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From zero to, er, zero

True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.

The simple – or even cynical – thing to say is that your position on the Government’s cancellation n of the zero carbon target depends on where your business interest i.e. – in selling energy efficiency products or in building houses as cost-effectively as possible.

Of course, it’s must more than that.

It is a truth that ought to be universally accepted that the best way to ensure that we use fewer fossil fuels to heat our homes is to make those homes as energy efficient as possible.

Yet, In the Chancellor’s productivity plan “Fixing the foundations”, George Osborne basically axed the policy designed to ensure that all new homes built from 2016 meet zero carbon standards. And he also booted out the sister policy that applied to all new non-residential buildings – offices, schools and hospitals from 2019. Having spent a not inconsiderable amount of time in all three types of buildings, I would suggest that getting these right is as important as the domestic arena in the fight against wasting energy.

But I digress.

We have a problem with energy efficiency in this country. That’s a fact. There are too many homes and buildings that use more energy to heat them than they should. This means we use more fossil fuels than we should, we spend more money on them than we should and we chuck more carbon emissions into the air than we should.

However. We also have a problem with housing in this country. We don’t have enough of it. We don’t build enough of it, in the right places. It’s also far more expensive than it would ideally be, although that’s probably a whole different issuer.

Once again, it seems as though two different requirements are in conflict.

According to the open letter to the Chancellor, signed by representatives of 200 businesses, scrapping the policy a year before it was due to be implemented sends completely the wrong message to the construction industry. The construction industry which has already spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in getting ready to achieve the standard. For once, it was a policy that was introduced with sufficient notice to give those required to implement it time to do so properly.

Zero Carbon projects are already underway. What’s the message to these developers – “Thanks guys, but actually you didn’t really need to bother?” Nice. Achieving Zero Carbon Standard would go a long way towards reducing our carbon emissions – something we as a nation are targeted to do.

However, there is also the argument that the Zero Carbon policy was over-ambitious and that adhering to it would reduce productivity – something that is much needed in the housebuilding sector.

As the Federation of Master Builders has pointed out, following zero carbon all the way meant a danger of standards running ahead of the industry’s ability to deliver. External Affairs Director Sarah McGonagle says: “This burdensome regulation came at a time when SME house builders were beginning to recover and build more new homes which is crucial if we want to keep pace with the demand for new housing.”

I can see both sides of the argument to be honest.

Please, can we just come up with some kind of Government energy efficiency policy that will do what we need it to do in terms of energy efficiency and allow us to build the homes we need to house our growing population? Anyone?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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