Select Committee on Environmental Audit Twelfth Report


Conclusions and recommendations


1.  The target for 3 million new homes by 2020

2.  We recommend that both the Department for Communities and Local Government, and the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, review the share of new homes attributable to meeting the aspiration for bigger homes and gardens in their national house-building plans and targets; and seek the advice of the Sustainable Development Commission on the environmental limits of continuous annual house-building targets. (Paragraph 8)

3.  We recommend that the Government urgently reviews the assumptions on which the 3 million homes target was based and whether it is still justified on the basis of the latest economic growth projections, fundamental changes in the mortgage market and house prices which are falling anyway. (Paragraph 12)

4.  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. (Paragraph 14)

5.  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 emissions—i.e., the carbon emitted from making, transporting, and using the building materials—in 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. (Paragraph 18)

6.  Zero carbon homes

7.  We recommend that, once the zero carbon standard comes into effect, the initial priority for developers must be to build on-site generating capacity and planning policy should reflect this priority. Where off-site renewables are used, these should not require the use of a private wire to connect them to the housing development that is funding them, but should simply be connected to the grid. However, it is essential that controls are established to ensure such off-site generation is additional to what power companies would build anyway. Whether new developments build on-site (or adjacent) generation, or pay into some kind of proposed Community Energy Fund, we recommend that the Government seizes the opportunity of the 2016 zero carbon target to accelerate the development of district renewable energy sources to supply existing neighbourhoods. (Paragraph 28)

8.  We recommend that the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) urgently identify the practical difficulties in establishing extensive district energy systems, and implement a plan to address them. We further recommend that the Government commissions and publishes an assessment of the potential of biomass CHP, involving a detailed analysis of UK capacity to produce the requisite biomass (bearing in mind other demands for land use, and other demands for biomass), the sustainability of biomass supplies, and the effects of biomass CHP on air quality in urban areas and how to minimise them. (Paragraph 31)

9.  We recommend the Government places much greater emphasis on adapting housing to the future impacts of climate change, both in terms of the designs for new housing and elements that can be retrofitted to existing housing stock. Critical to this will be the development of the skills and supply chains needed to support and apply innovative construction methods and design. The Government should ask the UK Green Building Council to investigate what further action is needed in this regard. In investigating these questions the UK Green Building Council should take into account the views of bodies such as the Environment Agency. (Paragraph 32)

10.  Code for sustainable homes and building regulations

11.  Given the requirement to make rapid cuts in carbon emissions, the Government should speed up full implementation of the Code for Sustainable Homes. (Paragraph 34)

12.  It is not possible to predict what effects the mandatory rating of new homes against the Code for Sustainable Homes will have on the market, but we cannot be sure that it will deliver the necessary changes in consumer behaviour or developers' plans. We believe that the impact of mandatory rating might be undermined by allowing developers to opt for a nil-rating. We believe that a transformation in building design will only come about when new homes are required to be built to mandatory standards. We recommend that the Government makes further aspects of the Code, beyond energy use, mandatory from 2010 onwards. (Paragraph 39)

13.  We recommend that the Government ensures consumers are educated about both the requirements and benefits of highly energy efficient housing. We further recommend that the Government work with the construction industry and bodies such as CABE, UK-GBC, and EST, to develop designs for low and zero carbon homes that are as easy to live in, while maintaining the specified level of energy efficiency, as possible. (Paragraph 43)

14.  We recommend that the Government clarifies what impacts the increased capital costs of low and zero carbon homes will make to their running costs and how costs will be paid for. In particular, we recommend that the Government urgently considers introducing feed-in tariffs as a way of making zero carbon homes more financially attractive to developers and homebuyers. (Paragraph 48)

15.  We recommend that much greater emphasis is placed on energy efficiency and sustainability within building control, with the Government ensuring that extra training and resources are made available to local government where necessary. We also recommend that the Government urgently reviews ways of improving the rigour of inspections carried out by private approved inspectors. (Paragraph 55)

16.  We recommend that the Government introduces much higher penalties for developers who fail to meet energy efficiency regulations in practice, and provides financial incentives for developers based on the number of properties that pass a post-completion site inspection. (Paragraph 56)

17.  Where should new homes be built?

18.  We recommend the Government clarifies how much capacity it has identified on brownfield land for new homes, and whether its target for 60% of new housing to be built on brownfield land will be applied to the 3 million new homes to be built by 2020. (Paragraph 58)

19.  Given existing planning policy, we are concerned that by continuing to impose high national house-building targets and regional plans during a market downturn, the effect of Government policy is to make it impossible for local authorities to prevent planning permission being granted for development on land that is not currently needed and that would not otherwise be granted. Presented with an excess of available land, it is likely developers will build new developments on greenfield sites in preference to developing brownfield sites within the boundaries of existing settlements. We recommend that Government ensures this does not happen by revising urgently its targets and regional plans in the light of current market conditions, and by reintroducing a clear sequential test in favour of brownfield sites into planning policy. (Paragraph 62)

20.  We recommend that the Government investigates the potential for the redevelopment of vacant buildings to provide new homes, with an emphasis on examining how many homes this could provide, and what savings in environmental impacts this would lead to over building the same number of new homes. (Paragraph 63)

21.  In our last report on housing, we expressed concern "that current rates of VAT are heavily stacked in favour of demolition, as opposed to refurbishment", and recommended that HM Treasury revises the current VAT rules concerning both new build and refurbished homes built to high environmental standards. We recommend that the Government renews its efforts at overcoming the obstacles to reforming VAT in this way. (Paragraph 64)

22.  We recommend that the Government specifies how much existing green belt land has been lost since 1997, separately from the amount that has been offset by new green belt land elsewhere, and amends planning policy and guidance to strengthen the "exceptional" test and emphasise the importance of protecting and where possible extending existing green belt boundaries. (Paragraph 67)

23.  Eco-towns

24.   We recommend that the Government applies the same environmental tests as set for eco-towns to all major housing developments from 2016. The Government must make clear how eco-towns will improve sustainability and reduce carbon emissions, particularly through the wider influence they could have on existing communities. (Paragraph 72)

25.  We share many of our witnesses' concerns about the full environmental impacts of eco-towns. We recommend that the Government re-examines its proposals to ensure they generate a much greater level of sustainability, particularly in terms of being located close to existing commercial centres, employment opportunities, and public transport links. (Paragraph 93)

26.  We welcome the considerable attention the Government has devoted to delivering infrastructure for sustainable communities since our last report. We are concerned, however, that the Government is relying on private developers to provide this funding, through the proposed Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 funding, and that this may not be forthcoming in the current market downturn. We are also concerned that not enough priority will not be given to public transport and green infrastructure. (Paragraph 79)

27.  Sustainable infrastructure for new developments

28.  We recommend that the Government ensures that minimum standards, delivering required sustainable infrastructure, apply to all new developments, to ensure that housing is not built simply with the promise of infrastructure to come—and which may never come due to reduced profits to house-builders. We also recommend that the Government controls the proportion of the planned investment in transport infrastructure for new developments that will be devoted to roads, and ensures that the proportion to be devoted to public transport is adequate to promote sustainability and the use of low carbon transport methods. (Paragraph 80)

29.  Conclusion

30.  In the light of the dramatic financial events of the last few weeks, we recommend that the Government revisits the extent to which a target of 3 million new homes by 2020 is realistic and viable. In revising its targets, the Government should not seek to water down its environmental ambitions, but should rather seize the opportunity to strengthen them, at the same time helping the economy by investing in the skills and supply chains needed for a step-change in environmental construction standards. (Paragraph 82)


 
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