See below for my response to this current consultation, it closes tomorrow, so make sure you get your submissions in. Note that this exemption will require further legislation following on from the introduction of Allowable Solutions in the Infrastructure Bill.
The consultation document can be read on DCLG’s website. The main elements are
- The proposal is to exempt small sites from the Allowable Solutions element of the Zero Carbon(2016) proposals. That is, the CO2 offset payment for that CO2 not mitigated on site by the development multiplied by 30 years multiplied by the agreed cost of CO2 per tonne. (£30-£90)
- The consultation seeks views on the proposals including
- The definition of small sites
- Whether the exemption should relate to developers who are small or to any developer developing small sites
- Whether the exemption should relate to Allowable Solutions only or whether the exemption should relate to Carbon Compliance as well
Question 1 – should the exemption be targeted at site size, developer size, or a combination of both? Is there any evidence to support the choice made?
To act as an encouragement to development, the exemption would be better replaced with a measure that promotes the bringing forward of new land for development in areas of the UK that need it most. By removing any benefit to the Local Authority in the form of the Allowable Solutions payment, any encouragement to the Local Authority or to the local community to grant planning permission is removed. In some cases the Allowable Solutions monies would be spent on improving the energy efficiency of local homes under Local Authority retrofit schemes, replacing lighting in local schools or replacing street lighting with more energy efficient versions, all of which are a benefit to the local community and all of which would encourage the local community to welcome development rather than fighting it. By removing this incentive to welcome development the measure is as likely to restrict development as it is to encourage it.
Any incentive to development should be aimed at the developer, and not the site, and the incentive should be aimed at small developers who build less than 100 homes per annum.
Question 2– if the Government chose a site size exemption, what level should this be set and why?
I don’t agree that introducing a site exemption makes any sense, but if it were to make sense it would be sensible to chose the size of site that the local authority sets as a ‘minor’ application. As this tends to vary across the country, the exemption size should change also.
Question 3 – if the Government chose a developer size exemption, what criteria should it apply and why?
Exempting developers from meeting the zero carbon targets makes no sense, either for the developer or for the local authority giving permission for development. The developer will not make any more profit from the sales than before but will pay less for the land to make the viability calculation work, so the only loser in this equation will be the landowner.
If an incentive is introduced it should only be used to promote new entrants into the market, or small developers offering local custom build homes on small sites.
Question 4 – What do you think the scope of the exemption should cover? An exemption for the allowable solutions scheme only, or an additional exemption from Building Regulations requirements? Do you have any evidence to support the choice between these options?
I see no benefit in providing the exemption at all, and I certainly see no benefit in increasing the scope for relaxation in Building Regulations beyond Allowable Solutions. Home purchasers in the UK can and should be sold the highest performing homes that can be made available to them to enable the UK to meet its legally binding cuts in CO2 emissions. Reducing the energy efficiency of new homes in one sector sends a dangerous message to all sectors, that energy efficiency is not so important that it cannot be ‘tinkered with’. Reducing the build quality of homes to enable developers to increase their profit is tinkering with the housing market in an unacceptable way. We would not consider reducing the energy efficiency of new cars to enable car sales companies to sell more cars. In addition this confuses the market and weakens the ‘brand’ of new homes. One of the main benefits of a new home over an existing home is the much superior energy efficiency. Purchasers should not be confused by having new homes at different levels of building regulation compliance offered to them at the same time, in the same area, under the same legislation.
Most developers make the profit from their activities by buying land at low values and selling land with housing on it at high values. The cost of delivering the homes is a relatively small part of the financial equation and the impact of this proposal is likely to be small and should not be overestimated.
Question 5 – What are your views on the proposed review period for the exemption?
If an exemption is introduced it should only be retained for the period between 2016 and the following revision to the Building Regulations. This is likely to be 2020 to bring UK regulations into line with EU 2020 Nearly Zero Energy Buildings. Furthermore the exemption should not be capable of being ‘booked’ in advance. Sites that are not completed or substantially under way on the date of the introduction of the new regulations should lose the exemption, it should not be carried forward.
Question 4(sic) – Do you have any further evidence that would help inform the impact assessment?
Many of the smallest sites brought forward for development will be self-build sites. In this case the developer is the future owner of the home and is likely to live in the home for a sustained period of time.
Since self-builders are already exempt from CIL and s106 payments, there is a danger of this incentive becoming an additional incentive to a group that are already benefiting from other exemptions.
The Allowable Solutions system is not yet fully developed and it is concerning that the Department should be considering exemptions to it before it has even been introduced. To work well, it will need Local Authorities in every region to have working projects that can be funded through the Allowable Solutions payments. Projects are likely to include retrofitting of nearby old properties and improving the energy efficiency of street lighting. This will be beneficial to communities and will play a part in helping communities see that there are benefits to them in allowing development to happen. Removing this benefit for some sites weakens the Allowable Solutions before it is introduced and will weaken Local Authorities resolve to bring plans forward that can benefit from the payments. If these local plans are not in place the Allowable Solutions can still work by paying into a national fund, but this will be an opportunity missed. Payments by developers into a national fund will not bring any further benefits to the developers in terms of winning the hearts and minds of the communities that they work with every day, and instead will see their money going elsewhere to an Allowable Solutions fund that they have no control over. Any opportunity to demonstrate to communities that development is a positive thing for them should be taken.