Stephen Williams writes: Making new homes zero carbon by 2016

June 2, 2014 5:54 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Zero Carbon Homes. No Carbon. None. Nil. Nought. Zip. Zilch.

Today we made the announcement that "does exactly what it says on the tin" giving details of how we are going to make every new home built in England zero carbon from 2016.


This is one of several measures that will be detailed in the Queens Speech on Wednesday. However, this announcement; the most important of my ministerial career and something that stands shoulder to shoulder with any of the green measures announced by previous governments of recent years is worth drawing attention to.

We built 112,630 homes last year in the United Kingdom and all three major parties have committed to increasing that number dramatically (indeed Liberal Democrats intend to more than double it). The average home built to current standards in the United Kingdom releases 1.5 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere per year. Given these two statistics it is obvious that housing can play a major contributory factor to the generation of carbon in the UK, damaging our environment.

The type of homes that emit 1.5 tonnes of carbon aren't rickety, they are referred to in the industry as "code 3" and they already have insulation, double glazing and an efficient boiler. From 2016 new homes in England will be built to a much higher standard, they will be "code 4" and have new features such as triple glazing, extra insulation and perhaps even renewable technology like solar panels, dramatically reducing the carbon they emit, not just during construction but throughout their lifetime. This will save residents at least £200, but given the lifetime of average houses it is likely to be much more. Of the 112,630 homes built last year a mere 12,459 meet the standard we have announced today so this is a massive leap forward in terms of environmentally friendlier housing.

Each new home will be cheaper and cleaner. Not bad for a days work. But we are going even further; we are setting the Zero Carbon standard one level up form that up to "code 5". This means that from 2016 each new house will make no net contribution to carbon in the environment either during construction or throughout its lifetime, including that which may be generated through heating and lighting or fixed building services.

It has been important to work with industry and experts to fashion a system that works. There is no point setting a standard for new builds if it is impossible to reach and strangles our housing market. This is why we have introduced "Allowable Solutions" which allow a developer, once they have raised the standard of the house onsite to offset the final bit of their zero carbon obligations. This offsetting takes place through a cash payment for each tonne of carbon they have been unable to prevent and will be spent by government on schemes that further reduce carbon in the wider environment.

Allowable Solutions does not mean we are letting developers off the hook, as some journalists chose to report. Offsetting is the only way to guarantee new houses meet level 5 standards (inc heating and lighting). It is extraordinarily difficult to build to level 5 on site so the method we have spelled out means all new houses will be level 4 (already a significant improvement) and in addition to this there will be a brand new pot of money, through offsetting, to spend on environmental carbon reducing schemes. The message we got from developers was that Allowable Solutions was the best mechanism through which to marry the dual aims of a productive housing market and ambitious environmental goals.

This change simply would not be happening without the Liberal Democrat half of the coalition fighting tooth and nail to make it a reality. This was one of Nick's earliest environmental priorities and it has taken the combined guile and will power of Sir Andrew Stunell, Don Foster and myself as well as Nick's dogged determination to make it a reality.