Environmental impact of the national
13. In December 2006 the Treasury announced a
target for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016.
In a subsequent report, we criticised the Government for the lack
of urgency it showed in giving this target a 10-year lead-time.
The Treasury responded:
The Government consulted industry closely in reaching
the 2016 date for making all new homes zero carbon, which they
have said is challenging but achievable. Setting a date for zero
carbon standards any earlier than 2016 could jeopardise the number
of homes that need to be built (Kate Barker's 2004 report into
housing supply in the UK made clear that, unless we intervene,
only a third of young couples will be able to afford a home of
their own in 2025.) It is important that the building regulations
are progressively tightened over time to help the house-building
industry move towards the zero carbon standards and test out new
techniques and technologies.
In other words, one of the main reasons why the Government
has decided not to introduce the zero carbon target earlier is
that if it did so this would slow down rates of house-building,
meaning that the target to build 2 million new homes by 2016 could
not be achieved.
14. The Government has made its priorities clear:
out of building more homes, and ensuring that new homes are zero
carbon, it favours building more homes. Given the housing market
slow-down, the Government should reassess these priorities. In
the light of current market conditions, we recommend the Government
changes the balance of its 3 million new homes by 2020 target,
so that the proportion that are built after the zero carbon target
is significantly increased.
15. We asked the then Environment Minister, Phil
Woolas MP, for the Government's estimate of the rise in emissions,
and resulting impact on the UK's carbon targets,
of building 2 million new homes before the zero carbon target
came into effect. His answer suggested that: (i) the energy efficiency
of new homes will be ratcheted up before 2016; and (ii) the 2
million additional homes built before the zero carbon standard
comes into effect would not make that much difference, since they
would merely be incremental to all the other homes that are already
16. Tony Grayling of the Environment Agency told
us: "Building new homes will inevitably increase the amount
of emissions from the UK and, therefore, it will make [meeting
the UK's 2020 CO2 target] more difficult. You would
have to get larger emission reductions elsewhere in order to compensate
for that." James
Marsden of Natural England told us that both they and the Environment
Agency were concerned that much housing growth was being planned
in seriously water-stressed areas.
Neither agency felt in a position to comment on the size of the
overarching house-building targets.
The Environment Agency, however, recommended that the Government
produce an assessment of the carbon impacts of its house-building
17. The Sustainable Development Commission concluded:
"we are concerned that the 2 million new homes that might
be built between now and 2016 [
] will make it more difficult
for the UK to meet its carbon emission reduction targets."
One of the things it stressed was the role of the embodied emissions
of this house-building programme (i.e., the carbon emissions produced
from the construction process itself):
Existing data concerning the embodied carbon emissions
that result from the construction of new housing (the carbon emissions
that result from manufacture of materials, transport of components
and site activities) is sparse. Published estimates range through
40, 50 to 120 tCO2 for each typical house. This variability of
data means that assessing the total construction impact for the
3 million new homes planned by 2020 is difficult. However, it
is currently likely to make up somewhere between 10%-30% of lifecycle
emissions from homes, and this will increase towards 100% of lifecycle
emissions from 'zero carbon' homes. Homes that are built to a
higher performance are likely to include more materials (more
insulation, additional ventilation and renewable energy systems)
and therefore to have a higher absolute embodied carbon content.
New homes use 4-8 times more resources than an equivalent refurbishment.
We recommend that the Government commissions more extensive research
into the embodied emissions of low and zero carbon housing, to
understand their importance and how they can be reduced.
The SDC also stressed a related point, that house-building
produces a considerable amount of waste:
Waste generated from construction, demolition and
excavation (CD&E) activities makes up 33% of UK waste. The
CD&E sector generates more waste in England than any other
sector, and it is also the largest generator of hazardous waste.
CD&E waste is also a major component of fly-tipped waste.
There are cost-neutral opportunities to use recycled materials
and reuse of CD&E waste on construction projects. But currently
only around 10% of construction materials in new homes come from
18. We recommend that the Government
suspends the implementation of its regional spatial strategies
until it has carried out and published an environmental appraisal
of its house-building targets. We also invite the Committee on
Climate Change to assess the impact of new house-building targets
on the UK's 2020 carbon reduction target, and related carbon budgets.
This should include the embodied emissionsi.e., the carbon
emitted from making, transporting, and using the building materialsin
the construction of the homes and surrounding infrastructure.
We further recommend that the Government takes action to reduce
waste from house-building and construction more generally, including
decisive measures to increase the use of recycled materials and
reuse of construction waste.