Labour underlines commitment to beef up Zero Carbon Homes standard

Labour's shadow housing minister has underlined the party's commitment to reinstating the Zero Carbon Homes standard after 2016 if it wins the election in May.

Speaking at the Town and Country Planning Association's Annual Sir Fredric James Osborn lecture yesterday, Emma Reynolds criticised the government for watering down the energy efficiency standards for new buildings brought in by the previous Labour government.

Labour originally set a target for all new homes to meet the Code Level 6 zero carbon homes standard by 2016, but the coalition has since weakened the regulation on a number of fronts, allowing builders to meet level 4 by 2016 and offset emissions if they cannot deliver required carbon reductions through on site technologies.

The government maintains that easing the standards will reduce costs for developers, freeing them up to build the homes needed to solve the UK's housing crisis while still resulting in emissions reductions.

However, Reynolds said the government was focusing too much on the quantity of houses being built over quality.

"While a focus on numbers is important, a focus on quality is also essential to achieving our wider objectives in other policy areas such as health, the environment and climate change," she said. "Designing homes that reduce household energy bills can help eradicate fuel poverty, bring down the cost of living and reduce carbon emissions.

"And we know that good design can help to tackle issues from crime, to ill health and social exclusion. We want to ensure new homes and places are built to high quality and design standards."

She added that Labour, if elected, would initially stick with the government's weaker plans, but would then set a more robust target after 2016 in line with the official definition of a Zero Carbon Home - that is, at least a level 5 standard with the vast majority of emissions reductions delivered onsite.

"We regret that this government has watered down our original programme," she said. "We will deliver the existing commitments by 2016 but we will also set out a more ambitious standard for the future."

The commitment follows confusion last week around Conservative plans to exempt hundreds and thousands of new starter homes from the Zero Carbon Homes standard.

The Conservative Party had previously said it would exempt new homes for young first time buyers from the strictest energy efficiency regulations in a bid to reduce upfront costs and Prime Minister David Cameron was expected to renew that commitment in a speech last week.

The Conservative's original plans to exempt 100,000 new homes from the standards appear to have been blocked by the Liberal Democrats and as such were not included in a current government consultation on the plans last year.

Cameron was expected to reinstate the commitment last week, but for 200,000 homes. However, he failed to mention the policy in his speech, creating further confusion for house builders as to whether Conservative plans to cut the cost of starter homes will exempt them from the standards as originally proposed.

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This article has been adapted from an article published in Business Green.