Architecture

GUEST ARTICLE: Is England falling behind in sustainable housing?

  • 13 Sep 2022

The housing sector faces an enormous challenge as it attempts to innovate to meet the net zero targets outlined by the UK government, with a looming deadline set to 2050. This is according to Neil Gosling, partner and head of residential development at Shakespeare Martineau.

Studies show that buildings account for around 35 per cent of carbon emissions and will be a key area of focus as the fight against climate change continues. To combat this, in 2019, the Government unveiled plans for a green housing revolution. This included ambitious aims to build all new homes to a more energy efficient standard, to simplify and streamline planning rules to avoid confusion and create a system that works for everyone, and the production of a design manual that would guide developers to build aesthetically pleasing homes.

However, the benefits of this vision have been difficult to realise as the legislation and funding that would have helped to move it forward has been scrapped or subjected to changes. The average home in the UK is reportedly currently rated as an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) Band D, leading to increased costs for fuel for residents and more emissions.

These issues could be resolved by investing within the housing sector to ensure all properties are brought up to EPC Band C or above, however, there is little support available to developers and housebuilders to make this worthwhile, whether they are upgrading current housing stock or building new developments.

The investment could cover a range of measures designed to make houses more energy efficient, for example solar panels, double or triple glazing, loft and wall insulation and other energy saving techniques such as replacing old boilers in properties to improve efficiency ratings in existing housing stock.

Solar

Without adequate legislation and funding to encourage developers to use green construction techniques, England is falling behind its neighbours in the advancement of sustainable housing. Recently the Government scaled back the funding available from the Green Homes Grant, leading to confusion within the industry as to how to properly invest in and upgrade homes with energy efficient systems such as heat pumps to ensure that these targets are met.

To have a chance of meeting its own targets, the Government must ensure that the production and delivery of sustainable development is incentivised through streamlined planning decisions where sustainability is at the core of a development and provide funding models such as grants to sustainable developers and homebuyers at preferential rates.

Work must be undertaken to also alter the public view of eco-friendly housing.  In Ireland, for example, owning a sustainable home is highly desirable and is equated with lower bills, better mortgage rates and reduced council tax, making the property attractive to the buyer, and therefore more sought after for the developer.

The example of Ireland demonstrates how many EU countries are pulling ahead of England in terms of developing sustainable housing. Incentivising the production of green properties creates a large market, which in turn drives developers to build them to support demand from customers.

As these countries bring their ideas and advancing technologies to England, it is important that the Government has a plan in place to support home-grown developers to ensure that technology is not simply bought in from other countries and active steps are taken to create our own solutions.

In contrast to England, Wales has recently introduced a variety of measures aimed at creating fuel-efficient homes, with an investment of £33 million into green housing. This includes the Green Homes Incentive, which provides up to a two per cent reduction in loan fees for developers which meet the green standards listed (building homes to an EPC standard A or the Passivhaus Standard), giving a clear incentive to create energy efficient homes.

Whilst the funding provided by the Welsh Government is a significant step forward, it does not go far enough. Creating a culture of sustainability will take more than just a financial fix and must cross borders. To create the change that the UK Government wants to see, the whole approach to legislating, incentivising, and building will need to be interrogated, tackled and rebuilt from the ground up.

As such, the decision to scale back the Green Homes Grant without having anything to replace it appears to be a huge step backwards for sustainable development in England. Investment is required and innovative thinking will be the key.

If the Government can spend billions of pounds in infrastructure projects such as HS2, it is also capable of providing the same focus and attention to the delivery of sustainable homes, benefiting communities, fighting the impacts of global warming and improving the legacy that is left behind for future generations.

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