Build Magazine December 2015

Build Magazine 26 Chris Evans, Deputy Managing Direc- tor of Rolton Group – the multidiscipli- nary engineering consultancy – exam- ines the implications that scrapping the Zero Carbon Buildings policy will have on Britain’s emission targets and our housebuilders. In 2006, the Labour Government launched the Zero Carbon Buildings policy. This legislation included a ten-year target that stipulated all new homes should be carbon neutral by 2016 – a target that has now been abandoned as a result of widely-held acceptance that it will be missed. The Climate Change Act 2008 states that we must achieve an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from our building stock by 2050 from the 1990 baseline, and this is legally binding. With nothing to replace it, re- moval of the Zero Carbon Buildings policy will put a squeeze on our carbon emission targets. Why has the policy been scrapped? The housing crisis has brought a need for homes to be built quickly and cheaply. There is no denying that implementing new technol- ogies comes at a cost, while the “green tape” of checking environmental standards can be time-consuming. The rise of single occupan- cy and increases in average life expectancy provides a greater requirement for housing, and that’s before we consider our ever-growing population and the impact it will have on en- ergy requirements. In haste to provide for this heightened demand and to stimulate growth, it appears that the Government has decided to let carbon standards slip without providing any adequate alternative in the reduction of carbon to meet the 2050 targets. Why zero carbon homes are a realistic possibility We cannot, however, afford to lose sight of the fact that the option of building “cleaner” homes is available to us. Britain’s first “energy positive” house was recently completed near Bridgend in Wales, and Cardiff University says will generate more energy than it uses: some- thing that Chancellor George Osborne said couldn’t be done. Another interesting feature of the design was that, contrary to the above assumptions, it took just 16 weeks to complete at a cost of just £1,000 per square metre (a total cost of around £125,000); this cost was within the typical range for social housing. Furthermore, the new owners of the house will be able to make money in future from selling energy the house generates as well as making substantial savings on ever-snowballing energy bills. Whether or not this would remain the case if such projects were rolled out across the UK at scale is still to be proven, and there is certainly a way to go before we can think along those lines. However, the construction of such a building, with its modest cost and fast turnaround, shows that anything is possi- ble with a bit more government willpower and this should provide the blueprint for new developments in the future. Instead, the government has made a decision to abandon this avenue in favour of quick fixes that do no good for our economy in the long-run. We need to be looking more at how much it costs to live in a house, rather than solely at their cost to build. The lessons from UK businesses As the realisation of environmental and cost implications from carbon emissions grows, UK businesses across many different industries are beginning to invest in new engineering to deliver the specifications set out in the Climate Change Act of 2008, and bring buildings and premises up to standard. The government’s backpedalling on the issue makes a mockery of this serious financial commitment and stands to ruin the relationships of trust between the government and these companies who spend millions of pounds upgrading to comply with new regulations, only to see them quashed at the eleventh hour. Building new homes to accommodate our changing needs is obviously important, but there is little reason why we shouldn’t commit to continuous improvement with respect to energy use even if we don’t sign up to zero carbon legislation. We should also at the same time assess and implement an holistic strategy to determine where and how we generate our energy which is key to commercially viable and all-encompassing solutions with regards to our energy use. The need for swiftly built and econom- ically focused new homes seems to be the main priority for the government, but the cost of simply ignoring the energy situation and continuing to build homes that consume ever-increasing amounts of energy without offsetting this with renewable solutions will be far more costly in the long-term. There needs to be far more commitment to achieve these challenging goals rather than dismiss them as unattainable when the task appears difficult. For the Government we would suggest Rolton Group urges Government to Focus on Renewable Housing