The Government has announced that it will scrap the zero-carbon homes target in an effort to apparently ‘improve housebuilding productivity’.
The zero-carbon policy was originally introduced as a step to meeting the 2008 Climate Change Act’s mandate of an 80% reduction in CO2 from the 1990 levels, by 2050. The Government has claimed that by scrapping the target it aims to reduce regulations on housebuilding and increase productivity in the sector.
However, removing the policy will not only significantly hinder the UK in meeting wider climate change goals, it is also unlikely to lead to any marked improvement in productivity.
There’s a widely held misconception that creating sustainable homes takes longer and is more expensive. This doesn’t need to be the case. In fact, it’s still quicker and more efficient to manufacture, deliver and assemble a high-quality, low-carbon timber-frame building than build one on-site with lower thermal insulation built from materials which directly contribute to carbon emissions.
Scrapping zero-carbon is a false economy. In terms of future productivity, building significant quantities of homes without sustainability in mind now, sets the UK up for a need for continued and expensive maintenance and repair works for the future.
Take social housing – the growing problem of fuel poverty has driven a need for registered providers to retroactively build sustainability into their property portfolios. Many have implemented solar panels, biomass systems, and external and internal insulation funded by the Green Deal, ECO and vast quantities of their own capital.
If sustainability isn’t factored into new build developments now, it will prolong the need for retrospective action in the long term – creating an extra, ongoing financial burden on an important sector.
There is also obvious financial merit in continuing to create sustainable homes in private house building. Timber’s naturally high thermal insulation also acts as a selling point – lowering the need for future retro insulation measures and making homes more attractive to new owners or renters.
Off-site construction using timber can also reduce build times by weeks and even months, improving the efficiency of the build process, allowing new tenants or owners to move in more quickly, and thereby improving the productivity of the project.
Despite the change in plans, the opportunities to continue to improve sustainability are still very much within in the housebuilding sector’s grasp.
This short-sighted policy should therefore not provide cause for developers to ignore sustainability – especially when you consider the significant inroads the industry has made in improving efficiency in housing over the past decade and the continued market demand for this to be included in new homes.
The Government has only removed the targets at the top. This should not mean we have to accept a spiralling race to the bottom.