Are we serious about climate change or not? Or is the government simply keen to pay lip service? I ask these things in the wake of a new survey of local authorities that shows that house builders could be saving up to one billion pounds by exploiting a loophole in the law that allows them to build hundreds of thousands of new homes to out-dated standards of energy efficiency. That’s good news for the struggling house building industry but it’s something of an embarrassment for the Coalition isn’t it. Energy Minister Chris Huhne is after all making energy efficiency in homes one of the central planks of the Coalition’s policy for tackling climate change.
New energy regulations came into force on October 1, requiring house builders to construct new homes that are 25% more energy efficient than those built under regulations introduced in 2006. This adds around £5,000 to the building costs of each home according to the organisers of the survey. However, because of the way the regulations are being phased in, builders can still build homes to the 2006 standards for years to come.
House builders have been able to bypass the new law simply by registering before the October deadline their intention to start work on a new site. This way, the entire scheme is allowed to comply with the old regulations, regardless of how long it takes to complete, and even if no detailed plans have been drawn up.
The survey of local authorities carried out by LABC, the organisation representing local authority building control teams, revealed that builders are planning to build 178,401 new homes to the old standards saving nearly £1bn pounds.
Not all house builders have raced to exploit the loophole – some are actually very committed to improving energy efficiency. But with about 130,000 new homes currently being built annually, it is clear that a substantial proportion of future housing stock will fall short of the new energy requirements. As a result, Government commitments to meet carbon-emission-reduction targets will be seriously challenged.
Over 162 local authority building control teams took part in the survey. This represents more than half of all authorities because many authorities share building control services and is the largest national response to a survey from LABC members. However that means the numbers could be even higher.
The LABC says it warned the government about this loophole, but was ignored. For a government that seems serious about tackling climate change it certainly seems a missed opportunity, especially as suppliers and house builders were actually geared up to it.
Perhaps the CLG – the communities and local government department, which is in charge of the Building Regulations isn’t as committed to the green agenda as Department for Climate Change headed up by Chris Huhne?
Either way, it doesn’t really bode well for the future does it? The introduction of the new regulations is a stepping stone to the house building industry’s target set by the government of ensuring all new homes are built to zero energy targets by 2016.
You can’t really blame house builders for exploiting this loophole – it is tough out there. And for the moment at least, whether houses are energy efficient or not makes not a jot of difference to the selling price. Until energy costs rise even more consumers frankly don’t really care.