David Frise, head of sustainability at B&ES, rails at the Tory government’s continued retreat from green issues
One of the most surprising things about George Osborne’s decision to dump zero carbon building targets was that so many people seemed genuinely surprised.
Five years ago David Cameron stated that his administration would be the ‘greenest government ever’ and then proceeded to deliver a series of policies suggesting the complete opposite.
Why then, should it come as any surprise that one of the first major U-turns of the new government was to abandon sustainability measures that never sat comfortably with his instinctively de-regulatory ministers?
Dropping the supposedly ‘binding’ targets to make new homes carbon neutral by 2016 and commercial buildings by 2019, along with scheduled changes to Part L of the building regs, came hot on the heels of the announcement that renewable energy sources are to lose their exemption from the Climate Change Levy.
At B&ES, we were never fans of the zero carbon policy.
We felt it restricted innovation and suffered from the law of diminishing returns. While lax enforcement also meant the target was never going to be achieved, it did at least indicate an ambition and a direction of travel.
But the moment the Prime Minister used the term “green crap,” the policy was doomed – and with it much of the investment already made.
George Osborne’s Fixing the foundations report is designed to address the UK’s productivity problems, but it was condemned as “short-sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the house building industry, which has invested heavily in delivering energy efficient homes” by the head of the UK Green Building Council, Julie Hirigoyen.
This, along with the wholesale relaxation of planning laws, might well make the house building industry appear to be more productive, but the long-term legacy of energy waste and poorly performing buildings will not be pretty.
The UK is gaining a particular reputation for not sticking with its energy policies.
Bosses of foreign-based companies considering investing in UK construction or energy, will now be factoring even more political risk.
Admittedly, the definition of ‘zero carbon’ was loose at best, but couldn’t there have been a resetting process and an effort at better definition carried out, in consultation with the industry?
Simply dumping the targets and throwing away almost a decade of investment is a retrograde step. There is logic to fast-tracking planning applications, but surely we should also encourage innovation and drive up quality?
If they really mean to make a difference then we should start focusing on building performance.
Go for radical change and take a bonfire to the Building Regulations.
Make them a statement of targets for energy and carbon that can be achieved in any way the designer wants, provided the targets are met. This would be far better than the hotchpotch of designs we currently see of over-complex ‘compliant’ solutions.
This move would encourage innovation and remove the layers of red tape that the government finds so intolerable.
Will this happen? Not likely. Instead, we will end up with weaker regulation that is poorly understood, poorly enforced and rode roughshod over by target driven developers.
It will, therefore, be down to individual contractors, who take pride in their work, to continue delivering buildings that perform better; are properly commissioned; and can be maintained to a high standard – in conjunction with commercial clients who recognise the value in having a quality-built asset that performs better for its occupants.
B&ES will continue to beat the drum for innovation and quality construction – with or without the help of government – because we recognise it is the right thing to do for the long-term prosperity of the industry and its clients.