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Sustainability Agenda Latest

The following has been put together to provide a timeline of major events, policy changes and broader developments of the sustainability agenda in the UK. We’ll cover the change, what it means in an ideal world and perhaps more usefully, comment on what the development will mean in reality. We start back on 2007.

2015: COP 21 Paris  21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

Ideal

The Paris agreement which followed COP 21 has set an enduring, legally binding treaty on Climate action containing commitments from 187 countries. The Paris Agreement starts in 2020 and will enter into force  once 55 countries covering about 55% of global emissions have acceded to it.

The COP 21 agreed to a set of decisions with immediate effect to accelerate climate action and to develop strategies for implementation of the Paris Agreement.

Along with the formal agreements as set out here, there were a number of additional commitments to reduce emissions and increase resilience by various countries , regions , investors and companies.

Reality

All parties offered  voluntary emission targets, and also agreed to a five-yearly review of these which on the face of it is a rare and heart warming case of disparate peoples coming to a common conclusion. However, there were some chance events which helped!. The progressive US president Obama has no more elections to win and China is in the midst of replacing dirty old Coal power stations which is already reducing it’s emissions growth. Can this fortuitous alignment of political and economic stars remain?…

While the targets on the table are not yet adequate to avoid the disaster of more than 2C of warming, the surprise inclusion of an aspiration to cap temperature rises at 1.5C demonstrated the understanding that the targets will have to be tightened at each successive review.

2015: Fixing the Foundations

Ideal

Fixing the Foundations was an attempt to deliver drivers for productivity across the UK. It was a set of measured based on an assessment of the UK’s productivity performance to achieve long term investment and a dynamic economy.

Reality

Amongst a raft of policies switches and promises , the government abolished the Zero carbon Homes 2016 policy it had supported up until a few months before.

2015: The Housing Standards Review Findings

Ideal

The findings were set out in the Review outcomes which passed through Parliament in March 2015

The four main outcomes were:-

  1. A reduction of planning department’s abilities to set local technical standards.  Local technical requirements have been outlawed and various national standards have been established.
  2. Winding down of the Code for Sustainable Homes.  Planning departments are no longer able stipulated Code compliance including any energy requirement over and above Building regulations compliance after the next Part L Building Regulations amendments in Autumn 2016.
  3. Nationally described Building Standards. A single set of national standards replaces  district by district variable standards.
  4. Amendments to Building Regulations and Building Act. – To avoid numerous local standards, a set of tiered standards under building Regulations can be invoked in a planning condition., but only when justified in the Local Plan. When justified Local authorities can require higher level  “Optional requirements” of Building regulations :-
  • G2 – 2 levels of water efficiency – Default level of 125 litres of water per person perday and the “optional”  level  (of 110 litres per person per day
  • M4 – 3 types of accessible housing – Default level to equivalent old Part M and 2 higher levels for “Accessible and Addaptable” and “Wheelchair Accessible” dwellings.

Reality

  1. Local authorities still  require validation checklists for development to be completed fully and that tends to require an energy statement which up until now had various  requirements such as 10 or 15% reductions in energy use or CO2 across the development . from our experience, Energy Statements as application support documents refer to current building regulation requirements and try to demonstrate some energy or CO2 saving measures within these confines .
  2. The Code for Sustainable Homes requirement may be gone, but BRE (Building Research Establishment) is looking at a replacement call the Home Quality Mark which may well have traction with developers and eventually be taken up by local plans.
  3. These nationally prescribed building Standards, have been widely accepted with little difficulty by developers. A minimum ceiling height for 75% of the floor seems to be creating some issues especially with room in the roof constructions.
  4. In practice to date, the legal onus has been on the developer to inform their Building Control provider of ant optional  requirements invoked by planning. The Building Control provider wil then check the planning application to the higher standards . Therefore there  is no involvement from the planning authority after an optional requirement has been triggered.

2015: The Deregulation Act

Ideal

The Deregulation Act 2015 is made up of 17 different parts which provide for the removal or reduction of burdens on businesses, civil society, individuals public sector bodies and the taxpayer.

It has meant that Planning Authorities may not require any additional local technical standards or requirements relating to the construction, internal layout or performance of new dwellings as part of their new or emerging Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans or supplementary documents.

