Another blow for the zero-carbon agenda

on 05 June, 2014

Considering the tempestuous journey the UK’s green agenda and zero carbon policies have had over the last few years, it perhaps should come as no surprise that there are yet more complications and a scaling back of ambition.

Yesterday’s decision, announced in the Queen’s speech, to further water down previous intentions for energy requirements of new homes from 2016 is another blow for the industry. Rather than supporting and directing all efforts towards meeting the original intention that all new homes built from 2016 onwards would be ‘zero carbon’, the government has now confirmed that only a 44% reduction in CO2 emissions will be required and this will only apply to 30% of new homes built.

The Infrastructure Bill sets out an exemption for some smaller housing developments to comply with the zero carbon homes standard. Although we are yet to understand the definition of a ‘smaller housing development’, what the government should be tackling is how it can help smaller housebuilders deliver the ambition rather than offer a block exemption.

Underlying this and other recent decisions not to drive appropriate emission and energy bill reduction policies in both existing and new homes, is an absence of political desire to move the discussion away from the home purchase price to focusing on the ‘cost of occupancy’. In other words, it’s time to stop talking just about ‘getting’ on the housing ladder and instead helping people to stay on it too.

The Help to Buy scheme has certainly supported home ownership, but it has also raised issues about exposing purchasers to an unsustainable debt. A solution offered by government is tighter controls on mortgage lending, however, the irony is that lenders are concerned with only the current bills, rather than looking at what those future costs will be in the new home.

In home purchasing and lending, it’s time to move towards a model where ‘cost of occupancy’ is a key consideration, rather than just the purchase price. Just because a house is cheaper to buy does certainly not mean it is cost effective to run, particularly when you take aspects such as combined mortgage and energy costs into the equation. It’s high time the government realised this and started to make householders aware of the reality of running costs.

Additionally, government policy makers have a duty to ensure that new policies will address the very real and long-term financial concerns to both new homeowners and those in the supply chain. We thought that’s what the Zero Carbon Homes ambition had set out, however, yesterday’s announcement once again suggests otherwise.

Zero carbon homes form an essential part of the green agenda, not least in helping to save a fortune for householders in energy costs, but also in contributing to new opportunities and innovation for the wider supply chain. What we need is the right backing and correct framework to drive the industry forward and to create much-needed investment.

Steven Heath is director of public affairs and strategy at Knauf Insulation Northern Europe.

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