Government gets its wish as zero-carbon homes policy is ‘sent to the scrap heap’

After several political twists and turns, plans to introduce greener homes into the housing mix through the zero-carbon homes policy have been ditched, with the Government eventually defeating proposed amendments to the Housing and Planning Bill by four votes.

The Housing and Planning Bill, which received royal assent on Friday (13 May), has brought a long-running saga over Britain’s zero-carbon home policies to an end, after the UK Government finally managed to veto proposed amendments; choosing to introduce a 12-month review of the energy efficiency standard for new homes in building regulations in its place.

Green groups and business leaders have been campaigning for a replacement to the zero-carbon homes standard, which was unexpectedly scrapped in July last year. The campaign culminated with the Government suffering two defeats from the House of Lords, before eventually passing the Bill without the recommended amendments.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman told edie: “We are already building some of the most energy efficient homes in the world. Our current standards are tough and already have the full support of the industry.

“Our aim is to speed up house building and not add extra costs and bureaucracy. We do not need extra legislation as existing legislation is already in place to allow energy performance standards to be set in Building Regulations.”

Legislative danger

While the Government has been aiming to accelerate the roll-out of new homes without “burdening” house builders with extra costs or regulations for some time, campaigners are now concerned about the potential danger that new legislation could pose for the UK’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the wake of the Paris Agreement.

The UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) was at the forefront of amendment process alongside Baroness Parminter. The original amendment, which called upon the Secretary of State to ensure “that all new homes in England built from 1 April 2018 achieve the carbon compliance standard”, was approved by 48 votes.

Commenting on this decision, UKGBC’s chief executive Julie Hirigoyen said: “Let’s be absolutely clear. The amendment was never going to get us to zero-carbon. But it would at least have ensured our new homes meet a minimum carbon compliance standard which has already been met by at least 70,000 new homes.

“Devoid of any such legislation, the Government’s legislative landscape is in danger of locking in carbon emissions for future generations. New homes will need expensive retrofit measures in future if we’re to meet our ambitious reduction targets.

“At UKGBC, we will continue to push for higher standards during the Government’s upcoming review of building regulations. We will also work to provide those showing leadership – including devolved administrations and the new Mayor of London – a strong business case for driving down carbon.”

With the chair of the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC) Angus MacNeil recently warning that the Government was “mortgaging the future” by scrapping the policy, organisations such as the UKGBC – which may have to take up the zero-homes mantle after the Zero Carbon Hub was forced to shutdown – will have to turn to the private sector to promote the case for low-carbon policies.

Fortunately, at least 8,000 zero-carbon homes are already set to be built in the UK relatively soon, thanks to a £1.1bn cash injection which will see an initial tranche of 4,000 pre-engineered homes built between 2016-2018, replete with rooftop solar panels, energy storage systems and waste-to-energy technologies.

Matt Mace

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