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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today published a new report, Greater and greener homes: more homes, ready for net zero, offering new policy recommendations to both build more homes and deliver net zero.

The report outlines and examines the key changes in government policy since 2010 to build more homes and reduce carbon emissions from new homes.

The report concludes that our complex, discretionary planning system makes it harder to create dense, sustainable settlements, leading to new homes and urban sprawl that are land-hungry, car-dependent and politically unpopular. Meanwhile, the UK continues to build new homes that are emissions-intensive and that will require costly retrofitting in the future.

The report argues that housing policy reform should be guided by five key principles:

  1. Environmental regulations should not prevent homes being built affordably or more quickly and efficiently.
  2. New development should be consistent with net zero and biodiversity governmental targets.
  3. The lifestyles that people lead in new homes are as important for net zero as the fabric of the home.
  4. Planning policy and building standards should incentivise communities to accept new homes in their neighbourhoods.
  5. Planning reform should ensure that communities can shape development in their area to facilitate local democracy.

The recommendations are grouped into two core policy objectives. First, to speed up the delivery of new homes where development is most sustainable, such as near workplaces, shops, and sustainable transport links. Second, to ensure new homes are compliant with reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

James Cullimore, author of the report, commented:

“Home ownership has fallen to its lowest level in four decades and the homes we do build are not compliant with our climate change targets. Creating and funding a programme of urban Neighbourhood Development Orders would secure local consent for new homes close to offices, shops and public transport in our towns and suburbs. Higher environmental standards in future building regulations are also needed to ensure all new homes are warm, cheap to run and able to consume more secure, homegrown renewable electricity. 

“With the Government due to update planning policies and building regulations for net zero, now is the opportunity to unlock both greater and greener housing.”

Ryan Shorthouse, Chief Executive of Bright Blue, commented:

“The UK is facing both a housing and climate crisis. We are not building enough homes. And the houses we do build are not green enough to support this country’s transition to a net-zero economy. Bolder public policy is needed to support both greater and greener homes.”

John Penrose, MP for Weston-Super-Mare, commented: 

“Creating denser, beautiful urban neighbourhoods won’t just cut our carbon footprints by using brownfield land and letting more of us bus, bike or walk to  shops and offices. It will increase the number of homes that are built and the speed of building too, so housing becomes more affordable whether people want to rent or to buy. A simple, low-risk process to get upfront planning permission will cut costs, risks and red tape, particularly for smaller local builders and developers, to unlock housing delivery.”

Jerome Mayhew MP, Member of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, commented: 

“I welcome this report on greater and greener homes. My Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill would regulate the embodied carbon in building materials and construction, which is a bigger driver of climate change than aviation and shipping combined. Building homes with a smaller carbon footprint is an essential part of the mix as we work towards net zero”

Cllr Jane MacBean, Buckinghamshire Councillor and Chesham Town Councillor, commented: 

“In Chesham, we know all too well the public concern that new development can bring. To build greater and greener homes, we are keen to work with the community to build consensus around the ‘gentle densification’ of our town. That’s why Chesham Town Council is working to create new Neighbourhood Development Orders, shaped and approved by residents, to deliver new homes which meet local design preferences and contribute to a vibrant community and thriving high street and local economy, whilst ensuring protection of our precious green spaces. I welcome the proposal in this report to support more civil parishes and neighbourhood forums to bring forward the new homes that their areas need.”

This report recommends ten new original policies to boost greater and greener homes:

Recommendation one: Government should create and fund a Neighborhood Development Order (NDO) Pathfinder Programme to bring forward homes in urban neighbourhoods

Densification of existing settlements is the most environmentally sustainable way of increasing housing supply. To ensure it can make a greater contribution toward meeting housing targets, we need to remove the need for house builders to submit a planning application where development can be shown to have local support. 

NDOs give parishes and neighbourhood groups a chance to bring forward the development they want to see in their areas for approval, rather than waiting for developers to come forward with their own proposals. NDOs are able to set clear rules on the type, design and density of homes, and are approved by residents in a referendum.

However, the current funding to deliver NDOs is limited, so achieving good design at a meaningful scale, such as a whole neighbourhood or area in a town, is challenging. In addition, the process for permitting infill and brownfield redevelopment through an NDO remains ambiguous. Perhaps above all, they are simply little known. 

To make NDOs an established solution to community-led intensification, the Government needs to kickstart a programme of NDO creation in towns and suburbs which already have a local design code in place. These codes specify the local design preferences and other requirements which residents want new homes to meet. This will allow the neighbourhood planning group to move swiftly to public consultation. 

Recommendation two: To ensure there are sufficient installers for the introduction of the Future Homes Standard in 2025, the Government must ensure heat pump training providers can access future waves of Skills Bootcamps, and supply appropriate governmental financial support to those undertaking them

The Government expects heat pumps to be the primary low-carbon heating solution for new homes and intends for new builds to help develop the supply chain for heat pumps. However, without a skills base, new homes could be delayed when the Future Homes Standard is introduced in 2025. Furthermore, substandard installations could undermine consumer confidence in the technology.

