Q&A: Paul King

The chief executive of the UK Green Building Council is lukewarm about the government’s ‘Allowable Solutions’ proposal in last month’s Queen’s speech to help tackle carbon emissions from house building

Have we worked out what Allowable Solutions are yet?

We’ve known what they are in principle since the end of 2008. It’s more about how it works as a mechanism. It’s the third component of the zero carbon pyramid, with fabric energy efficiency and low carbon energy use on site, and any residual emissions offset by delivering them off-site. The real issue is what carbon compliance levels will be – an uplift is due in 2016.

 

A Zero Carbon Hub consultation suggests industry isn’t clear about whether the offset should apply at local or national level

Opinion was divided. Keeping carbon mitigation effects local would let the community see the benefits of renewable schemes. But with smaller developments, money collected from the developers as a carbon offset might not be worth spending at local level – it could all go on admin, say. It might be better to aggregate those funds and make sure there’s an audit trail to the benefit.

 

‘Small developments’ will be exempt from Allowable Solutions. Won’t developers just package sites to come in under the policy requirement, and so slow housing delivery too?

Yes. I can see ‘less progressive’ builders phasing developments, with those results. The House Builders Federation first mooted the figure of 50 homes as small – but that could apply to up to half the homes built in the UK. That’s a big loophole! The government might look at a 10-house planning precedent, but ex-DCLG under-secretary Lib Dem MP Andrew Stunell told the Commons there should be no exemption at all, so there’s a spectrum of views.

 

Isn’t this just a case of us failing, once again, to deal with the carbon problem at source?

It was counter-productive that the Lib-Dems were so keen to push their involvement in zero carbon policy that it came across as new, when in fact, as I said, it’s been around for ages. Some just thought it was another way of offsetting our carbon commitments. The point is that Building Regulations have to apply across the board, and with the best will in the world, sometimes you won’t be able to meet code 5 on site. Allowable Solutions gives us some leeway; and as long as it’s properly audited, I think it’s a legitimate approach.

 

I once heard the government’s chief adviser say he wanted to go down UK streets in a truck spraying our terraces in insulating foam

The existing stock is a different story – as that’s where the bulk of the problem lies! We’re trying to make sure we don’t add to that by building sub-standard new homes that don’t meet codes. Part of the problem now is that we’ve got a general election coming up next year, so it’s really questionable how far policy will be driven forwards. It’s time to wake up to the fact that the magnitude of the environmental challenge is not a party political issue. •

 

ALLOWABLE SOLUTIONS

The construction industry feels varying degrees of enthusiasm for the implementation of ‘Allowable Solutions’, if the Zero Carbon Hub’s consultation, carried out at the end of 2013, is anything to go by. A ‘pulse-read’ of the industry – from professionals to housebuilders, LAs and RSLs – saw 90% of housebuilders wanting AS to be national rather than locally decided (it was 50% for LAs). And while 83% of them were happy to pay into a carbon abatement fund, there was wide variance on what the price of a tonne of carbon should be (£60/t anyone)? Interestingly, checking whether buildings were actually performing as specified, and whether non-performance should be penalised, was a bone of contention: only 8% of house builders wanted ex-post verification of AS. It seems ‘soft landings’ is still a way off.

 

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