29 May 2010

Grant Shapps to define Zero Carbon. Really?

I learn that new housing minister, Grant Shapps, has said he is about to set in concrete the troublesome Zero Carbon definition. Speaking at an event in Swindon, at Kevin McCloud's eco-housing development there, Shapps is quoted as saying:

"When we were in Opposition I said that I endorsed the concept of building all new homes to a zero carbon standard, and that remains my position. I know how important it is to industry to have a clear definition as soon as possible - so that house builders can buy land with confidence and start to design the homes of the future, and so that the supply chain can gear up production of the technologies that will be needed.

"I will be publishing a final zero carbon definition in a matter of weeks so that the industry can get on and deliver the improved eco-friendly homes we need."

Now, the Code for Sustainable Homes was launched at the tail end of 2006. It promised zero carbon housing within ten years, yet most of the first four years have been spent pondering the definition of what exactly that means. Along comes a bright new broom to sweep away such feeble-minded behaviour. What it is to be the new broom in charge.

But I fear he has inherited a poisoned chalice and hasn't quite grasped its nature. The reason its taken four years of "dithering" is that anyone with half a brain can see that there is not and never can be such a thing as zero carbon housing (at least as long as we continue to burn carbon to power our society), and that the Code for Sustainable Homes was based on a conceit. It was spin of the highest order, based on dodgy carbon accounting and masses of offsetting, so that a housebuilding programme could somehow be branded as "green". About as green as the third runway at Heathrow.

On the other hand, Shapps is also part of a new government that has already dismantled Labour's housing targets. We can only guess, but the probable result here will be that there will be far fewer new homes being built over the coming years. Whilst this may cause problems elsewhere (i.e. the council house waiting lists), it will at least be a far greener policy than promoting mass housebuilding via the Code.

My tip for Grant? Don't even try to define Zero Carbon. As soon as you do, people will start picking holes. You might as well try to boil an egg in a colander. Instead, accept that it's impossible and just promise to keep reviewing Part L, in order to make incremental energy efficiency improvements. No one will argue with that.

1 comment:

  1. Mark,
    I think we now know why Grant has called for a quick definition. Because he wants to disband the organisation tasked with making the definition - http://www.building.co.uk/news/government-to-pull-funding-from-zero-carbon-housing-body/5000839.article
    So it's all about cuts,