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Industry awaits detail on transition to net zero buildings

solar panels mounted on house rooftop _51992130_Large

Out-Law News | 30 Mar 2023 | 3:35 pm | 2 min. read

Industry will have to wait longer for detailed policy announcements that will shape how the UK will decarbonise real estate, an expert has said.

Siobhan Cross of Pinsent Masons was commenting after the government published its net zero growth plan (126-page / 3.6MB PDF) and its response (67-page / 536KB PDF) to the Skidmore review, which made recommendations in relation to the government’s approach to delivering its net zero target of reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2050 – including a series of recommendations relevant to improving the energy efficiency and decarbonising of UK real estate

The two papers were among a raft of publications issued by the government on what was colloquially referred to as ‘green day’. Other papers published were a revised green finance strategy and new national policy statements relevant to planning decisions for major energy infrastructure projects.

Cross said that while the new net zero growth plan acknowledged that in 2021 emissions from buildings made up 20% of UK greenhouse gas emissions – a figure that excludes emissions from construction activity related to buildings – there was little in what the government has announced to “accelerate the transition to net zero buildings”.

Cross said: “The notable policy gap on the energy efficiency of buildings which the Climate Change Committee noted in its 2022 progress report remains, with little evidence in this latest strategy of sufficient action at the required pace to reduce that gap.”

“One new announcement is that the government has said it will consider accelerating its plans to phase out of gas boilers by 2033, as recommended in the Skidmore review, rather than by 2035 at the latest, which is its current policy. There is also confirmation that a regulatory framework for heat networks will be introduced with implementation of heat network zoning beginning in 2025 and that there will be a consultation on improving energy efficiency in owner occupied homes later this year,” she said.

“On a positive note, the plan supports the widespread deployment of rooftop solar, which the Skidmore review called for, and announces the setting up of a taskforce to deliver this. It has, however, been coy on Skidmore’s specific recommendation to consult specifically on mandating new homes to be built with solar, stressing instead its commitment to technological neutrality in respect of energy efficiency, but has said it will explore what role solar should play in new homes when it consults on the Future Homes Standard this year. It also intends to publish a solar roadmap which it said would set out ‘a clear step by step deployment trajectory’ to achieve 70GW of solar by 2035,” she said.

Further proposals to expand permitted developments rights in relation to solar and to address what the government called “pressing local planning bottlenecks energy efficiency in historic buildings” are also anticipated.

Cross said that the government’s papers otherwise trail further announcements to come in relation to outstanding consultation responses, including on the phase out of fossil fuel heating systems, the proposals for increasing the trajectory of minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector and on improving home energy performance through lenders. 

“On other key areas, the plan re-confirms there will be full technical consultations this year on the Future Homes Standard and Future Building Standard in 2023 and on the measurement and reduction of embodied carbon in new buildings,” she said.

Cross said that, taken as a whole, the government’s papers do not amount to the “national war effort on energy saving and efficiency” called for by the Environmental Audit Committee in December.

Cross said: “The government has not endorsed the recommendation in the Skidmore review for a ‘net zero test’ to be introduced into planning decisions. Instead, it largely confirms previously announced policy and so the real estate industry still awaits the regulation it has sought which would level the playing field and provide the certainty required to incentivise the transition to net zero buildings at the pace required to meet the UK’s greenhouse gas reduction obligations.”

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