Saturday, 11 July 2015

Zero Commitment

The first Zero Carbon  Home by Kingspan. It was built on the BRE Innovation Park
One of my many personal failings is that I am always surprised when Government does the wrong thing. Given the inglorious record of the 'Greenest Government Ever' I should be used to the many disappointments by now. The lastest is the complete abandonment of the Zero Carbon Homes policy. This was due to come into force next year and was already mired in controversy as energy efficiency standards to comply with the policy had been diminished and a system of 'allowable solutions' introduced meant that builders could affordably make up for the carbon saving shortcomings by some carbon saving activity off site e.g. planting trees or mitigation activity in existing buildings. The 'allowable solutions' regime already looked pretty dubious but even that has now been dropped. There were also legitimate concerns backed up by a study showing that so called exemplar eco efficient homes were not performing as well as they were supposed to bringing into question the whole approach being taken by Government with Zero Carbon Homes.

It started off so well with a lot of innovation and experimentation carried out by industry to see how they might achieve these standards. Kingspan went to considerable effort to build the UK's first net zero carbon home back in 2010. A number of developers worked with the Building Research Establishment to develop ways of reaching this new standard. A Zero Carbon Hub was established in 2008 with a wealth of professionals in the energy and building sector who together have put in thousands of hours of work . Their role was to "take day-to-day operational responsibility for achieving the government’s target of delivering zero carbon homes in England from 2016"  They must be seriously asking themselves now whether Government has let them down and wasted a considerable amount of their valuable time.

 Why? Is the question.Well it is to help hard pressed developers reduce costs & regulation so they will build more homes. The reaction from developers however does not appear to have been at all positive. They definitely sound like they have been seriously mucked about by Government. Roy Lambe of Wilmott Dixon was reported in the Architects Journal today saying the following,

“Since the original zero-carbon announcement, Willmott Dixon has been supportive of setting a long-term trajectory, enabling industry to invest with confidence. This announcement seriously undermines industry confidence in government policy and will diminish future investment.”

Here's Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive of the Green Building Council in todays Guardian

 “It is short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the housebuilding industry, which has invested heavily in delivering energy-efficient homes. Britain needs more housing, but there is no justification for building homes with a permanent legacy of high energy bills.”

The whole Zero Carbon homes policy has had poor support from Government for years and the lack of a  robust Building Control regime meant that there were serious doubts as to how these properties would perform anyway. This is the reason why the Green Party advocated the Passivhaus standard in our manifesto. It is an internationally recognised energy performance standard for buildings that is assessed using a quality assurance method. The real fundamental strength of the Passivhaus Standard  is the fact that the UK Government has nothing whatsoever to do with it and long may that continue.


  1. The idiocy of this latest announcement beggars belief. These houses are not like bread-buns, here today & gone tomorrow. They will be here for decades to come - wasting energy, putting occupiers into fuel poverty, denying our commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Just a little care and attention (and a lot of sticky tape!) creates a Passivhaus - no fancy extras - and this Government has just let slip away something which housebuilders were geared up to deliver but (now that they don't have to) probably won't. I am amazed at how daily I am able to be disappointed yet again, like you, by this Government's manifest failures.

  2. I really wish that all members of this government would take time out to do permaculture studies. Then we might see the scales falling from their eyes. It's systems thinking that they need to learn. On a planetary and multi-disciplinary scale.