Bizarre. Disappointing. Odd. Myopic. Shocking. Ridiculous. These were some of the reactions of senior industry figures to the government’s surprise move this week to scrap the zero-carbon targets for homes and non-domestic buildings.
The targets, which have been in place since 2006 and 2008, were developed through extensive consultation and many would argue are exactly the kind of long-term industry-led policy government so often fails to form. Now, with no consultation, they have been scrapped.
The government said the move was part of its drive to reduce regulation on housebuilders in a bid to boost housing supply. It’s true the regulations add complexity and costs, which, when lumped in with other contributions, could arguably affect the viability of some sites. But was this top of the housebuilding agenda? No.
Housebuilders have been signed up to the zero-carbon agenda from the get-go - and many have invested huge amounts in innovation around green building. Any negative impact the 2016 target may have had on supply would be “trivial”, one major housebuilder said this week, and could be more than offset by other measures, not least boosting industry capacity or allowing development on parts of the green belt. “No one was calling for this - and it will do nothing to boost supply or jobs,” he added.
Certainly, important details concerning allowable solutions and the 2016 target had yet to be ironed out - largely due to the government dragging its heels - and some were expecting the target may be delayed, but few thought it would be scrapped.
The government’s explanation also fails to address why it scrapped the 2019 target for non-domestic buildings, which face entirely different sustainability challenges to homes and require wholly different interventions. “They think of property as one lumpen mass,” said one exasperated commercial property consultant.
Of course, binning the targets doesn’t mean developers will abandon green buildings; indeed, many will continue to strive to do better than current regulations require. But it does mean the industry loses a framework that created a level playing field and drove innovation; worse, it undermines the UK’s commitment to a low-carbon economy and fosters investor uncertainty. It also raises increasingly pressing questions over how the UK will meet its carbon reduction commitments.
Are you going to RESI?
The government’s approach to housing will, of course, be a major topic at this year’s RESI Conference, held on 7-9 September at Celtic Manor in Wales. In its ninth year, RESI is the UK’s leading residential conference, and attracts some of the most influential figures in the sector. That is no different this year, with a stellar line-up of developers, investors and housebuilders all set to lead the debate. I’ll certainly be there - and I hope you can join us too.
For information on tickets, go to: www.resiconf.com