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1.24 pm

Mr. Dhanda: We have had an interesting debate about the purpose of the Bill, and I am pleased to reiterate our support for the Bill, as amended in Committee.

Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on promoting the Bill and on taking it along the sometimes difficult path for private Members’ Bills through the House; he has done very well. Earlier, he told me that he could measure his progress by the number of the officials involved in meetings. Towards the end of the process, quite a few officials were involved, and he should be pleased that the Bill has reached Third Reading today.

Both Government and Opposition Members helped to shape the Bill in Committee, and I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Chris Mole), for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and for Battersea (Martin Linton). Liberal Democrat Front Benchers have also contributed, albeit briefly. I also thank the hon. Member for Sevenoaks for his contributions today.

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As I have said, I am pleased that the Bill aligns itself with the approach set out in the planning policy statement on climate change. It was important for hon. Members patiently to wait for the PPS. I know that the Bill has had a difficult birth, because of the waiting before Christmas, but the PPS is there now, and we are the better for it. The publication of the new PPS on climate change was an important milestone in terms of local government’s role in tackling climate change.

It is worth spending some time reminding ourselves what the new PPS does, what difference it will make and how it dovetails with the Bill. The PPS confirms the central role of planning in helping to achieve zero-carbon homes from 2016. No one, I hope, doubts the need to achieve significant carbon emission reductions from homes, which generate around one quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions. The homes that we build today will be with us for 100 years or more. In the long run, it is far cheaper to build them to have low carbon emissions in the first place than it is to retrofit them in the future. That is why the Government have set a progressive timetable towards zero-carbon homes by 2016, which, as hon. Members have said, is just eight years from now.

I want to remind the House about the scale of that ambition. That unprecedented target is unmatched anywhere in the world, and we have set it in the context of our equally ambitious plans for house building— 3 million new homes by 2020. I want to remind hon. Members about some of the steps that we are taking to drive forward that policy. I have mentioned the steps that we will take to enshrine the standards in the building regulations, and we will consult early in the new year on the first of those steps.

The changes to the building regulations are scheduled for 2010. We are working with the industry on the detailed changes to the assessment methodology that underpins those regulations. We announced in the Budget that in order to give the industry the certainty that it requires to prepare for delivering the ambition, the Government will set out the definition of zero carbon for the purpose of the 2016 ambition by the end of this year, after consultation, which will take place this summer. An important aspect of that will be the contribution made by renewable energy.

In the Budget, we also undertook to provide pump-priming funding for a new 2016 delivery unit to guide, monitor and co-ordinate the zero-carbon programme. We are discussing the final details with the industry and other key stakeholders. As of this month, we have introduced a mandatory rating for new homes in respect of the code for sustainable homes. The first of those homes are starting to be rated against the higher levels of that code.

From April, we are introducing energy performance certificates for new homes. We have similar ambitions for new non-domestic buildings; the Budget announced our ambition for all new non-domestic buildings to be zero-carbon from 2019. This year, the Government will consult on the time line for and feasibility of that ambition, and they will review progress in 2013. Achieving the goal will establish Britain among the world leaders in the field and make a significant contribution towards mitigating climate change by saving approximately 75 million tonnes of CO2 in the next 30 years.

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The Government are taking action to reduce the CO2 impact of public sector buildings; I mentioned the example of schools. It is already the Government’s ambition that all new schools should be zero-carbon from 2016. A task force is being set up to advise on how to achieve zero-carbon schools, on whether the time scale is realistic and on how to reduce carbon emissions in the intervening period.

We have also moved a long way on the Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method, or BREEAM, requirements. As I said, many schools are getting “very good”; many are moving ahead to “excellent” BREEAM status as well. The Budget also announced an ambition for all new public sector buildings to be zero-carbon from 2018. Key barriers will have to be overcome in the coming months and years to deliver on that. There may be areas in respect of which achieving zero carbon presents particular and nuanced challenges. The Government will therefore establish a task force to advise on the time line, on how to reduce carbon emissions in the intervening period and on the particular challenges faced in places such as hospitals, prisons and our defence establishments.

The planning policy statement will help speed up the shift to renewable and low-carbon energy by challenging councils to do much more to support the delivery of local renewable or low-carbon energy, including through setting percentages of energy for new development to be generated from local renewables or low-carbon sources such as microgeneration or community schemes. It also expects councils to think about the potential for local low-carbon energy generation and about cutting carbon emissions when identifying the best sites for development.

