Kelly unveils green vision for UK homes

Kelly unveils green vision for UK homes

Matt Weaver

The communities secretary, Ruth Kelly, set out a timetable today for making all new homes ‘zero carbon’ within a decade, as builders warned the plan would hamper a government building programme aimed at solving the housing crisis.

Under the proposed scheme, from 2008 all new homes will be given star ratings to reflect their energy efficiency, and the building regulations will be progressively tightened to force the construction of environmentally friendly homes.

Ms Kelly also proposed changes to the planning system to instruct councils to have a more positive attitude to projects such as wind farms that cut carbon dioxide emissions.

She said: ‘Building the homes we need for future generations whilst meeting our climate change goals is one of the most complex environmental challenges facing the country.’

She added: ‘We can only meet this challenge by transforming the quality of new homes, changing the way we plan new developments and galvanising the nation to play their part.’

The House Builders Association dismissed the plan as ‘gesture politics’ that threatened to undermine the government plan to build tens of thousands of new homes in the south-east.

Roger Humber, its strategic policy advisor, said: ‘The government will jeopardise the increase in new home building that ministers claim to want if they impose excessive, eye-catching, sustainability requirements of house builders.’

He added: ‘Expecting house builders to install wind turbines and other devices is a waste of money and will slow house building down.’

The Home Builders Federation was more cautious. It said it ‘looks forward’ to working with the government on the detail of the scheme.

Under a new Code for Sustainable Homes, released today, properties will qualify for the maximum six stars in the new rating system if they produce enough energy from solar panels, wind turbines and other micro-generation technology to cover all the power they take from the national grid.

Such zero carbon homes will also be exempt from stamp duty.

Ms Kelly said that the star ratings would ‘bring a new low carbon consumerism to house buying’.

She added that the changes could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 7m tonnes by 2050. Homes currently account for 27% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions at around 40m tonnes a year.

Last week in his pre-budget report Chancellor Gordon Brown announced that every new home would be zero carbon by 2016. Today’s plan sets out that in 2010 and 2013, building regulations will be progressively tightened to ensure that this target is achieved.

Currently, only a handful of the 150,000 homes built each year qualify as zero carbon Ms Kelly also launched a consultation on new minimum water efficiency standards for new buildings, following the shortages which hit much of the country this year.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the measures but said the government should act with more urgency.

Friends of the Earth’s planning adviser, Hugh Ellis, said: ‘The technology already exists to make new homes carbon zero. We need mandatory regulations to ensure that all new homes are built to the highest environmental standards. And this should happen within months, not years.’

A year ago the environmental charity WWF resigned in disgust from a government steering group drawing up an earlier code because it did not go far enough. It welcomed today’s stronger version of the code.

Paul King, its director of campaigns, said: ‘WWF is pleased to have played a very active role in initiating and developing this code that will make sustainable, zero carbon homes a mainstream reality in under 10 years.’