Could government housebuilding rules dent Central Lancashire's green ambitions?

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Plans to make Central Lancashire’s councils carbon neutral by 2030 could be threatened by proposed government changes to energy efficiency standards in new homes.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) wants to reduce carbon emissions from the average new home by 80 percent by 2025 – and is planning on introducing an intermediate target of between a 20 and 30 percent reduction from next year.

The government is introducing new housing emissions targets

The government is introducing new housing emissions targets

But the proposed changes to building regulations mean local authorities would lose the power to set tougher standards in their own areas.

Preston, Chorley and South Ribble councils are currently in the process of drawing up a joint local plan which will guide development in the region through to the mid-2030s.

A consultation document on the plan includes a goal for the three authorities to go carbon neutral 20 years ahead of the government target for the rest of the country – which is currently set at 2050. Emission reductions from new homes would be a key plank of the region’s aspirations.

“We can have local policies which exceed the [new] building regulations, but they won’t have any teeth and couldn’t be enforced,” Zoe Whiteside, development manager at Chorley Council, told a meeting of the Central Lancashire strategic planning committee.

The government is currently consulting on the exact level of housing emission reductions to be introduced in 2020. But Chris Blackburn, Preston City Council’s senior planning officer, warned of the need to pursue a local trajectory if Central Lancashire’s overall net zero carbon target is to be met.

“I don’t think we can proceed safe in the knowledge that building regulations will cover this,” he said.

The meeting heard that the region has time to amend its local plan – which is due to be adopted by 2022 – depending on what is ultimately decided by the government.

“We’ve got time, but, according to David Attenborough, the penguins haven’t,” warned Preston City Council’s deputy leader Peter Moss.

The two options being consulted upon by the government under its Future Homes Standard would see an emissions reduction target next year of either 20 percent – achieved through the use of triple glazing and minimising heat loss through walls and ceilings – or 31 percent, delivered by carbon-saving technology such as solar panels and a slightly lesser focus on preventing heat escape.

“We propose to remove the ability of local planning authorities to set higher energy efficiency standards than those in the Building Regulations,” the MHCLG document explains.

“This has led to disparate energy efficiency standards across the country and can create inefficiencies in supply chains, labour and, potentially, quality of outcomes. Removing this ability will create certainty and consistency.”