Policy summary - Government consults on zero carbon homes exemptions

Policy: Next Steps to Zero Carbon Homes: Small Sites Exemption.

Issued by: Department for Communities and Local Government

Issue date: 18 November 2014

Closing date: 7 January 2015

Background: In June, the government announced plans to exempt small housing schemes from elements of the zero carbon commitment, which seeks to ensure that no emissions are generated from the energy to heat and light homes built from 2016 onwards. A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) consultation document issued last month sets out proposals for putting the exemption into effect.

Key points: The government's preferred threshold for exempting small sites from the standard is for ten homes or fewer, the consultation document reveals.

The DCLG recognises that achieving the 2016 zero carbon standard could be very challenging for small builders. It has therefore decided that smaller housing sites in England should not face the total cost burden of zero carbon homes. It argues that the exemption should "not be cast too widely" but says ministers remain "open-minded" about the thresholds selected.

The department recognises that not all small site developments are by small developers, particularly in rural areas, and that larger projects may be split into smaller sites to evade the commitment.

In response, it suggests that a maximum floorspace threshold, perhaps set at 1,000 square metres, could also be introduced alongside site size limits, so that those where a few large properties are built would not automatically benefit from the exemption. "This is arguably proportionate, as larger sites delivering a small number of larger properties are generally more profitable for developers," it reasons.

Alternatively, it suggests that the exemption could be targeted at smaller developers, perhaps based on the government's definition of small firms as those having fewer than 50 staff. But it recognises that housebuilders may then split operations between smaller subsidiaries and that building control bodies would face further burdens in checking company size.

The consultation makes clear that small residential schemes should remain subject to the building regulations on-site energy efficiency requirements, but would not have to undertake further on or off-site carbon abatement measures under the "allowable solutions" element of the zero carbon standard.

The consultation cites figures that ten per cent of applications for new homes in England last year were for single sites and another 11 per cent involved two to ten homes. It quotes National House Building Council data showing that five per cent of completed dwellings registered in 2013 were accounted for by builders producing fewer than ten units.

The DCLG says the exemption should be reviewed in five years. "We may want to consider whether the full zero carbon requirements should be achieved by all homes irrespective of size," it notes.

Next Steps to Zero Carbon Homes: Small Sites Exemption can be read here.

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