How Preston, Chorley and South Ribble tried to make all new homes zero carbon by 2016, why it did not happen - and their green ambitions for the future

The energy used in all new homes built in Preston, Chorley and South Ribble would have been producing net zero carbon emissions by now – if the government had not scrapped a set of environmental standards to which the three areas were aiming to adhere.

Sunday, 27th March 2022, 8:22 pm
Updated Sunday, 27th March 2022, 8:51 pm

The revelation came at a meeting of the Central Lancashire joint advisory committee, which heard that the neighbouring district councils will continue to find it difficult to impose their own local carbon reduction goals on new housing if they go further than those set out at a national level.

However, the trio have nevertheless indicated that they will seek to implement such measures – and require housebuilders operating in the region to abide by them.

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Should new homes in Preston, Chorley and South Ribble be built to more exacting environmental standards than national rules require?

Back in 2012, the Central Lancashire Core Strategy – a local agreement dictating the level and nature of development over the course of the following decade – saw Preston, Chorley and South Ribble commit to reaching the top tier of the government’s Code for Sustainable Homes.

The three signed up to hitting level 6 of the code by January 2016 – meaning that all new homes would have had to be emitting zero carbon emissions from their energy systems by that date.

However, the government amended legislation less than 12 months before Central Lancashire was intending to implement the standard in the region, which resulted in local authorities being unable to enforce it as part of the planning process.

Preston City Council’s director of development and housing, Chris Hayward, told the committee that Central Lancashire’s ambitions had been thwarted by the change.

“[The government] basically told us that we can’t do that anymore. So we’ve tried it once – that’s not to say we can’t try it again, but we’ve been undermined by national policy on this,” Mr. Hayward said.

However, the meeting heard that a new joint local plan being developed between the three councils could see a renewed push to put Central Lancashire ahead of the national curve for the introduction of the toughest housing emissions standards.

“We may be at odds again…but we’ve got to state what we want to do, whether the government are keeping up with that or not at that point in time” Chorley Council leader Alistair Bradley said.

“The rollback of some of those core targets was probably a reaction to other things driving the market in a different direction – the idea that housing is some kind of economic driver.

“That’s not, to me…a reason to relax those standards, but it appears to be that some people thought it was in the past. We’ve got to be robust on that [in future], Cllr Bradley added.

South Ribble borough councillor Phil Smith told the committee that he was amazed that it was still permissible to build houses without solar panels on the roofs.

“Rather than being a follower, perhaps we should be a leader and let people follow us,” he added.

Local plan co-ordinator Carolyn Williams said that she hoped to hold a session with housebuilders as the process of drawing up the document evolves this year – and pledged that energy efficiency standards would be high on the agenda.

“When they speak to you on a one-to-one, they are very clear [that] they want to be [greener] – they just don’t want to be if the [company] next to them is not being, because it makes them uncompetitive.

“Although I think, actually, going forward they are probably uncompetitive if they’re not green.

"So our idea is to try and get this plan as green as we can get it, bearing in mind the restrictions that we are [under],” Ms. Williams said.

She added that there was some “leeway” in local areas being able to implement their own standards, but stressed that councils had to “justify” the measures and demonstrate that they did not affect the viability of housing developments.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that councils can continue to set energy efficiency standards at a local level – and go beyond national building regulations if they wish – as per the Planning and Energy Act 2008.

The government’s Future Homes Standard means that all new homes must be “zero carbon ready” by 2025.

Properties will have to be “future-proofed with low carbon heating and high levels of energy efficiency” and must not require any retrofitting in order to enable them to become zero-carbon as the electricity grid continues to decarbonise. Carbon emission reductions of 75 percent compared to today’s standard will also be required by that point.

An interim “uplift” to building regulations last year required a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions.

Air or ground source heat pumps are amongst the options for cutting carbon out of energy production within the home. The recent inaugural Lancashire Climate Summit heard that the role of hydrogen in domestic heating systems is unlikely to be determined until the middle of this decade.

DEVELOPERS WARN OF DOWNSIDES TO LOCAL CARBON REDUCTION DEMANDS

Responding to the prospect of Central Lancashire enforcing more exacting carbon reduction standards within new homes than other parts of the country, the organisation that represents developers urged caution.

A spokesman for the Home Builders Federation told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that new homes were already “considerably more energy efficient than existing homes” and that the industry was “keen to go further”.

However, he added: “A deliverable strategy is being developed and it is key that we have a consistent approach across the country if we are to meet the challenging objectives set by government.

“Any requirements in addition to the national standards should be very carefully considered. Local planning authorities avoiding prescribed solutions – as was the case in Devon last week – and allowing developers and their expert teams to find practical and pragmatic solutions to national standards will also aid in developing the supply chains of labour and technologies, too.”

SOCIAL HOMES SHOULD GO SOLAR

Carolyn Williams said that all social housing should be built with solar panels, because it would go some way towards effectively providing the people most in need of it with “free energy”.

However, Cllr David Borrow, Preston City Council’s cabinet member for planning and regulation, said that the “economics” of such a stipulation would depend on government policy.

“[It’s] not simply in terms of building control, but in terms of funding and how much [developers] are able to spend on a house.

“If the money is not there and they have got to build a hundred rented houses, then they’ve got to do it [in] the way that enables them to do it – and if that’s not to an energy efficient standard, that’s [what] we will be faced with as a planning authority,” Cllr Borrow said.

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