High Court to hear legal challenge over ‘roadblock’ to localised home energy efficiency standards

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The Good Law Project and Rights Community Action launched a legal challenge to the policy directive, which was revealed by the Department for Housing, Levelling Up and Communities (DHLUC) late last year, in February.

Summarising the directive in a statement issued in December 2023, DHLUC under-secretary Baroness Penn implied that it would limit councils from setting their own carbon and energy efficiency standards for new homes because “the proliferation of multiple, local standards by local authority area can add further costs to building new homes by adding complexity and undermining economies of scale”.

The Good Law Project’s executive director Jo Maugham accused the Government of short-termism with the policy. She said: “This will be beneficial in the short term for the huge housebuilders and developers that fund the Conservative Party – and terrible for everyone else. We think it’s time to say ‘enough.’ ”

The Good Law Project called the directive “a massive overreach of central Government power” and more than 50 councils, businesses and charities across the UK have voiced their support for the legal challenge, in efforts coordinated by the Town and Country Planning Association.

DHLUC stated that its policies would allow more energy-efficient homes to be delivered, so long as local authorities “do this in a way that is easily understandable for housebuilders and does not affect the viability of new housing.”

Nonetheless, the High Court has agreed to host a judicial review of the directive. It will assess whether it undermines the objectives of the Climate Change Act, which was updated in 2019 to include the UK’s binding net-zero target for 2050.

The UK Government’s climate advisors have repeatedly warned that a lack of joined-up policynmaking on building energy efficiency and decarbonising heat risks the delivery of this target.

The Court will also assess whether the Government has flouted the 2021 Environment Act’s requirement for the environmental impacts of policies relating to buildings and infrastructure to be thoroughly assessed.

The review will take place in late May with a date to be finalised. Official communication on the matter indicates that the review will take more than one full day in Court.

Rights Community Action’s chief executive Naomi Luhde-Thompson said:  “Laws to protect the environment and to guard against exactly this sort of ministerial folly need to come into their own and force a change in the Government’s approach so that councils can plan for zero-carbon places.”

A recent survey of councils, conducted by the Local Government Association, found that two-thirds are not confident of their ability to deliver on their net-zero targets. Key barriers include time and resource constraints, plus difficulty applying to the UK Government’s competitive funding pots due to complex bid-writing requirements.

Clarity needed

In related news, an alliance of 12 real estate industry associations has written to the UK Government asking for clarity on the future of minimum building energy efficiency requirements for non-domestic rented properties.

Members of the Green Property Alliance represent investors, owners, developers and managers. They are cautious that the Prime Minister and Energy and Net-Zero Secretary could change plans in this space, after scrapping forthcoming standards for domestic rented properties in September 2023.

That decision was taken as part of a broader package of green policy rollbacks, including a delay on the ban of new petrol and diesel car and van sales from 2030 to 2035.

The Government consulted on new energy efficiency standards in 2021 but has not yet published full details of the findings and how these will inform future changes. The letter calls for the publication of this information ahead of the general election, which must be called by January 2025 at the latest.

“A full response, providing detail on EPC targets and timelines and clarity on the rules around exemptions and enforcement, would be warmly welcomed by our members and we would be an ally in working with you and officials to help communicate and deliver the new standards,” the letter states.

Signatories of the letter include the British Property Federation (BPF), the Commercial Real Estate Finance Council (CREFC), the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC).

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