Reality

Any specific requirement to reduce Carbon emissions should not be imposed on a new development. As a result development proposals should continue to adhere to all building related sustainability elements under the relevant policies and broader guidance, but outside the framework of the Code and without other specific requirements such as for instance “a 10% reduction in Co2 emissions across the development”. Where applicable, renewable energy strategies should follow the principles set out in the NPPF and those in Local Plan policies and any supplementary guidance.

2014: The Housing Standards Review Technical Consultation

Ideal

The Housing Standards Review was a consultation carried out by DCLG in 2014 with the outcomes passed through Parliament in 2015. The review aimed to cut red tape for the housing construction industry by stripping out some rules and regulations and placing restrictions  on the technical items required by planning department when determining planning applications.

Reality

See Housing Standards Review Consultation Findings

2013: The Green Deal

Ideal

Set up under the Energy Act it was designed to help businesses and home owners employ more green technologies and efficiencies in their properties.  The scheme provided loans to business and householders to finance energy efficient improvements with the loan being paid back through subsequent energy bills. The Golden Rule was that loan repayments should never exceed the savings made on  energy bills.

Reality

The Golden Rule was not a guarantee that your bill savings matched your loan repayments. It was based on estimates of typical usage and savings and didn’t account for energy price rises. As the loan was attached to the property, home owners  were sceptical as the loan would stay with the home if it was sold on.

An independent audit of the Green Deal was undertaken in 2015/16 and during it’s lifespan the Green Deal Loan Scheme only funded 1% if energy efficiency measures installed through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and the Green Deal Loans Scheme combined. It also found that the scheme saved only negligible amounts of CO2 and home owners didn’t see the loans as an attractive proposition.

2013: The Energy Act

Ideal

This Act focussed on decarbonisation of the UK economy and included provision for the ‘Green Deal’ and The Energy Company Obligation (ECO)on energy efficiency, greater security of energy supplies and more low-carbon electricity. More detailed secondary legislation for the ‘Green Deal’ with secondary legislation  laid before parliament in early 2012 with the first ‘Green Deal’ available in 2013.

Reality

Many of the policies set with in the Act have been and gone, the Green Deal for instance, launched with much fanfare, being deemed a complete flop . The ECO Scheme’s success or failure has been very difficult to measure and monitor. Measured by tons of CO2 saved, charting  interventions such as external wall insulation and new heating equipment in residential property have  shown wide variances depending on which analysis is considered. Independent analysis from the Association for the Conservation of Energy showed that in the first quarter of  2014, activity under the CERO strand of ECO was equivalent to 7.2MtCo2. That’s 35% more than the DECC’s own estimate of 5.3MtCO2 in the same period.

2012: Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI)

Ideal

RHI provides long-term financial support across a wide range of renewable heat installations installed after 15 July 2009, It  initially provided long-term tariff support in the non-domestic sectors.  It was the first of its kind in the world and the UK Government expected the RHI to contribute towards the 2020 ambition of 12% of heating coming from renewable sources.

The domestic RHI was launched in April 2014 and provides financial support to owners of renewable heat systems

Limited support for households, capped at £15 million, was available through Renewable Heat Premium Payments in the first instance. In the second phase, which  commenced in late 2012 coincided with the introduction of the ‘Green Deal’ and made home owners eligible for long-term tariff support on such technologies as Ground Source Heat Pumps and biomass heating.

Reality

The RHI has shown patchy take up with the commercial biomass market demonstrating good growth. In November 2015 the government confirmed a number of new changes to the RHI which included the introduction of a single tariff for biomass, “Heat demand limits” to prevent larger homes claiming too much of the budget, new rules allowing householders to reassign their right to RHI payments to companies that have installed low-carbon technologies and higher rates for heat pumps.

2012: Green Investment Bank (GIB)

Ideal

A GIB to unlock finance for the transition to low-carbon growth commenced operations during the latter half of 2012. The Spring 2011 Budget committed £3 billion in funding, with borrowing powers available from 2015-16 (conditional on government deficit reduction targets being met).

