LEADER - Brown has big plans but are they achievable?
All new homes will be 'zero carbon' in less than ten years, confidently announced Chancellor Gordon Brown in his pre-budget statement recently. It certainly sounds impressive. However, we need to take a step back and ask ourselves what exactly does he mean by this and is he offering something that he will be unable to deliver? Is he fooling the nation into believing that all the problems of the environment will be sorted for us by a kindly housebuilding industry and a caring government? After all we do have short memories where politics is concerned!
Well, one interpretation of a zero carbon home was explained on Radio 4 shortly after his announcement, and this was that a 'zero carbon home' is one that exports more energy that it imports! Sounds nice and simple but in reality it is not. One also needs to ask if this idea really meets the zero carbon concept because most us know that the lion's share of our energy needs are for heating.
However, even if exporting more energy than you import was the only measure of a carbon neutral home, it is still quite a tall order with currently available technology, so perhaps Brown's statement is either naive or misguided. For instance, we import not just electricity but gas, coal, wood and a myriad of other external carbon stores into our homes for consumption and opportunities for exporting anything other than electricity from our homes are next to nil. Even exporting electricity is not yet easy to do with all the bureaucracy that abounds!
The long and the short of it is that the government is going to have to stump up a lot more money if it wants housebuilders to bolt the kind of kit needed onto their speculative homes. However, no further grant aid seems to be forthcoming other than a paltry offering of no stamp duty on carbon neutral homes. What Brown might be doing is trying to earn early greenie points with leadership and government elections just over the horizon.
Brown's paltry promise of a stamp duty tax break ("to accelerate the building of zero carbon homes for a time limited period, the vast majority of new zero carbon homes will be exempted from stamp duty"), is not going to really encourage homeowners to put their hands in their pockets to pay for the equipment needed.
What do other's think?
Well the organisations seem a little more forgiving. The Construction Products Association said they fully support the Chancellor’s desire to raise the energy efficiency of UK homes, but warns that if the government is serious about climate change, then it will have to do a great deal more.
"We welcome the setting of a clear 10 year target for the delivery of zero carbon homes, although we do need to have a clear understanding of exactly what government means by this".
The Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB) has also welcomed the Chancellor’s statement but Chris Herring, current Chair of the organisation said “Building zero carbon homes is a huge challenge for developers, architects, builders, engineers, building control officers – all those involved in trying to improve the energy performance of our homes. We believe that for this target to be achieved there has to be a significant investment in both research and training to produce an industry capable of producing homes that are both carbon neutral and a delight to live in.”
Paul King, WWF-UK's Director of Campaigns, was more enthusiastic,“This is a great breakthrough," he said "For the first time, the Chancellor has shown he really backs 'green' housing development. It is also a victory for WWF which has been campaigning for many years to bring 'green' homes from the fringes to the mainstream. The introduction of stamp duty exemptions for sustainable homes also sends a clear signal to the house building industry and homebuyers that energy efficient homes are a good investment, both in terms of up-front savings and long-term reduced running costs". Interesting, as only a year ago, King (and WWF) resigned from the steering group set up to design a 'code for sustainable homes'. At the time it was feared the government had bowed to pressure from the house building industry, who until now, it seems, has strongly resisted the imposition of any compulsory environmental targets.
To summarise then, perhaps the Chancellor would have done the environment a bigger favour if he had put an instant ban on all electrical resistance appliance for use as heating systems in homes.
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