BMF director expresses disappointment at government zero carbon U-turn

Published:  16 July, 2015

Government proposals aiming to provide simplified planning and development procedure contains an unexpected U-turn on the zero carbon homes policy, according to Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) managing director John Newcomb.

Contained in the 90-page document was news that ministers have decided not to proceed with both the zero carbon standard for new homes due to begin next year and the Allowable Solutions scheme formulated to help builders achieve it by offsetting a newbuild’s carbon emissions with building work offsite.

Mr Newcomb said: “The BMF did not ask for this and the sudden, unheralded change in direction raises more questions. For example, will it apply to residential and commercial property, or only new homes?”

“Regrettably, this is another case of stop-start Whitehall policy-making that shakes business confidence and damages any industry appetite to invest in low- and zero-carbon solutions to help improve cold, draughty homes and cut rising energy bills.

“There are four and a half years until 2020 and efforts required to improve millions of homes are unlikely to be completed - especially now this zero carbon standard has been scrapped. Stocking and delivering materials and products to improve the thermal or energy performance of new or existing buildings is central to the builders, plumbers and timber merchants we represent. This is bound to impact on their business.”

The government’s productivity plan, titled ‘Fixing The Foundations’, is intended to tackle national economic under-performance by encouraging long-term investment to raise productivity levels and boost growth in all regions. Ministers announced a series of legislative changes and policy initiatives in recognising more has to be done to narrow the gap between housing supply & demand.

The document’s other main announcements concerning planning and development were:

  • Brownfield land: a new law to enable the granting of automatic planning permission on all sites suitable for housing in England, as identified on statutory registers of brownfield land
  • Local plans: many local authorities still do not have a Local plan - ministers want new powers to intervene and have local plans written by central government where councils fail to do so
  • Duty to co-operate: local authorities already have a duty to co-operate where they cannot meet their own housing need in full - ministers want stronger powers to compel councils to work together
  • Compulsory purchase: ministers will legislate to make the compulsory purchase order process clearer, fairer and faster
  • Timescales: moves to improve the performance of planning authorities in deciding cases (esp. minor ones) and penalties for those that make 50% or fewer planning decisions in time
  • Infrastructure: new rights for major projects that include new housing to be fast-tracked through the ‘nationally significant’ infrastructure regime to avoid the usual democratic process
  • Permitted Development Rights: new rights to allow property in London to be extended upwards, for limited number of storeys, up to the height of adjoining building, without needing prior approval

Mr Newcomb said: “Demand for housing continues to far outstrip supply. Three years after the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework, insufficient land to develop remains the single most important obstacle. In addition to suitable land, more supply-side efforts are needed to shorten the time it takes house-builders to get started onsite, and accelerate the actual number of homes completed.

“What the BMF wants from government is sensible ideas that boost the number and type of much-needed, un-contentious small-scale housing. Anything done to encourage the return of small firms into the housing and home improvement markets is bound to be welcomed to merchants.”

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