That is in the context of the challenges of the renewable energy targets proposed under the European Union renewable energy proposals. The European Commission has published a draft directive that provides the framework for achieving the EU’s agreed target of securing 20 per cent. of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020. In particular, it proposes contributions from the UK and other member states towards that goal. As part of the target of 20 per cent. renewable energy, each member state is required to achieve a 10 per cent. share of renewable energy in road transport fuels as long as sustainability conditions can be met. The Government welcome the Commission’s proposals as a good starting point for discussion in the Council. The Commission has proposed that 15 per cent. of all the UK’s energy, covering the electricity, heat and transport sectors, should come from renewables by 2020.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but given that we are on Third Reading of the Bill, I would feel a little more comfortable if I heard him make one or two more cross-references to it.

Mr. Dhanda: I am trying to get across to the House—I am sure that you will correct me if I digress, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the fact that this important private Member’s Bill was held up in its previous stages and could not be concluded until we had the PPS in place before Christmas, as well as explaining the overlap and why these two pieces of work have to mesh
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closely together. I will endeavour to do that without going away from the principles of the Bill and why it is so important.

The Government welcome the proposals that I outlined as a good starting point. We have been set very challenging targets by the EU, as our existing share is less than 2 per cent.—lower than that of most other member states. However, I believe that the Bill will help us in our journey to get closer to these targets. The UK is completely committed to meeting our share, which will be decided along with other member states’ shares in negotiations over the coming months.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is coming to the meat of the Bill. In what ways does he think that it will help us to meet those European targets? It is important that we are clear about its value added, and that it does not sit on the shelf.

Mr. Dhanda: Absolutely. Probably the most pertinent comment with regard to the Bill’s linkage with this was made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks when he talked about local authorities having the flexibility to go further and faster and to do more, learning from the experiences of Merton and others.

It is important to set out the framework, the targets and the contexts. We are already putting in place measures to increase renewable energy supplies, which I hope will support and help local authorities as they deliver targets and work on the opportunities that are available to them through the Bill. Further measures will be necessary—there are no two ways about that—so the Government plan a consultation in the summer on the options for meeting our share of the EU 2020 renewable energy target. We will publish our renewable energy strategy in the spring of next year once the EU directive is passed and the UK’s contribution is decided. In evaluating these contributions, we need to consider the role of every individual local authority. That is why the Bill is so important.

Stephen Pound: Before my hon. Friend moves away from the read-across to Europe, which is extremely important, is he aware that organisations such as BRE and others who specialise in the area are in consultation with their brother and sister agencies in Europe to see whether there are lessons that we can learn from one another in addressing a problem that is being addressed locally but is also a major facet of a global problem?

Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Perhaps not everybody in the Chamber at the moment is a Europhile, but there are a great number of things that we can learn about recycling, how we use our energy and energy efficiency. Stakeholders such as the one that he mentioned are getting out there and learning the lessons in Brussels and elsewhere across the European Union.

My third point about the linkage with the PPS concerns the stimulus to action by local authorities. As we have learned in the course of the debate, local government has a vital role in ensuring that local communities and infrastructure are able to cope with
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the impact of climate change—not only the effects that are felt today but those that can be anticipated in future. The PPS, therefore, reflects the central role of planning in shaping places that are resilient to climate change and habitats that sustain biodiversity.

Planning is not the only area where local authorities can play a key role in that agenda. Many local authorities are taking innovative action to tackle climate change already, which is what the Bill hopes to explore and support. Local authorities have demonstrated their commitment through initiatives, such as signing up to the Nottingham declaration, and through saying that they want to include climate change indicators in their local area agreements. The climate change PPS sets out how we expect planning to help us to prepare for low-carbon living. New jobs, homes and infrastructure need to be planned in ways that cut carbon emissions. Planning has to help places to adjust to expected changes in our climate.

Planning’s big contribution is what it does best—shaping new development and places. How much development, what sort of development and where are all factors that will be considered with more focus in the context of the Bill. Planning helps to get infrastructure in place in the first place, including the energy required to feed such developments. Planning has a big role in helping to deliver our world-leading standard on zero carbon, and planning the right development for the right location, alongside more sustainable transport, means that we will not need to travel as much, and when we do, less carbon will be emitted.

Tackling climate change is firmly at the centre of what is expected of good planning. The PPS supplement, PPS1, in which we set out what we want from planning is backed in our Planning Bill with a new duty on local planners to take action on climate change. That will not just be a bolt-on, but a key integrating theme in plans for planning decisions. Planning can support our ambition for low-carbon lifestyles through direct influence on energy use and emissions; by bringing together and encouraging action by others, we want to capture local enthusiasm, and give planners and local communities opportunities to take action at a local level. We expect planning strategies to be tested on their carbon ambition, which means securing the fullest possible use of sustainable transport and making the most of existing and planned opportunities for local energy.

Planning is a key partner in the promotion of technological innovation and in supporting our national framework to cut carbon emissions from new buildings. Where there are local opportunities to accelerate our national timetable, the PPS says that councils can plan for that. That chimes with the Bill, which would allow local authorities to go at their own pace. Those that want to go more quickly should be encouraged to do so. Local renewable and low-carbon energy is given a big role in the PPS because emissions are generated from heat and electricity use, which means that we need to exploit local energy, rather than offsetting carbon emissions by providing low-carbon energy elsewhere or by planting trees. That is why the PPS requires councils to have a policy setting a percentage of local energy to be used in new development.

