at the same time launching its long-awaited subsidy scheme for renewable heating systems.

Joanne Wheeler, senior policy advisor at the UK Green Building Council, said she supported the “proposal that locally set standards should not be watered down in the interim before zero-carbon 2016 legislation comes into force”.

She added: “The industry is ready and able to meet the 2016 zero-carbon trajectory for all new homes, and it’s crucial that government and opposition parties commit to maintaining the timetable for that.

“The focus needs to be on preparing for the final step in 2016, with a level playing field across the country.

“Over time it will be necessary to go further to bring a wider range of issues into Building Regulations, such as embodied carbon in materials and the construction process.”