The news today and yesterday in various media is a ‘softening-up’ piece to prepare us to accept a revision downwards of the UK zero carbon standards. This is apparently due to the success of the housebuilders lobby in persuading ministers of the costs of achieving the targets and the inability of the industry to sell these homes for the greater sums of money this legislation costs. Lets look at this a bit more closely.
The cost of a dwelling is as much in the land as it is in the construction of the actual home. What about land costs? If all house and home builders have to reach the same target, will this not simply reduce the price of the land that that the houses are built on? Or is this too late for many housebuilders? Have they paid too much for land that they have already bought and do they now realise that they cannot make a return on it if they build homes on it to meet the new targets? Is so, whose problem is this? Theirs or ours?
In any other industry, say fridge manufacturing, if a manufacturer paid over the odds for a fridge plant, would any government allow them to drop environmental targets because it was going to affect their bottom line? No.
The costs of achieving the targets vary wildly from site to site, so I have sympathy for the suggestion that not all sites should have to reach the same targets, but that is now enshrined in the current consultation version of zero carbon, i.e. that all sites only need to reach 70% but those that can go higher cost-effectively on site may do so.
But most importantly, where is the voice of the homeowner in all this. Home owners want cheaper homes to run, don’t they? Why should new homeowners lose out on future energy savings if these savings are possible. Instead of complaining that the housebuyer will never pay a premium for a low energy home, why are the housebuilders not looking for mechanisms that enable the builder of the home to benefit from the savings.i.e. if they put pv on the roof, the housebuilder could retain ownership of this asset and use the Feed-in-Tariff to pay for it. Or find a way to pass on the costs to the home occupier over a twenty year period in the same way as the Pay as You Save mechanism is going to fund the Green Deal.
I know these are not as straightforward as I suggest, but at some point the housebuilding industry needs to stop acting as a brake on progress and act as an engine of progress instead. I know that it is capable of it.