Government wants to scrap Code for Sustainable Homes

’Not so fast’, says CSE’s Kieran Highman

28 November 2013

The government has recently run a Housing Standards Review consultation that proposes scrapping the national sustainability construction standard for new homes, the Code for Sustainable Homes. Also threatened for the scrap heap are local requirements for onsite renewable energy.

The argument put forward is that by jettisoning this ‘red tape’, and relying instead on building regulations to meet the country’s low carbon obligations, a burden on developers will be removed and house building will be accelerated.

Others in Whitehall aren’t so sure.

The Environmental Audit Committee recently ran an enquiry into this consultation, and found that the government’s proposal would radically curtail local choice, replacing it with a lowest-common-denominator national standard that would significantly dilute UK standards on energy and carbon emissions.

They noted, too, that the consultation had ignored the latest research on the rapidly decreasing cost of renewable energy technology, and that DCLG has failed to back green growth and green innovation by setting clear standards on sustainable construction materials.

CSE submitted evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee’s enquiry, and support their findings and recommendations.

In our view, local energy standards for new homes are worth sticking with.

As things stand, local councils and neighbourhood planning groups can set higher energy standards for local housing developments, for example by requiring a proportion of the homes’ energy-use to be met by  on-site renewables, or for the homes to meet a Code for Sustainable Homes target (though not to the degree that they prevent development taking place).

Such localised energy policies not only ensure developers build homes to the highest viable sustainability standard and maximise use of renewable energy, but also boost the low-carbon supply chain by providing a demand for green skills and innovation.

The newly appointed minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, Stephen Williams, recently gave a speech to the National Housing Federation on these proposed changes. Whilst he did not mention the Code for Sustainable Homes, he did ask ‘Why have two sets of conflicting targets?’ in relation to onsite energy targets.

I would argue these are not conflicting targets. An onsite renewable energy target complements building regulations, further decreases the carbon emissions of new homes and can reduce their running costs for future occupants. These policies also pave the way for the local delivery of carbon offsetting (allowable solutions) projects, when the requirement for zero-carbon homes is introduced in 2016.

Fundamentally, we believe in ‘localism’ including greater local autonomy over planning policy and the local shaping of development. Removing the ability of local councils and neighbourhood planning groups to set evidence-based requirements for the delivery of high-quality housing in their area goes against everything that the Localism Act stands for.

Kieran Highman is CSE’s low carbon localism project manager

The 2-minute video below looks at how communities and neighbourhoods can contribute to – and benefit from – a more sustainable, smart-energy future. This film was produced earlier this year to introduce the 'Localism and Neighbourhood Planning' section of PlanLoCaL, CSE's community energy resource suite from the Centre for Sustainable Energy.

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