Environmental Audit Committee

3 April 2008


NEW INQUIRY

Greener homes for the future? An environmental analysis of the Government's house-building plans

In July 2007 the Government announced an increased target of 3 million new homes to be built by 2020, with 2 million of these to be completed by 2016. At the same time, it stressed:

"We don't just want to build more homes. We want them to be better homes, built to high standards, both in terms of design and environmental impact and homes that are part of mixed communities with good local facilities. Our new homes need to be part of the solution to climate change; not part of the problem."

To this end the Government has announced a number of high-profile policies, including:

  • Zero-carbon homes: All new homes are to be zero-carbon by 2016, with a progressive tightening of mandatory energy efficiency standards up to that date. The Government projects that meeting this target would save at least 15 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2050.
  • Eco-towns: Ten new eco-towns of between 5,000 and 20,000 homes are to be built as "exemplar green developments".
  • Code for Sustainable Homes: From 1 May 2008 it will be mandatory for all new homes to be measured against nine categories of sustainable design, including energy, water, and waste; and given a rating of one to six stars as a result.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is today launching an inquiry into these policies and the wider environmental issues involved in the Government's policies for the construction of new homes. The Committee will be looking at how well the Government's policies on housing supply are joined up with those on sustainable development. In particular the Committee will focus on the impacts that house-building policy has on climate change mitigation and adaptation. This is important not least because housing currently contributes a quarter of the UK's carbon emissions€”and because the Government estimates that new housing (i.e., built after 2007) could make up a third of the entire housing stock by 2050. EAC's inquiry will complement the recent inquiry by the Communities and Local Government Committee on existing housing and climate change.

EAC has devoted two reports to housing and climate change in recent years. The last report, published in July 2006, concluded:

"The need to build new homes is [...] used by the Government as a mandate to sweep aside any concerns that people may have about the environmental impacts of those plans. We find it deeply worrying that there is no appetite [...] to take on the building sector and guarantee that these homes will be built to sufficiently high energy efficiency and environmental standards."

The Committee has also touched on aspects of Government policy towards housing and the environment in a number of other inquiries. Notably, in The structure of Government and the challenge of climate change (October 2007), the Committee warned that new towns built today could become the "climate slums" of the future€”if the planning process does not ensure they are built fully with climate change in mind.

This inquiry will build on the EAC's previous work in this area, reviewing progress on existing policies in the two years since the Committee's last substantive report on housing, and examining for the first time the significant new policies announced since then.

The Committee invites organisations and members of the public to submit memoranda setting out their views on these issues. Some specific subjects on which the Committee would welcome comments are set out below, although respondents are free to comment on any issues which they consider relevant:

Reducing carbon emissions from new homes

  • Is the target for all new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016 on track to be achieved?  Does the Government need to do any more to deliver this target? 
  • How should ‘zero-carbon’ be defined?  What role should carbon offsets play in meeting this target?
  • What impact will the progressive tightening of energy efficiency building regulations have up to 2016?  Are the targets for 2010 and 2013 achievable?
  • How should compliance with the targets be measured and enforced?
  •  What is the likely scale of environmental impacts (especially carbon emissions) of the construction of 3 million new homes (i.e., irrespective of where they are sited)? How should these impacts be reported? What should be the role of central Government in minimising them?

Eco-towns

  • As currently envisaged, how big a contribution will they make to reducing the environmental impacts of housing in England-both in their own right, and in the development of design and techniques that could be rolled out in other developments? 

Code for Sustainable Homes

  •  What impact is the Code for Sustainable Homes likely to have on the construction and purchase of new homes?  How well is the mandatory rating likely to be enforced?  Should the Code be changed in any way?

Greenfield and green belt developments

  • To what extent do, and should, planning controls protect greenfield and green belt land from development of new housing?  How adequately are environmental considerations (for instance, biodiversity and rural landscapes) being taken into account in deciding the location of new developments?

Infrastructure

  • What progress has the Government made, in the two years since EAC’s last report on this issue, in ensuring that new developments are being built with adequate infrastructure in order to make them successful and sustainable?

The Committee asks for written submissions in accordance with the guidelines stated below by Friday 25 April 2008.  Evidence sessions are likely to take place on 13 and 20 May, and 10 June.

Please note

Each submission should:

  • be original work, not previously published or circulated elsewhere;
  • aim to be no more than 3,000 words in length;
  • begin with a short summary in bullet point form
  • have numbered paragraphs; and
  • be in Word format with as little use of colour/logos as possible.

A copy of the submission should be sent by email to [email protected] marked ‘Homes for the Future Inquiry’.

For data protection purposes, it would be helpful, , if individuals wishing to submit written evidence send their contact details  in a covering letter. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

A guide for written submissions to Select Committees may be found on the parliamentary website at: http://www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/witguide.htm.

  • Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless specifically authorised.
  • Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee; no public use be made of it unless you have obtained permission from the Clerk of the Committee. The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make the public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it one the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by make it available through the Parliamentary Record Office. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm it you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.