Reality

Criticisms have been levelled at the GIB from many sources since its inception. Non governmental organisations and environmentalists bemoaned its lack of ambition. The World Development Movement claimed that the scheme would not be large enough to attract the kind of investment needed to generate green jobs , green industry and a green economy in the UK.

Between the bank’s  launch in  2012 and the end of 2015, it invested £2.3 billion of public money in 60 projects, with a total value of more than £10 billion.

2011: Carbon Plan

Ideal

The Carbon Plan was a government-wide carbon reduction plan, including domestic and international emissions. It set out a vision, plan and timetable for achieving the United Kingdom’s 2020 emission reduction targets. It set out how the Coalition Government policies would meet a  long term commitments to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions. The Green Deal ,the Green Investment Bank and our reforms to the electricity market were set to  generate jobs in new low carbon industries. The Carbon Plan  was a UK showcase for other countries to follow.

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Reality

The first carbon budget (2008-12) was met through a combination of the impact of the recession and low-carbon policies. The net carbon account was 2,982 MtCO2 e compared to the legislated budget of 3,018 MtCO2 e. Emissions in 2013 were 12% lower than 2007 and 28% below their 1990 level. There was good progress implementing some policies, in particular to support improved fuel efficiency of new cars and investment in wind generation. However,  the cutting of a number of the key policies such as CRC EES, The Green Deal, and reduction in FiTs has reflected in a slow current pace of emissions reduction up to 2016. Allowing for the impacts of the recession through the first carbon budget period and in 2013, the current rates will be insufficient to meet future carbon budgets.

2010: Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Demonstration Project

Ideal

The government announced £1 billion of capital funding for the first full-scale CCS demonstration project in the UK. The government  also committed to a further three demonstration projects on gas- and coal-fired power stations. Two schemes  The White Rose and Peterhead Carbon Capture Projects were in competition for the £1 Billion funding to reduce Emissions by up to 90% from the gas and coal fired power stations.

Reality

In December 2015 the Conservative government announced the cancellation of the £1billion competition for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology just 6 months before it was due to be awarded. This broke a pledge in the conservative party’s election manifesto.

2010: Feed-In Tariffs (FITs)

Ideal

From April 2010, the government offered FITs for small-scale low-carbon electricity generated by households, businesses and communities. Additional payment is provided for electricity fed into the grid. FIT rates vary according to technology, will last from 10 to 25 years, and are adjusted for inflation.

Reality

In practice, the feed In Tariff allowed  both small and large investors the opportunity to achieve returns on solar (either domestic roof top or large commercial) which were greater and more reliable than much of the conventional investment markets. Large solar arrays in our countryside became commonplace. 

By 2016 the Feed In Tariff rates had dropped by over 80% in response to the reduction in the cost of equipment but mainly to the Conservative Government priorities away from the sustainability agenda. The National Electricity Grid started to creek with the increase in capacity requirements for new schemes and planning applications for new  commercial solar PV (phot voltaic) arrays inevitably  began to decline as well as the demand for residential projects.

2010: Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme (CRC EES)

Ideal

Established under the Climate Change Act 2008, the scheme covers emissions by firms and public bodies not already subject to the EU system or substantially covered by other agreements.  The Scheme is divided into a number of phases, with each phase lasting five years. At present the scheme is in its second phase running from April 2014 to March 2019.

It comprises reporting requirements and a carbon levy. The CRC EES is complemented by several other policies to promote energy efficiency in residential buildings.

Reality

In effect  CRC EES has produced lifetime savings in the most deprived areas of England, Scotland and Wales, promoting area-based and whole-house approaches to energy efficiency improvements.

The government has announced in 2016 that the CRC Energy  Efficiency Scheme will be abolished following the 2018-19 compliance year.

2009: Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP)

Ideal

Established to complement CERT, this scheme achieved aims of both carbon reduction and addressing fuel poverty by requiring energy suppliers to achieve 19.25 million tonnes CO2 reduction.

Reality

CESP was able to deliver savings  of around 16.32 million tons of CO2 which equated to  about 85% of the target before the schemes closure in 2012. Progress was slow at first due to a number of issues with the Scheme’s take up  and the vast majority of savings were only achieved  in the last six months of the programme.

