Housebuilders, planners and green groups have condemned the government for scrapping plans to make all new UK homes carbon neutral.
The zero carbon homes policy was first announced in 2006 by the then-chancellor Gordon Brown, who said Britain was the first country to make such a commitment.
It would have ensured that all new dwellings from 2016 would generate as much energy on-site – through renewable sources, such as wind or solar power – as they would use in heating, hot water, lighting and ventilation. This was to be supported by tighter energy efficiency standards that would come into force in 2016, and a scheme which would allow housebuilders to deliver equivalent carbon savings off site.
However, both regulations were axed by the government on Friday, in a move Julie Hirigoyen, chief executive of the UK Green Building Council, said was “the death knell” for the zero carbon homes policy.
“It is short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the house-building industry, which has invested heavily in delivering energy-efficient homes,” Hirigoyen said. “Britain needs more housing but there is no justification for building homes with a permanent legacy of high energy bills.”
Housebuilders, energy leaders and environmentalists were similarly critical of the move.
“We are very disappointed with this decision,” said Philip Sellwood, Chief Executive of the Energy Saving Trust. “Under the Climate Change Act, we have to achieve at least an 80% reduction in the carbon emissions from our homes by 2050. We need to be building homes now that are 2050 ready.”
Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association said “The cancellation of the policy marks the end of any benchmark for building the high quality, sustainable homes that we so desperately need.”
Daisy Sands, energy and climate campaigner at Greenpeace UK said “Ditching schemes to support energy efficiency for new homes is a calamitous decision all round. Energy-wasting homes mean higher bills, increased dependence on gas imports from countries like Russia, and more climate-warming emissions. ”
Ed Davey, former secretary of state for energy and climate change suggested David Cameron “may as well hug a coal power station”.
Today’s announcement was made as part of a government report, Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation. It said the scrapping of the two regulations was designed to “reduce net regulations on housebuilders”.
The zero carbon homes policy aimed to dramatically reduce CO2 emissions from housing, which currently make up nearly a third of all the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, a figure which could rise to 55% by 2050.
Paul King, managing director of sustainability, communications and marketing for developer LendLease Europe, said the move was a backwards step for efforts to improve the energy efficiency of the nation’s building stock, which is some of the most inefficient in Europe.
“Industry needs as much policy clarity and consistency as possible in order to invest and innovate, and after almost 10 years of commitment and progress, UK house builders and developers have come a very long way,” he said. “It is therefore extremely disappointing that the government has today removed a world-leading ambition for all new homes to be zero carbon from 2016.”
Concerns about anthropogenic climate change, fossil fuel depletion, energy security, and damage to our ecosystems are acting as a catalyst for action in many sectors of industry and society. One key sector which has been identified as crucial for addressing these issues is the building sector. Therefore, in the UK context, with the aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the requirements for new homes in terms of their energy efficiency are becoming ever more stringent, leading to the introduction of the zero carbon homes standard from 2016. Alongside this, broader priorities for sustainable development have been established in the UK, with a focus on the creation of sustainable communities. These are communities which support the diverse needs of residents and provide a good quality of life whilst protecting the natural environment. The literature suggests that the volume housebuilding sector is failing to meet housing demand in terms of either quantity or quality. Furthermore, it is apparent that the sector is failing to respond to voluntary stimuli for the delivery of zero carbon homes. Thus, it is with an overall aim of supporting the delivery of zero carbon homes and sustainable communities that this thesis has been undertaken. The UK Government suggested in 2011 that self-build homes, in which the occupant is involved in either building or commissioning the home, are more likely to be affordable, energy efficient and innovative than open market housing. Self-build housing accounts for only around 10% of new homes built in the UK, and group self-build is a small proportion of this. The UK Government has an aspiration to double the size of the self-build sector, with an expansion in the group self-build sector, over the decade to 2021. Literature on the self-build sector is limited, and that on the group self-build sector even more so. Indeed, gaps in knowledge in terms of the motivations for and benefits of group self-build exist. There are also gaps in knowledge in terms of the barriers to group self-building and ways in which the expansion of the sector could be best supported. Furthermore, existing literature on drivers for and barriers to zero carbon homebuilding is limited and fails to gather opinions from the broad range of professionals involved in the delivery of new homes. With the aim of addressing these gaps in knowledge, three complementary studies were conducted with an element of focus on the region of Cornwall, in South West England. With the aim of exploring opinions of professionals involved in the delivery of new homes regarding zero carbon homebuilding, a series of 34 semi-structured interviews was undertaken within the first study (Perceptions of zero carbon homebuilding). The second study was undertaken with the aim of investigating professional and expert opinions on the suitability of group self-build as a development model for zero carbon homes and sustainable communities (Self-build perceptions). This investigation employed the Policy Delphi method, an iterative, non-contact group research process in which data was gathered from participants through three rounds of online questionnaire surveys. This second study was formed of two concurrent studies; one employed a panel of national participants within England, the other a panel of regional participants within South West England. The third and final study aimed to explore the experience-based opinions of group self-builders through a series of 11 in-depth interviews (Group self-build reflections). The three studies are presented independently. However, each subsequent study is built upon the knowledge gained in the previous study. Within the final chapter of the thesis, the results are brought together and triangulated through a consideration of how the findings coalesce to cast light on the three central concepts of zero carbon homes, sustainable communities, and group self-build housing. The findings from this research identify and elucidate a number of themes of drivers for and barriers to zero carbon homebuilding. Themes of drivers include: legislative, economic, social responsibility, individual, and industry. Themes of barriers include: economic, skills and knowledge, industry, legislative, and cultural. Multiple potential support mechanisms for the delivery of zero carbon homes were also identified. The findings highlight the need for a cultural shift in the housebuilding industry, reducing the over-reliance on volume housebuilders. A broad range of benefits and motivations for group self-building have been identified and explored. However, whilst a strong appetite for environmentally sustainable development amongst group self-builders is established, this research casts some doubt on the central assertion that group self-build homes will be more energy efficient than speculatively built homes. Differences between the individual and group self-build sector were exposed both in terms of the motivations and the barriers faced. This thesis demonstrates how the benefits of group self-build housing serve to help create sustainable communities, and how they also serve to address some of the barriers to zero carbon homebuilding. The findings of this research demonstrate that group self-build housing offers a significant number of potential benefits towards the delivery of zero carbon homes and the creation of sustainable communities.