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I shall bring my remarks to a close to allow other Members to have their say, but I hope that we have got across to the House the importance of the Bill, and of how it can, within the framework of Government policies, including the PPS, make a real difference to communities. It will provide local authorities with the ammunition they want to develop in a more sustainable way for the future, and to make a real difference in tackling climate change.

1.44 pm

Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Like the Minister, I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), who has skilfully and dextrously steered the Bill to this point, carrying the Government and hon. Members of all parties with him. I have not been a Member of Parliament for long, but I know that one has to put in an awful lot of hard work and have much parliamentary skill to achieve that. I know from my hon. Friend’s comments on Second Reading that, to some extent, the voice in his head was that of the late Eric Forth. He was able to point out that the Bill is permissive and does not require compulsion. It enables local authorities to do what many of them want to do.

I pay tribute to hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and who took part in Committee, and to Ministers, who have liaised with my hon. Friend and worked through the difficulties to reach the point whereby a good Bill stands a chance of getting on the statute book.

David Howarth: Tribute should also be paid to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton), who is not present, but who attempted to introduce a similar measure and tabled amendments to the same effect to a Government Bill on Report. His work should be acknowledged.

Mr. Benyon: I am happy to support that tribute.

I am grateful for the chance to speak on behalf of the official Opposition in support of the Bill. The backdrop is the work of the intergovernmental panel on climate change and that of such eminent people as Lord Stern. We must act at all levels of government and play our part. In this Parliament, the Climate Change Bill will be an important part of that process, and the Bill that we are considering will allow local government to play its part.

As a sponsor of the Sustainable Communities Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) promoted, I firmly nailed my colours to the localist mast. In Committee, it was interesting to watch the Government tentatively probing localist ideas, which some Labour as well as Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members proposed. It is good that there is joint working on that agenda. I hope that that welcome development continues.

When, in 2003, Merton council took the bold step of setting a 10 per cent. target for on-site renewable generation, it helped spark unprecedented investment in the microgeneration sector. Investors believed that frameworks such as that in Merton could provide a long-term marketplace for the developers and manufacturers of small-scale, low-carbon technologies.

On the path towards the zero-carbon homes target in 2016, which so many hon. Members, including the
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Minister, mentioned, there are stepped increases in minimum standards for public housing sector projects. In 2013, the standards jump to a 44 per cent. efficiency improvement on today’s standards—or level 4 in the code for sustainable homes.

There is genuine anxiety in the microgeneration sector, voiced by industry groups such as the Micropower Council, that that large increase will result in hugely increased demand for microgeneration. Previous minimum standards could be met through energy efficiency measures alone, whereas the microgeneration sector believes that the 44 per cent. target will demand on-site renewables in almost all cases. It argues that, at its current level, it could not supply that demand, and that that failure could seriously upset the 2016 zero-carbon homes target.

Merton rules provide longer-term security for investment in the microgeneration sector, and will allow it to match demand as standards are ratcheted up. By enshrining councils’ rights to set progressive targets, the Bill will enable councils that believe their areas to be appropriate, and with a mind to be ambitious and engage with lowering their carbon pollution, to raise the standards for new buildings.

It is important that, while building standards improve the performance of underachieving councils, those with the vision to perceive the benefits and leadership of moving ahead of the pack have a mechanism whereby they can drive progress. Some authorities may allow developers to account for some of their targets through efficiency measures and others may set independent targets for microgen and efficiency. The rule—and therefore the Bill—also gives a welcome chance to smaller, local property developers to serve local markets that larger developers, with more unwieldy mass-produced product to adapt, might not tap into as easily.

If we are really serious about tackling climate change, every aspect of government must be prepared for dynamic change and to challenge the status quo. We must foster excellence, innovation and new technology, and invest in and develop burgeoning green technologies. We must look ahead and be ambitious in deployment.

Rather than having technological winners picked centrally or dictated by Whitehall planning guidance, which is uncertain in the long term and unsuitably broad-brush for the needs of localism, the new rules allow those communities that are most able and willing—often where land values are higher—to blaze a trail for others to follow. The rules allow the right solutions to reach the endlessly varied regions of our country and give us at least a fighting chance of reaching our 2016 zero-carbon homes target.

I do not intend to go into the details of the many issues that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised, which have been given more than enough coverage. I therefore conclude by again paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks for his hard work and success thus far. Empowering local people to find local solutions is at the heart of my party’s message. It gives me great pleasure to recommend to the House a Bill that has that belief at its core, while addressing an agenda that has a global scale and a profound significance.

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