'Death knell' for zero-carbon homes target

10th July 2015

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Brian William Constantine

A target for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 has been abandoned, the government announced today.

The change comes as part of a wide-ranging government plan to boost productivity, which includes several proposals to remove regulations for housebuilders.

The zero-carbon homes target required developers to meet a minimum energy standard in new homes. If it was not possible to achieve the zero carbon target onsite, developers were then able to invest in carbon reduction projects offsite under a scheme known as allowable solutions.

The detail of the offsets had been under discussion for years. But the government's productivity plan launched today, states: "The government does not intend to proceed with the zero-carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme, or the proposed 2016 increase in onsite energy efficiency standards."

It will keep energy efficiency standards under review, adding: "Existing measures to increase energy efficiency of new buildings should be allowed time to become established."

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) reacted angrily to the news, calling it the "death knell" for zero-carbon homes. It also described the decision as "short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging" to the house building industry, which has invested in delivering the target.

Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive at the UKGBC, said: "The government has not consulted the house building industry sufficiently on this sudden announcement. This arbitrary and regressive action was not mandated by the Conservative party manifesto."

The coalition government legislated for the allowable solutions policy only last year, she added, saying: "This stop-start policy making approach gives industry no confidence in the government's vision for a low carbon economy and condemns new home owners to higher energy bills."

The government also announced further reforms to the planning system, saying it was a "slow, expensive and uncertain process that reduces the appetite to build." Legislation will be introduced to grant automatic planning permission on brownfield sites that have identified in statutory registers.

Automatic permission will be subject to the approval of "a limited number of technical details", the document states. This will establish a zonal system for brownfield land, reducing delay and uncertainty for brownfield development, it says.

The document confirms the chancellor's budget announcement that money generated from a reformed system of vehicle excise duty will be spent on new major roads. The government also wants a "significant" expansion in new nuclear power in the UK, it says.

The productivity plan also includes proposals to boost the economy through improved skills. IEMA's chief policy advisor Martin Baxter said that implementation of the plan provided an opportunity to build sustainability into the UK's skills base, but expressed disappointment that it does not explicitly highlight the opportunities around this issue.

Also today, the energy bill was laid in parliament. The bill introduces legislation to give local authorities power over planning decisions on wind farms over 50MW in England and Wales rather than the secretary of state. It also implements the government's plans to close the renewables obligation to onshore wind one year early.


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