Speaking at a Policy Exchange event in London yesterday (14 November), Lord Deben urged developers to step up efforts to ensure new homes meet Passive House standards, which require designs to combine ultra-low energy consumption with consistently good air quality.

Deben specifically called out three of the UK’s largest housebuilders – Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey – for failing to implement these standards and “cheating the public” by inflating the cost of energy bills for homeowners and tenants.

“The biggest issue in the future will be the retrofitting of the buildings that we’ve got already,” he said. “If we’re going to have to do that, for goodness sake, stop making the problem worse.

“Every year, we have to build 200,000 houses which are crap because they do not meet the standards which they could meet. If they did meet them, they would reduce the cost of housing for everybody who lives in them.

“If you pay a bit more – and it is a very small amount – to produce a house to Passive House standards, and then you add the energy costs per month to the slightly increased mortgage cost, you will find that you are better off to build it that way.

“You can go through every single one of them [housebuilders], but the three biggest ones are Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey. Why are they building houses now that are cheating the public from the proper cost?”

Removing barriers

In the UK, more than 330,000 private rented homes currently do not meet energy efficiency standards. The construction industry has stressed that it is “eager” to work with the UK Government to boost housebuilding standards.

Very few British builders are trained in Passive House construction, although the concept is gaining traction among trailblazing public sector organisations that deliver social and affordable housing schemes. Housing association Hastoe, for instance, has built almost a dozen Passive House estates as part of a pledge to deliver 20% of new housing units to the standard.

Deben said that, by doing so, Hastoe had given their tenants the ability to pay rent because their energy costs are much lower. It is estimated that Passive House buildings can deliver heating and cooling related energy savings of up to 75% compared with average new builds.

The CCC Chair called on the industry to eradicate the “institutional barriers” which prevent people from accessing cheap energy bills.

“We have got to think seriously about energy efficiency – not just in the context of dealing with climate change, or in the context of the pressures of Paris,” Deben added. “I want us to deal with energy efficiency in the context of ordinary people’s bills. And, if that is the case, we really need to remove those institutional barriers to people having a better, cheaper and warmer life.”

‘Great strides’

Responding to Lord Deben’s claims, the UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) told edie that it acknowledged the need for industry progress to plug the energy efficiency “performance gap”, although the group questioned the wisdom of criticising individual companies.

UK-GBC director of policy and places John Alker said: “Lord Deben is right to highlight the importance of improving the energy efficiency of new homes, and there is no question that the industry as a whole needs to take urgent steps to address the performance gap and provide assurance to homebuyers that the home they’re buying is high quality, sustainable and will perform as designed to. 

“However, rattling off the names of individual housebuilders is probably not very helpful and masks significant differences across the sector.”

Alker insisted that “great strides” have been made by many companies to enhance sustainability in the sector, reflected in the Next Generation benchmarking of the largest housebuilders.

Efficiency landscape

Energy efficiency policies such as building codes and product policy has seen the average UK household bill reduced by £490 a year, according to estimates. But green groups have warned that new policies are urgently required to boost the energy efficiency of new and existing homes if the UK is to reach its long-term climate targets and reduce domestic energy bills.

Some experts claim that the national housing shortage and a need for new homes to be built rapidly have forced the Government to backtrack on energy performance standards set by building regulations.

Scrappage of the zero-carbon homes policy – a target for new homes constructed after 2016 – came as a surprise and in some cases angered many in the construction industry as the Government had worked towards implementing the policy for more than a decade.

But there have been some encouraging regulatory advances in recent times. A Minimum Energy Efficiency Standard (MEES) will take effect as of 1st April 2018, imposing new rules on both domestic and commercial properties within the private rental sector. These new rules will prohibit landlords from granting a tenancy to new or existing tenants if the property has an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating below band ‘E’.

In its recent Clean Growth Strategy, the Government announced that all fuel-poor homes will need to be upgraded to EPC band C by 2030. Ministers have set aside round £3.6bn of investment to upgrade around 500,000 homes through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO).

edie approached Barratt, Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey for a response to Lord Deben’s comments, but comments from the respective companies had not arrived by the time of this article’s publication.

George Ogleby

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie