Spring Statement: Chancellor unveils biodiversity plans and low-carbon homes requirements
BREAKING: Chancellor Philip Hammond has today (13 March) pledged to implement legislation requiring developers to deliver biodiversity net-gain through all projects in his 2019 Spring Statement, which also includes a review into the economic benefits of environmental conservation.
The Spring Statement, unveiled today (13 March), was delivered by Hammond against a tumultuous political backdrop. Theresa May's Brexit withdrawal agreement was defeated in the Commons by 149 votes and MPs are currently voting on whether to leave the European Union (EU) under a “no deal” scenario.
Many experts predict that a no-deal departure creates more risk for the UK economy. But with the main budget now held in Autumn, Hammond has instead been able to use his Spring Statement to outline various policy reviews.
As well as pledges to exempt PhD-level roles from the visa caps and offer free sanitary products to colleges, the Spring Statement includes a major global review into the economic value of biodiversity, including the financial risks of its decline and rewards of its stewardship.
The review will examine the economic benefits of biodiversity on a global, national and local level, and to determine the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable interventions which could be taken to protect nature.
Ahead of the review, Hammond has pledged to introduce clauses to the upcoming Environment Bill which will require all developers to generate biodiversity net-gain through all projects in the UK and overseas territories. Some developers already follow a biodiversity net-gain approach voluntarily, but the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) had been calling for this approach to be mandated.
Additionally, Hammond pledged to grant protected status to an additional 445 sq km of marine habitat in the Mediterranean.
Following the publication of the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) warnings that energy-inefficient and high-carbon housing is jeopardising the UK’s chances of meeting its carbon budgets, Hammond also used the Spring Statement to build on his pledge to halve the energy use of new-build homes by 2030.
Specifically, Hammond announced that all new homes built from 2025 will be required to be heated by systems free from fossil fuels, and that the UK will implement policies to increase the proportion of "green gas" within its gas grid to support this aim.
“As with the challenge of adapting to the digital age, the challenge of shaping a carbon-neutral economy of the future is pressing," Hammond said.
"We must apply the creativity of the marketplace to one of the most complex problems of our time – climate change – and build sustainability into the heart of our economic model.
“Our challenge is to demonstrate to the next generation that our market economy can fulfil their aspirations and align with their values. Housing and the environment are two issues dear to them."
A consultation into the Business Energy Efficiency Scheme laid out in the 2018 Autumn Budget was also confirmed by Hammond and is due to launch today. A Future Homes Standard will also be launched by 2025 to ensure that new builds are fitted with low-carbon heating and "world-leading" levels of energy efficiency.
Other commitments in the statement include: advancing the decarbonisation of gas supplies by increasing the proportion of green gas in the grid and creating zero-carbon travel options through a call for evidence on Offsetting Transport Emissions requirements.
Commenting on the statement, the Green Alliance’s policy director Dustin Benton said: “Our work shows that zero carbon homes cost the same to build as high carbon ones and, given what we know about climate change, selling people a home they’ll have to retrofit in future to reduce their climate impact borders on misselling.
“But the bigger question is whether the chancellor will spend any of the extra £20bn in taxes that he’s already received from the retrofitting of existing buildings. Just half of this sum spent over the next decade on this could be enough to get the UK on track to meeting its climate change targets.”
A full three-year spending review is scheduled for later this year to outline what funds will be available for each government department from 2020.
However, the Spring Statement failed to shed light on numerous aspects of the Government’s low-carbon approach. The Government is currently asking the CCC how best to bolster its carbon reduction targets and create a net-zero economy, but this, along with numerous other green economy wishes, was absent from the statement.
Sarah George & Matt Mace