Chancellor urged to reconsider zero carbon homes decision

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Over 200 business and industry leaders have written to George Osborne urging him to reconsider the decision to axe zero carbon home standards…

Last week the government announced plans to shelve zero carbon home standards. The decision, which seemed to come out of the blue, was understandably met with a mixture of confusion and outright criticism. After all this is a sector that has seen a significant amount of money invested in it over the years.

The u-turn on this issue was undoubtedly a huge blow for green building. Standards for the sector were so tantalisingly close, as they were set to come into effect in 2016, with non-residential buildings following in 2019. Now the future of the industry is somewhat unclear.

In a bid to get the government to reconsider the decision the industry has sent an open letter to the chancellor. It has been signed by senior executives from housebuilders Willmott Dixon and HAB Housing, as well as property organisations Lendlease and Argent.

Other firms to sign the letter include Saint-Gobain, Tata Steel, E.ON, Whitbread, the Green Building Council, the Renewable Energy Association, and the Aldersgate Group.

Upon hearing of the decision to scrap the standards, leaders from the industry expressed their disappointment. The news was certainly confusing as the primary legislation had reached the final stages of the process, gaining Royal Assent in February.

The letter to the chancellor outlined this, stating: “Since the policy was first launched eight years ago, business has invested heavily in preparing for future standards.

“This sudden U-turn has undermined industry confidence in Government and will now curtail investment in British innovation and manufacturing in low carbon products and services.

“There is no evidence to suggest it will increase housing supply or boost productivity.”

In fact, the group said the decision would cause an increase in the cost of meeting the UK’s legally-binding carbon targets.

“The weakening of standards will mean our future homes, offices, schools and factories will be more costly to run, locking future residents and building users into higher energy bills,” the letter stated.

“It also runs counter to advice from the Committee on Climate Change, impeding our ability to meet our statutory carbon targets cost-effectively at a time when we should be showing international leadership on this issue.”

The standards would have been a significant milestone for the sector, as it would have required developers to follow more demanding energy efficiency protocols than the current rules in place. Additionally, it would have pushed the sector to support the installation of clean energy technologies.

The decision to scrap the policy was surprising as there had been significant support from the industry. Furthermore, numerous developers had shown zero carbon standards could be met without having to pay a lot upfront.

It is thought the turnabout occurred due to a handful of house builders privately lobbying the Treasury to change the rules.

Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council Julie Hirigoyen was critical of the decision to scrap the standards. She said: “The speed and the stealth with which this administration has destroyed some of the long-term policies supporting the renewable and low carbon industries has been breath-taking.

“We have witnessed an unparalleled wave of support from our members and the wider industry who are deeply concerned about how the government’s sudden, regressive and arbitrary decision to scrap the long established zero carbon policy will impact their business and investment.

“This U-turn not only means our new buildings will be less energy efficient and more costly to run, but it comes at a time when the UK should be taking strong action on climate change ahead of the UN conference in Paris in December.

“We urge government to reconsider its position for the sake of future confidence in the UK’s low carbon economy.”

One of the reasons cited for the scrapping of the standards was the cost to the construction sector. However, last week researchers from Cardiff University revealed a zero carbon property could be built within the financial parameters set for social housing.

This feat was replicated in a similar project by Northern Ireland house builder Green Future. The firm managed to construct a zero carbon home that fell within the social housing budget of under £1,000 per sq metre.

In a statement Director of Green Future NI Dermot McClatchey said: “The chancellor’s reason for dropping the Code for Sustainable Homes and then the zero carbon homes commitment was because these homes could not be achieved.

“This is flawed. We have achieved this. We have built homes that produce more energy than they use, with homeowners earning money selling excess energy, as well as saving on average 70 per cent on their home energy bills for £1,000 per square metre. Zero carbon homes don’t need to cost more – and they don’t need to look outlandish. We have proved it is possible to deliver energy efficient homes at this cost.”

Zero carbon homes have the ability to reduce emissions, feed energy back into the grid, and benefit residents by saving money on energy bills.

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