Universities challenge Government’s ‘watered-down’ zero-carbon homes policy

The Government's ability to meet EU targets for delivering low and zero-carbon homes has become threatened by a 'deregulation agenda' that resulted in the scrapped plans to make all new homes carbon-neutral, according to a new report from two UK universities.

In the report, titled ‘The future of policy and standards for low and zero-carbon homes’, researchers from the University of Westminster and the University of Hertfordshire highlight the serious implications of the Government’s recently axed zero-carbon homes plan.

The report reads: “Based on this research, there is wide support across the sector for the strong emphasis of Government upon national Building Regulations as the primary policy driver for achieving LZC [low and zero-carbon] homes, especially given that consumer drivers for higher energy standards are weak.

“However, opinion is far more divided about what many view as the recent ‘watering down’ of energy-related regulations for new homes. Many view the Coalition policy, which led up to the later abandonment of the 2016 zero carbon target, as having overlooked the key role for stronger regulations as drivers of innovation.”

The scrapping of the zero-carbon homes standard was broadly lambasted by green groups and house-building organisations when first announced last summer, and numerous sustainability professionals and green groups have since urged government to reverse its decision.

The report’s lead researcher Dr Dan Greenwood from the University of Westminster voiced particular concern over the low prominence of new low carbon homes on the political agenda.

“The task of establishing effective policies and standards for new homes is one that the Government and industry have both been wrestling with for ten years as part of the broader challenge of the UK and EU CO2 emissions reduction targets,” he said.

“As our report shows, whilst there has clearly been a need for streamlining policy and standards, this is not the same as the deregulation agenda we have seen from the Government. A smart approach to defining policies needs to include promoting skills development, learning and innovation across the housebuilding sector.”

Zero Carbon Hub

The report makes a number of policy recommendations, including: –

  • The significant costs and hindrances to innovation caused by ongoing uncertainty about the future of policy and standards.
  • The need for Government to support the construction and housebuilding sectors in addressing the profound challenge of developing skills and working practices required to translate policy targets into practice. This should be implemented through initiatives and partnerships with industry, such as the Zero Carbon Hub.
  • The need for industry standards to encourage greater engagement with sustainability issues from the home buying public.
‘Future misery’

The Government has suffered sustained attacks from green building leaders and sustainability professionals since that announcement to scrap regulations on zero-carbon house-building in its bid to improve the UK’s long-term productivity slump.

At the start of the year, the Solar Trade Association warned that the Government urgently needed to replace the scrapped zero-carbon homes policy to avoid locking in higher carbon emissions and higher energy bills for occupants in future decades. The National Policy for the Built Environment Committee echoed this sentiment less than a month later, arguing that the Government will create ‘future misery’ for homeowners if it doesn’t reverse its decision to scrap the zero-carbon homes requirement.

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George Ogleby

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