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New twists on the zero carbon journey

04/06/2014 18:31:26

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Approved Document L 2013 has been in force since April, and the design community has begun to understand the technical implications of the new standards.  But two recent events have shaken things up.

The UK is still officially committed to zero carbon homes by 2016, and back in January Cutland Consulting Ltd’s director Dr Neil Cutland was asked by ‘Planning and Building Control Today’ magazine if the new Approved Document was taking us far enough, quickly enough.  “The Government’s ‘journey to zero carbon’ originally required reductions in newbuild carbon emissions of some 25% every 3 years starting in 2005,” he said then.  “The journey was planned so that by 2013 we would have succeeding in reducing emissions by 70%, and it would then be a relatively straightforward ‘final push’ to lose the last 30% and reach zero by 2016.  That seemed pretty sensible to most of us.  But we had reckoned without HM Treasury...”

The government’s ‘one in, two out’ policy for regulatory reform actually refers to the financial impact of the regulations being introduced or cancelled.  So for every £1 in costs incurred by an industry as the result of a regulatory change, there has to be a saving of £2 enjoyed by that same industry.  Neil Cutland continued, “A bizarre side-effect of this rule means that in the case of housebuilding the calculation must not include the savings which accrue to the people who live in the houses.  In other words, the sums are not allowed to reflect the fact that an additional £1,000 on the cost of building a house could result in a saving of, say, £20,000 in the owners’ heating bills over the lifetime of that house!"

Unfortunately this rule meant that the 2013 regulations had to be diluted to achieve just a 6% reduction, leaving us with nearly twice the amount that we thought we’d have to cut in the ‘final push’ to 2016.  But as Neil said, “This is not quite as bad as it sounds.  Even the diluted 2013 standard includes a fabric performance level, known as the TFEE, that is close to the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard (FEES) mandated by the official definition of zero carbon.  And fabric is the hard bit.  Yes, fabric is also the right bit to focus on, but compared to installing photovoltaics or paying into an offsetting fund it’s undeniably the hard bit.  The 2013 regulations mean that housebuilders will learn to build consistently well-performing homes which stretch the fabric standard, so things are actually on the right track.”

But now for the latest twists.  People have recently started to notice a loophole that crept in as the Approved Document was published: the TFEE fabric performance level had been relaxed by 15%, to ‘ease the pain’ for the housebuilding industry.  “Not many people realise that, even now,” said Neil this week.  And in yet another twist, the Government has just announced that ‘small developments’ will be exempt from the 2016 zero carbon requirement altogether.  “That’s really disappointing,” added Neil.  “Where’s the visionary leadership and commitment to sustainability that we so badly need?”

With European elections just completed and a UK general election looming, the answer to that question remains to be seen…

June 2014

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