Last month's pre-Budget statement by the UK government was heralded as 'green' when in reality, most of its measures were pretty puny. A mere £5 extra tax on flights, anyone? But one measure that was mentioned did get radical. The government committed to making all new houses in the UK zero-carbon within the next ten years. By progressively tightening the building codes in a series of stages, builders will be forced to meet higher and higher standards of both energy efficiency, and self-generation of renewables.
In the mean time, zero-carbon homes will be free from stamp duty tax for a limited period to encourage homebuyers to make the switch, and housebuilders to start raising their game. Housing that is funded by the government will have to become carbon-neutral in a shorter timeframe. And we've got a Planning Policy Statement on climate change in the offing too, alongside the recently-launched (and somewhat controversial) replacement for the old Ecohomes standards, the Code for Sustainable Homes.
It's taken a while here, and we are far behind Scandinavia at the moment, but it looks like the UK will be the place to innovate if the government keeps its promise.
"Housing that is funded by the government will have to become carbon-neutral in a shorter timeframe." At first glance this sounds truly excellent, until you realise that there is no such thing as 'housing funded by the government' - give or take some military barracks.
The housing crisis is one of the UK's largest current problems, with suburban sprawl and the Deputy Priome Minister's woeful plans for the Thames Gateway showing how the government is REALLY thinking about future building and development. Houses are getting more and more expensive, and most of the large property developers have an effective monopoly on both the design and manufacture of housing here. The rate of building is so slow and the cost of homes so high that people are snapping up any they can possibly afford, rather than have a look at the various 'options' which might have been there if only the market were in a different shape.
Some sustainable, connected, well-planned-out, architecturally innovative new housing developments with realistic price tags would perhaps kick the market and country into life, but while the majority of UK suburbanites are happy in their cars, supermarkets, and mass-produced faux-vernacular homes, I remain sceptical that the governments they vote for would be willing to spearhead any real change in building practices.
Actually the government does fund a lot of housing through the Housing Corporation grants for social housing, as well as through English Partnerships. So a commitment to zero-carbon state-funded housing is not a hollow promise.
It's great to make new housing carbon-free, but is there perhaps greater impact in making the existing stock of housing lower-carbon? In a developed country like Britain, the vast majority of housing that will exist in ten years has already been built. Addressing this vast existing stock of housing is surely important.
I wonder, too about the marginal cost and marginal return of making new houses entirely carbon-free. Moving from "largely carbon-free" to "entirely carbon-free" may take an extraordinary effort. Instead of making one house carbon-free, the same effort could be put into making several houses much more efficient.
What do others think?
In reply to David: the plan also includes a look at how to upgrade the existing housing stock (which will comprise ~70% of dwellings in 2050): Energy Efficiency of Existing Dwellings
From the perspective of the U.S., where at the moment we can only dream about such plans emerging from national gov't, this is an incredibly inspiring model. Thanks, Hana!