This is an opinion piece by Andrew Eagles from Sustainable Homes, which was published by Inside Housing.
Seldom must a more obscure phrase have been uttered by the Queen during the state opening of parliament than ‘allowable solutions’, which passed her lips some weeks ago when she described the government’s alternative approach to zero-carbon homes.
And last month brought the publication of the long-awaited consultation response on ‘allowable solutions’ – that is, developers offsetting their obligation to build to zero carbon from 2016 by paying for measures ‘offsite’.
This could represent much more than a ‘get-out’, as some have seen it, for developers. With the right incentives in place, it could bring about investment in retrofitting 85% of the housing stock we will need by 2050 that is already built.
Into the void
Mechanisms and their details were largely absent from the government response but this should be seen as an opportunity. For starters – and in light of changes to the energy company obligation – there are dozens of retrofit schemes around the country that have the potential to be brought back to life, and are in effect ‘shovel ready’.
Next, let’s make sure parties that are willing and capable to deliver schemes – be they housing associations, councils or even community groups – can access the resources to do so.
And finally, let’s think about putting some of the value into the swathes of stock all over the country that we know will be the hardest to reach – namely owner-occupied and private-rented properties – through the Green Deal. This could even be done by locality, so that a development on one side of town pays for home improvements on the other, thereby further ‘sweetening the pill’ for development.
The three routes to allowable solutions were confirmed in the response, and we know that most house builders will opt for the hassle-free option of paying into a fund rather than undertaking projects themselves. It is vital, whatever form it takes, that this fund prioritises housing retrofit over all other forms of carbon abatement.
Not only are we massively behind in this job – which will have to be done sooner or later – the beneficial side effects for housing quality, health and well-being, fuel bills and jobs are more apparent by the day.
It will be a huge missed opportunity if we don’t do all in our power to harness a mechanism linked with housing supply towards greening as many homes as we can – and the next few months is the time to do it.