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Zero Carbon Homes

Despite strong foundations a tough policy commitment still needs to be constructed

The debate over Zero Carbon Homes (ZCH) reared its head again recently following announcements made in the Queen’s speech confirming that provisions for ZCH in 2016 would be included in the Infrastructure Bill. Discussed in the Lords this week, far from being the announcement that industry was hoping for; finally cementing the government’s commitment to ZCH, which has been repeated on several occasions, what has been announced is a rather watered down version.

And this is not the first time. The Sustainable Energy Association has long supported the pathway to Zero Carbon Homes. The benefits of a well-insulated home with integrated renewables speak for themselves; along with reduced emissions is the additional benefit of reduced fuel bills for consumers. Also mitigated is building a retrofit legacy which costs more than installing at new build. These built in lifetime costs provide an overall benefit to UKplc.

So it was no surprise that industry expressed disappointed at the Part L amendments implemented in April 2014 which committed to only a 6% improvement in new domestic homes on 2010 carbon compliance. This lower option was used instead of the preferred 26% improvement, the halfway point to ZCH homes in 2016.

The latest announcement only compounds this disappointment. The 2016 target now only commits to reduce emissions by 44% on 2006 levels – and is actually only the same as the halfway point referred to above. Developers can then make up the rest of the carbon reductions through ‘Allowable Solutions’ (also referred to as ‘green schemes’). So that means once this year’s update to Part L is done, that’s it. Zip. No More. No more tightening of regulations, just “Allowable Solutions”.

But the real sting is that “small sites” are exempt from compliance. This has created a whole new area for confusion as industry speculates on a) what the definition of a small site will be (current speculation is sites of 50 homes or fewer – accounting for over a third of the market ) and b) what the definition of allowable solutions will be.

And this is only half the issue. Elsewhere, the Deregulation Bill is also making its way through parliament. Within this bill is removal of the power for local authorities to set higher energy efficiency standards in local planning standards. The supply chain has been used to considerable demand being driven by planning authorities adopting these policies and was also gearing up for the “half way to zero carbon” change to the Building Regulations in 2014 and “zero carbon” from 2016. Consequently these retrograde steps have had a huge impact on industry and investor confidence.
The Government must take a number of steps now to reinstate industry confidence in their commitment to ZCH:

  1. Retain the power for local authorities to set higher energy efficiency standards in local planning standards until such time as Building Regulations meet a sufficiently high standard and this standard is in law.
  2.  Revisit proposals for Zero Carbon Homes and set the level of carbon savings in 2016 at the optimal point which has been supported by industry.
  3.  To make no exemptions to the definition of Zero Carbon Homes.
  4. To provide further information on the definition of Allowable Solutions – taking into consideration the consequential lower running costs of buildings using a lifetime cost benefit analysis to establish the appropriate boundary between solutions ‘built-in’ and ‘bought-out’.

The Sustainable Energy Association will continue to follow the passage of both the Infrastructure Bill and the Deregulation Bill through parliament and work closely with members and stakeholders to oppose these damaging changes.


Friday, June 20th, 2014