Planning for Zero Carbon Homes

Richard Leach
The 2011 Budget announced a number of changes which form part of the United Kingdom government's ambitions for an eco-friendly and low carbon economy, and "to be the greenest government ever.”

Chancellor George Osborne qualified the government’s aims at the recent Tory Party Conference. He discussed the need to protect businesses from financial pressures, such as the rising price of energy. He also stated that the UK should not be expected to reduce its carbon emissions any faster or slower than the rest of Europe.

The Localism Bill is nearing royal assent and the government's draft National Planning Policy Framework has provoked heated debate about the "presumption in favour of sustainable development". Environmental groups have accused government of grossly misrepresenting the principle of sustainable development in its planning reforms. Some developers have argued that sensible developments should be allowed to proceed in the absence of a very strong case against them.

At the centre of this debate, the coalition government has confirmed its commitment to “zero carbon” homes by 2016.

  • Some planning authorities have already developed their own planning policies which target improvements beyond Building Regulations requirements, particularly for major developments.
  • This may include requiring a renewable energy contribution to reduce emissions.
  • However, confusion still surrounds the term “zero carbon”.

“Zero carbon” doesn’t actually mean zero carbon.

  • In 2011 the government confirmed that zero carbon refers only to the energy use covered by Building Regulations.
  • The remaining energy, associated with areas such as cooking and appliances, is excluded from the definition – this discounted energy can be up to a third of a home’s energy.

In 2010 the Housing Minister Grant Shapps claimed that Councils and developers could be given much more flexibility to meet ambitious eco-standards to ensure all new homes are zero carbon from 2016.

  • The proposed mechanism to do this is called Allowable Solutions
  • This scheme would enable payments to be made to offset a proportion of a home’s emissions and to fund community energy projects, such as community renewable energy projects and district heating schemes.

We’re well on the way towards 2016, when the requirement for zero carbon comes into force. We should see an increase in minimum standards for energy efficiency measures through future revisions to Building Regulations. Examples include improvements in insulation performance, based on guidance outlined by the Zero Carbon Hub - such as the Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard.

Homes will need to further reduce emissions through on-site low and zero carbon (LZC) energy systems. The contribution of these systems, when combined with their increased energy efficiency performance, will need to deliver a set reduction in on-site emissions, known as Carbon Compliance.

Homes will also need to meet increasing sustainability standards, such as the Code for Sustainable Homes (PDF). As with all planning conditions, they will be have to be adapted to suit the particular circumstances of the scheme and comply with government guidance.

Faithful+Gould's Sustainability and Carbon Management team have considerable experience of working with both local authorities, registered providers of social housing and private sector developers with regards to energy and carbon associated with development.

We specialise in delivering regional evidence-based studies which assess the potential for carbon reduction in a given location, thus supporting the development of planning policy associated with new homes and development. Additionally, we work with our clients to comply with present or future regulatory and policy constraints and opportunities which have an impact on carbon emissions and energy use. Our solutions provide the most technically and financially viable and cost effective strategies for clients.

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