2008: Energy Performance Certificates (EPC) 

Ideal

An EPC is required whenever a building is built, sold or rented out. The certificate provides ‘A’ to ‘G’ ratings for the building, with ‘A’ being the most energy efficient and ‘G’ being the least. From 2012 the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive required all home sale advertisements to have an Energy Efficiency Rating.

Reality

There is no doubt that the  A-G rating used  to reflect a buildings energy efficiency is a relatively crude method of highlighting  poor energy performance and it may only have relevance against a building of a similar size and age.

The current average score for residential dwellings in the  UK   is around a D Rating which is relatively poor. This is due to the old Victorian housing stock still prevalent in our housing stock.

2008: Carbon Emission Reduction Target (CERT)

Ideal

This scheme replaced the Energy Efficiency Commitment, with a greater focus on more substantial and robust household energy saving measures such as insulation, and a component targeted at those most vulnerable to fuel poverty. It required gas and electricity suppliers to achieve targets for reducing carbon emissions with domestic properties.

The total lifetime savings required from energy suppliers over the duration of the scheme until 2012 was 293 million tonnes CO2.

Reality

CERT ran between 2008 and 2012 and resulted in around 4 million households receiving loft insulation, 2.6 million receiving cavity wall insulation and  over 2.7 million additional homes receiving help to insulate their own loft spaces. There were a number of criticisms of the scheme which included the lack of monitoring and  its abuse  by unscrupulous contractors. It was later replaced by The Green Deal.

2008: Climate Change Act

Ideal

This Act set a legally binding target of 80% reductions in emissions from 1990 to 2050. A medium-term target of a 34% reduction by 2020 was also adopted, with the promise of a further tightening in the event of a global deal on climate change. To achieve these targets, the Act established the principle of five-year carbon budgets. The first three budgets were set in 2009 and cover 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-22. The fourth budget, 2023-2027, which was set by the UK Committee on Climate Change, was legislated in June 2011.

Reality

Policies such as the Green Deal and CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme have emerged through the last  Labour  government and  were meant to drive  Greenhouse Gas Emissions reduction in the UK. These have now been cut by the current government.

In order for the UK to hit the targets prescribed in the UK Climate Change Act for 2022, it will need to achieve consistently an annual rate of decarbonization of  more than 3%, for any GDP growth rate greater than 1% per year. Current figures suggest that the rate of decarbonisation is -1% per year.

2007: Zero Carbon Homes Policy

Ideal

The Zero Carbon Homes Policy was introduced to ensure all new dwellings were carbon neutral from 2016 onwards. The Policy formed a big part of the Labour  Government’s  strategy to achieving the Climate Change Act 2008 target of  80% reduction in CO2 from the 1990 levels,to 2050.

Reality

How Zero Carbon Homes were to be delivered was worked through by the Zero carbon Hub ZCH), an organisation made up of industry and technical experts. A clear mechanism was agreed.  However, Building Regulations have not delivered  the required progressive reductions in CO2 set out by ZCH to allow an easy transition to zero carbon in 2016. By 2013 a  6% improvement was required rather than 26%  – half way point to zero carbon. Therefore  there target of Zero carbon by 2016 looked farther and farther away!

2007: The Code for Sustainable Homes

Ideal

2007: The Code for Sustainable Homes established minimum performance standards for the design and of homes and covers energy, water, materials and waste. From 2008 all new homes must be rated against the Code and government-funded social housing (from 2010) must comply with its Level 3, which requires a 25% improvement in energy efficiency compared with 2006 regulations. The Code is currently not a requirement unless under Transitional Arrangements.

Reality

Initially seen as a significant financial burden on housebuilders, Code compliance has been a requirement particularly on newly built affordable homes. For many RSLs (Registered Social Landlords) and developers it has been seen as a step forward into our inevitable sustainable low carbon future.

In effect , the Code has forced house builders to consider key sustainable subjects both  inside regulations and policy such as, building energy efficiency, practical usage of renewable technologies, ecological protection and enhancement, and outside regulation such as external water usage,  local materials, provenance,  waste storage and daylighting.   The current conservative government’s Housing Standards Review, in its attempt to reduce red tape and kick start the construction industry abolished the Code in  2015.

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