MPs question housebuilders on energy performance of new homes

Housebuilders and energy firms have been grilled in a parliamentary evidence session yesterday (12 March) on the energy performance of housing portfolios, with a lack of enabling policies highlighted as a major barrier for the sector.

MPs question housebuilders on energy performance of new homes

David Adams of Melius Homes (left) and David Thomas of Barratt Developments (right) giving evidence at the BEIS evidence session on energy efficiency

Speaking at a session of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Committee, the group chief executive of Barratt Developments, David Thomas, and the group planning and strategic land director at Persimmon, Peter Jordan, were quizzed on current new-build standards.

MPs questioned why major housebuilders were still building to 2006 and 2010 energy efficiency standards and not fresh regulations – and how standards were actually assessed once the homes were built.

Thomas said that 40% of sites were built to 2013 standards on energy efficiency with 60% ‘upgraded’ – with the majority of properties receiving an EPC Rating B – and Permission’s Jordan said 53% of its new build sites met the standard.

But the chair of the committee Rachel Reeves and other MPs asked how the energy efficiency ratings were designed and assessed – and if each house was independently tested for performance. MP Antionette Sandbach also said she had a constituent who had complained about the energy performance rating of her home not matching what was advertised, and whether the housebuilder would rectify such an issue.

Thomas said the properties were designed to that standard – but didn’t go as far as formally explaining if they were individually Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) assessed. Jordan did say that Persimmon bought in SAP assessors to look at homes and performance.

However, one of the main complaints from the housebuilders was that the EPC rating system was flawed, as it wasn’t measured by how a property would actually be used.

 “The SAP testing does not take into account the variations in use, such as the number of people in a property.” Thomas said.

When MP Patrick McLoughlin asked how it was possible for some housebuilders to still be building to 2006 standards when planning permission only stood for five years, technical director of Melius Homes, David Adams, referenced how planning permission is grandfathered as soon as work begins, meaning some sites could work to such a level as building had commenced.

Thomas also urged MPs to look at the products the housebuilders were using rather than just the rating, claiming, for example, if you took windows, the product specified for new-build homes was “way beyond” 2006 and 2010 levels.

Energy companies

In the first, earlier part of the evidence session, chief executive of E.ON Michael Lewis outlined a suite of policies that he believed the government should put in place to incentivise households to apply energy efficiency measures, such as variable stamp duty, council tax incentives for efficient homes, and changes to the Building Regulations.

“The targets are right, but we don’t have the policy instruments to get us there,” Lewis said.

“At a macro level, energy efficiency will always be one of the more attractive investments for government, but for the consumer, it needs to be made more attractive.” He said.

Lewis also outlined usage of so-called ‘green mortgages’, which incentivise the purchasing of energy efficient houses with low-interest mortgage products, and which has also been referenced in the government’s Clean Growth Strategy.

Also mentioned was the Green Deal. Associate director of E3G, Ed Matthew, said the “worst impact” of the Deal was “it put government off doing a loan scheme, which is a crying shame as if done properly it can work”.

Matthews also said that, unlike in Scotland, where energy efficiency was an infrastructure priority, none of the £6bn annually invested by Westminster in national infrastructure went into energy efficiency measures which would be “more popular” than spending on high-speed rail and roads, he claimed.

James Evison

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