The Queen’s speech was yet another opportunity missed by Government to decarbonise the nation’s homes according to Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the Federation of Master Builders.
While a 0% VAT rating on energy-efficient home improvements was a step in the right direction at the Chancellor’s most recent budget, this measure alone cannot achieve the level of decarbonisation required to meet net-zero by 2050.
Lawrence Turner, associate director at Boyer, shares his thoughts on despite knowing that green housing is better, why aren’t more housebuilders doing it?
Many aspects of consumer lives intersect with companies trying to satisfy the need for more sustainable products. It is no wonder really, as only the most die-hard climate sceptics can ignore the human-wrought impact on worrying degrees of climate change. The world is changing and so are attitudes towards being greener – housing is no exception. With more homes needed to meet existing and future demand, the property industry has an important role to play in addressing climate change with the next wave of housing stock. So, if there is a demand for more sustainable properties and it helps the environment, what are the development industry doing?
Greener regulations needed
As with most things in life, there needs to be a carrot and stick. Firstly, and most importantly there isn’t a stick (well not at the moment) and no certainty as to whether there will be. This is fuelled by Government regulations, or lack thereof, to make the change. In the current climate of build, build, build, little pause can be afforded to sustainability as well as speed.
The Government’s current Building Regulations don’t currently insist on the latest sustainable stipulations for developers, so many understandably don’t incorporate them. House prices are at a record high, and it means that only the most eco-conscious buyer might plump for a more expensive sustainable built home over one at the best price possible.
Other regulatory factors have also had a detrimental effect on the industry building greener homes. One would be how long housing developments can take, as plans that were based decades ago can change if a political party’s policies shift or if there’s a change of Government entirely. At a more granular level, overlapping sustainability regulations between national and local bodies can further hamper efforts for building greener.
There are, of course, ‘carrots.’ Many local authorities welcome greener buildings as part of their Climate Emergency agendas. Development proposals that incorporate the latest green technology and achieve high levels of sustainability are more likely to be more warmly received by local communities – which may help developers with the allocation of land or in securing planning permission. Of course, this incentive is always dampened by the inevitable opposition to the principle of new development in a neighbourhood.
What can developers do?
The ball is definitely in the Government’s court when it comes to national regulations that will stimulate the growth of greener home builds. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t quick wins that developers can’t action now to reap the benefit in the future, like heat pumps, solar panels, electric vehicle chargers, and a fabric first building approach. Many developers are now taking this approach – particularly as their customers are now more aware of the future costs of retrospectively fitting sustainable elements.
Speaking of cost, it is worth noting that the long-term financial savings of sustainable housing means that any higher cost will be recouped eventually. Additionally, greener homes will also hold and increase their future value quicker than less sustainably built ones. Savvy homebuyers understand how thinking ahead will benefit them in the long run.
The greener future
The Government’s June 2022 update to Building Regulations seek to reduce current carbon emissions as a stop-gap until more wide-ranging changes come into force in 2025, as part of the Future Homes and Buildings Standard, which will bring in further reductions to carbon emissions. The Climate Change Committee will soon lay out what regulations are needed to encourage greener house building in the future and it will be a clear indication of just how far the Government will go in building greener as well as better.
Despite the onus being on Government policy, that doesn’t mean that developers are resting on their laurels. There’s plenty that we should do within the industry to spark change – bold climate-conscious action now will benefit those brave businesses in the future, and we need to ensure we are one of them.
*Lawrence Turner is the associate director at Boyer