Training as a heat engineer takes at least three years so readying for the Future Homes Standard in 2025 will predominantly require the retraining of existing heating engineers and plumbers. To reach the 12,400 heat pump installers required by 2025 according to the Heat Pump Association, we need to train almost 10,000 more. The industry is predominantly made up of sole traders who do not have the training budgets of large companies to prepare themselves. As such, there is a need for government support to upskill the workforce ahead of the Future Homes Standard.

Currently, the Heat Decarbonisation Skills Training competition does not provide long-term funding or sufficient training opportunities to build the installer base for the Future Homes Standard, and the Skills Bootcamps have not been well-tailored for heat pump installation courses. 

Therefore, to ensure there is consistent provision of free heat pump installation training for heating engineers during the remainder of this parliament, the Government should ensure future waves of Skills Bootcamps can be accessed by heat pump training providers.

To further incentivise heating engineers to upskill while the demand for heat pumps remains relatively low, the Government should consider an additional payment to compensate sole traders for their time.

Recommendation three: The new National Development Management Policies (NDMP) should include a hierarchy of options to set higher environmental standards for more ambitious local authorities

To protect local democracy in local authorities, they should be able to continue to set more ambitious planning requirements than the required national minimum on issues such as reducing carbon emissions and providing green infrastructure in developments.

To provide stronger clarification where policies included in the new National Development Management Policies (NDMPs) or building regulations conflict with local policies on the environment, central government should set a hierarchy of more ambitious standards that local authorities can choose to adopt. This would prevent a plethora of different requirements from springing up across the country while respecting the wishes of communities to insist on more sustainable development in their area. 

Recommendation four: Include targets for energy use intensity (EUI) and thermal energy demand limit (TED) for all new homes in the Future Homes Standard from 2025 onwards.

Recommendation five: Introduce through the Future Homes Standard a new testing requirement for all new homes and reform Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) so they test in-use energy performance.

Recommendation six: Ensure the energy performance targets in building regulations metrics for new homes incentivise energy storage and solar PV in the Future Homes Standard from 2025.

Recommendation seven: Include appropriate reporting requirements for whole-life carbon emissions of new homes by developers in the Future Homes Standard from 2025 onwards.

Recommendation eight: Strengthen minimum water efficiency standards in the Future Homes Standard.

Recommendation nine: Expand green infrastructure requirements in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Recommendation ten: Set a requirement in the National Planning Framework (NPPF) for Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to create Local Development Orders (LDOs) for small- and medium-sized sites to meet a proportion of their housing requirement.

Charlie Rowley, former Special Advisor to Michael Gove at Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, commented:

“I welcome the recommendations in this report to bring forward greater and greener homes. These policies would give communities a stronger role in shaping development their area, reduce planning risk for local house builders, and ensure new homes are consistent with our net zero target. These are key government objectives for the planning system.”

 

Will Arnold​, Head of Climate Action at The Institution of Structural Engineers, commented: 

“The UK construction industry has all the tools necessary to enable embodied carbon reporting legislation to be introduced this year. As an unregulated 50 million tonnes of yearly emissions, this is an incredible opportunity for the government to show targeted intervention towards decreasing the UK’s carbon footprint.”

 

Sam Hall, Director of Conservative Environment Network, commented

“This report shows that our climate and biodiversity goals do not need to conflict with housing affordability or delivery. By offering developers greater certainty over the planning process, in return for requiring them to be built to higher environmental standards, these core government priorities can be achieved together. Greener homes will also boost housing supply, by strengthening local support for development, while saving households and Treasury money in the long run.”

Stuart Colville, Director of Policy at Water UK, commented:

“Water efficient homes are greater and greener. To increase our resilience to climate change, leave more water in rivers, and save money on energy bills we should be building homes with a strong minimum water efficiency standard. It is better to build it right first time, and to build it with the future in mind.

“This report shows that with the right policy changes, we can deliver the new homes needed while also protecting the environment and saving people money. Bright Blue’s call to strengthen minimum water efficiency standards is timely and it is critical that their recommendations are taken on board.” 

Philip Box, Policy Advisor at UK Green Building Council, commented: 

“This report represents a strong set of recommendations for how we can build more homes and simultaneously meet our environmental goals. The two go hand-in-hand. Only by building more sustainably, can we truly address the housing and environmental crises we face. Business appetite for these ambitious policies – and the associated green growth – is there; and we hope the Government fully seizes on the opportunities.”

Juliet Phillips, Senior Policy Advisor at E3G and Electrify Heat, commented: 

“Getting on track for net zero homes requires serious attention to scaling up the supply chain, which has been decimated by recent boom-bust policy making on energy efficiency. This requires long-term policy and funding certainty, as well as a laser focus on training and skills. Bright Blue’s new report rightly draws attention to this important issue. We hope to see the government scale up its response to this challenge, taking an Olympics-style approach to training up an army of heat pump and insulation installers.”

Owen Edwards, Coalition Coordinator, Better Planning Coalition, commented: 

“Getting to a net-zero housing and planning system is one of the most important policy challenges of the decade ahead.  James has developed a really innovative suite of recommendations which chart that course. This report is an important addition to the discussion and offers solutions to tackling many of the most difficult issues faced by our industry today.”

ENDS