Green housing

Bath and North East Somerset adopt net-zero housing policy

West country council is the first in England to implement a net-zero housing policy
09 March 2023 , Kerry Taylor-Smith

Plan gives councils more control over location of housing and caps emissions from construction materials, but NFB claims plans are “unaffordable” and “undeliverable”

Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES) are the first English council to approve an energy-based net-zero housing policy as part of its commitment to tackling the climate emergency.

New housing developments must be 100% self-sufficient and net-zero in emissions, generating as much renewable energy as they consume. The “ground-breaking” planning rules limit total energy use and space heating, and virtually outlaw gas boilers in new builds.

Councillor Tim Ball, Cabinet Member for Planning and Licensing says the plan ensures that “policies are aligned with the latest national policy and put us at the forefront nationally with policies related to the climate and ecological emergencies.” The council will have more control over the location of housing developments and can limit off-campus purpose-built student accommodation.

Large developments will be subject to a 900kgCO2/m2 cap on emissions from construction materials used, which developers will be able to offset by installing solar panels on social housing and low-income homes in “exceptional circumstances”. The resulting offsetting fund will finance the retrofitting of social housing stock, but critics argue developers would sidestep delivering any actual reduction in carbon emissions.

The policy sets a precedent that these standards can be implemented in planning policy and authorities are urged to replicate it to deliver net-zero homes nationwide.

B&NES collaborated with Cornwall Council, which introduced a Climate Emergency Development Plan in February. Councillor Olly Monk, Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning, Cornwall Council said the document’s planning policies are a “landmark step” in supporting Cornwall to become carbon neutral by 2030.

“The document covers policies to support green energy, enhance the environment, provide more efficient housing, greener travel and resilience to issues such as coastal change and flooding,” said Monk. “The policies add detail or replace some of those in the Cornwall Local Plan and sit alongside government legislation.”  

A report from independent think tank, Bright Blue found the current complex planning system creates land-hungry, car-dependent areas with emission-intensive homes that are costly to retrofit.

“The UK is facing both a housing and climate crisis,” said Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive, Bright Blue. “We are not building enough homes. And the houses we do build are not green enough to support this country’s transition to a net-zero economy. Bolder public policy is needed to support both greater and greener homes.”

Bright Blue says housing reforms should expedite the delivery of new homes where development is most sustainable, and ensure new homes are compliant with reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“Cornwall and B&NES appear to be acting outside the boundaries of Building Regulations and we are therefore surprised that the government has not stepped in to address this.”

But the National Federation of Builders (NFB) argues that, while the industry wants to move towards net-zero, it isn’t ready, adding that the plans are “unaffordable” and “undeliverable”.

“Cornwall and B&NES appear to be acting outside the boundaries of Building Regulations and we are therefore surprised that the government has not stepped in to address this, particularly because the 2025 Future Homes Standard is currently being consulted on and Building Regs were just updated,” said Rico Wojtulewicz, Head of Housing and Planning Policy at NFB.

“As land prices won’t suddenly drop and councils won’t allocate enough sites to make land markets competitive, house prices under these new proposed rules will have to rise and developers will begin exiting the market. If councils really wanted to do something for the climate… they would get involved in proposing tens of onshore renewable projects, rather than tinkering at the edges of a sector already ahead of the game.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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