The departure of the WWF from the Zero Carbon taskforce raises some serious issues, more about the government and the workings of lobbying than about the actual issues concerned.
The Zero Carbon Taskforce came about because of a desire from Government, albeit the last one, to hear from the housing industry how it was going to deliver zero carbon and whether the then current definition was workable. The results of that was that the Zero Carbon Hub came into being and carried out a lot of research into the implications of the then definition and has resulted in the tripartite definition now being used of Fabric Energy Efficiency, Carbon Compliance and Allowable solutions. The three Graces? or the three Furies? take your pick.
Enter the Coalition and after another round of examination by the Zero Carbon Hub the result is a final definition for some building types of the Carbon Compliance targets and nothing about allowable solutions. Then we get the announcement in the Budget that the target for the entire operation has been changed from all emissions to only the regulated emissions. This change in target was not discussed with the Zero Carbon Taskforce, and the members of the Hub are being tightlipped about whether they were consulted or not.
What is clear is that this change has come about because vested interests in housebuilding have lobbied for the change. There is nothing wrong with lobbying per se, it is not illegal, but in this case the result of the lobbying has seriously damaged the credibility of the Government departments involved in the legislation and the credibility of the organisations associated with the standard. This is not good for anyone and it is very questionable whether it will benefit housebuilders in the long term.
When an organisation like the WWF decides that it can no longer actively work directly with the Coalition on such an important issue it should raise serious concerns about how this Government is doing business, apart from what its decisions are. If this change had been discussed widely, as it should have, and if the implications had been understood by all concerned, then there may have been some acceptance of the position that the housebuilder is responsible for the emissions caused by the performance of the dwelling and the resident is responsible for the emissions caused by their usage.
As things stand, I see no evidence that the position of the resident has been considered at all, that the costs that are being passed on to homeowners has been considered, or that the implications this will have on the marketing of newbuild housing versus existing housing is understood.
When politicians give in to lobbying they raise the spectre of government by vested interests, and while those interests may be important, they are not voters. Residents are voters. Decision making in such a complex area of legislation should not be made ad hoc, there are too many opportunities to get things horribly wrong. Housing is no longer simply an issue of housing and employment, it is about carbon emissions and climate change. These are not simple concerns to be decided in the back rooms of Westminster by people who are unqualified to make complex technical judgements.
This simply isn’t good enough, the industry has been working on this issue for long enough to understand how to manage the difficult transition from the past to the future. This episode has pushed the industry back into an era when men in suits determined the direction of policy. Science is important, and the decisions of Government should be guided by it.
The decision to make zero carbon not zero may be the most cost effective way of unlocking unviable sites for development. But it may not be. What is disapointing is that this decision appears to have been taken without full examination of its impact. That is no way to run a country.