Thursday 10 July 2014

The Allowable Solutions Puppet Show

In a recent article Stephen Williams, a Lib Dem government minister at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), was reported to have protested that as far as the government's Zero Carbon Homes Policy was concerned:

"There is a view out there that we have "watered down" our ambitions, or that we are merely "puppets" of the development industry. These views are outdated and blinkered."

Unfortunately for Mr Williams, a recent consultation response published by his department seriously undermines these claims.

The Zero Carbon Hub is an independent body created by the government to help define and deliver the Zero Carbon Homes policy.  After gathering evidence and consulting with the construction industry the Hub proposed that Zero Carbon Homes policy should be broken down into three requirements for new homes and proposed levels for each:

1. A minimum level of thermal insulation (called Fabric Efficiency)
2. A maximum level of carbon dioxide emissions from the house itself (called Carbon Compliance)
3. The balance of carbon emissions to be 'offset' through carbon dioxide reducing measures paid for elsewhere (called Allowable Solutions)

Fabric efficiency means building cosy, draught-free homes, this level was set just a little beyond current (2013) building regulations.

Carbon compliance could be achieved by pushing the insulation further (towards passivhaus level), or by installing renewable energy equipment on the homes such as photovoltaic (PV) panels, solar water heating or heat pumps.

Allowable Solutions was intended to help get difficult buildings over the line, and could account for around 30% of the improvement.  It would involve the developer paying into a fund that delivered energy measures off-site (perhaps like building wind farms or energy upgrades of existing homes).  It was suggested that the price of the offsets should be set at a level that would encourage developers to achieve as much as possible through improvements to the actual homes being built.

DCLG's Allowable Solutions consultation contained a question (Question 1) asking whether the Zero Carbon Hub proposal should be taken forward, and the results were recently revealed in the consultation response.

Fully seventy percent of consultation respondents (93 responses) supported the Hub's proposal.  Of the thirty percent that did not, many argued that even higher levels of energy efficiency should be required due to advances in insulation and renewable energy technologies.

By contrast a majority of developers, (14 out of the 22 responses from developers) did not agree with the Hub's proposals and wanted lower standards of energy efficiency for new homes, and more of the carbon emissions to be deemed as 'offset' through the Allowable Solutions mechanism.

So what did DCLG decide? 

It went with the developers.  The current proposal completely drops the carbon compliance requirement and allows developers to build homes little improved over those built today. 

DCLG ignored a clear majority in the consultation and it ignored the advice of the independent organisation it had created to help it deliver this policy.

According to the Minister, it is outdated and blinkered to think him a mere "puppet" of the development industry. 

Make your own mind up.