1. Yvette Cooper, Introduction, Eco-Towns Prospectus, London, Communities and Local Government, July 2007, p 3
2. Mark Brinkley, 'Eco towns: only the fit need apply', 8 November 2007, Building, posted on www.building.co.uk
3. Eco-Towns - Living a greener future, London, Communities and Local Government, April 2008
4. Gideon Amos, quoted by Kate Ahira, 'Eco-towns shortlist unveiled', 3 April 2008, Building, posted on www.building.co.uk
5. Eco-Towns Prospectus, London, Communities and Local Government, July 2007, p 5
6. Caroline Flint, Introduction, Eco-Towns - Living a greener future, London, Communities and Local Government, April 2008, p 4
7. Caroline Flint, 'The Green Home', speech at the Building Research Establishment Innovation Park, Watford, 15 May 2008
8. Rynd Smith, 'Eco-towns risk becoming communities of Stepford Wives', 4 April 2008, Building, posted on www.building.co.uk
9. Peter Hall and Colin Ward, Sociable Cities - The legacy of Ebenezer Howard, Chichester, John Wiley & Sons, 1998
10. Gideon Amos, Foreword to TCPA and CLG, Best Practice in Urban Extensions and New Settlements - A report on emerging good practice, London, Town and Country Planning Association, March 2007, p 3, posted on www.tcpa.org.uk
11. TCPA and CLG, Best Practice in Urban Extensions and New Settlements - A report on emerging good practice, London, Town and Country Planning Association, March 2007, p 39, posted on www.tcpa.org.uk
12. House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Greener homes for the future? - An environmental analysis of the Governments housebuilding plans, HC 566, Twelfth Report of Session 20072008, London, TSO, November 2008, p 3, posted on www.parliament.uk
13. Ibid, p 26
14. Scott Wilson Ltd, Eco-towns - Sustainability Appraisal and Habitats Regulations Assessment of the Eco-towns Programme, Wetherby, Communities and Local Government, November 2008
15. Draft Planning Policy Statement: Eco-Towns - Consultation, Wetherby, Communities and Local Government, November 2008, p 15
16. Eco-Towns Location Decision Statement, London, Communities and Local Government, July 2009
17. 'First four eco towns announced', 16 July 2009, Housebuilder, London, Home Builders Federation, posted on www.house-builder.co.uk
18. John Healey, Speech: Town and Country Planning Association Annual Conference, 1 December 2009, 1 Whitehall Place, London, TCPA Annual Conference 2009: social justice, climate change and planning, posted on www.tcpa.org.uk
19. Draft Planning Policy Statement: Eco-Towns - Consultation, Wetherby, Communities and Local Government, November 2008, p 21
20. Eco-Towns Prospectus, London, Communities and Local Government, July 2007, p 12
21. Richard Simmons, quoted in House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, Greener homes for the future? - An environmental analysis of the Governments housebuilding plans, HC 566, Twelfth Report of Session 20072008, London, TSO, November 2008, p 28, posted on www.parliament.uk
22. Creating low carbon homes for people in Eco-towns: Eco-towns housing worksheet - Advice to Promoters and Planners, London, Town and Country Planning Association, November 2009, p 18, posted on www.tcpa.org.uk
23. The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan - National strategy for climate and energy, Norwich, TSO, Amended 20 July 2009 from the version laid before Parliament on 15 July 2009, p 91
24. Simon Jenkins, 'The countryside must seize the day', 15 April 2009, Country Life, p 48 to 49
25. David Cameron, quoted by Phillip Webster, 'Cut-down programme gives Brown time to build up election defences', 4 December 2008, The Times, p 32
26. Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, quoted by Sarah OGrady, House prices set to surge, 18 January 2011, Daily Express, p 1 and 2
27. John Healey, Eco-towns and Zero Carbon Homes - Communities and Local Government: Written answers and statements, Hansard, House of Commons Debate, 16 July 2009, c42WS, posted on www.parliament.uk
28. Definition of Zero Carbon Homes and Non-Domestic Buildings - Consultation, Wetherby, Communities and Local Government, December 2008
29.Definition of Zero Carbon Homes and Non-Domestic Buildings - Impact Assessment, Wetherby, Communities and Local Government, December 2008
30. Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard for Zero Carbon Homes - Executive Summary of Task Group Recommendations, London, Zero Carbon Hub, November 2009
31. Neil Jefferson, quoted in 'Government changes zero carbon homes policy', 23 March 2011, Housebuilder, London, Home Builders Federation, posted on www.house-builder.co.uk
32. Defining a Fabric Energy Efficiency Standard for Zero Carbon Homes - Task Group Recommendations, London, Zero Carbon Hub, November 2009
33. The Governments Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy Rating of Dwellings - 2009 edition, Watford, Building Research Establishment, October 2010, published on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, posted on www.bre.co.uk
34. Carbon Compliance: Setting an appropriate Limit for Zero Carbon New Homes - Findings and Recommendations, London, Zero Carbon Hub, February 2011
35. Neil Jefferson, quoted in 'Update on today's zero carbon announcement', 23 March 2011, Housebuilder, London, Home Builders Federation, posted on www.house-builder.co.uk
In 2007, when she was Housing Minister, Yvette Cooper published the infamous Eco-Town Prospectus. If she really wanted many more new homes built she defeated her policy from the beginning by arguing that these new settlements must be "zero carbon", by which she meant they should have no impact on the planet's climate, as if they were not there:
'We have an ageing, growing population with more people living alone, and rising housing demand is outstripping new supply. To help families across the country find affordable, quality housing we need to build far more houses. But we also need new measures to protect the environment. At the beginning of the 21st Century our greatest environmental challenge is from climate change. As housing accounts for 27 per cent of carbon emissions, we need to substantially cut emissions from new homes and work towards zero carbon housing.' (1)
The New Labour Eco-Towns are about as zero carbon as they possibly could be. After the effort in planning, no Eco-Towns are likely to be built.
This failure of the Eco-Towns project is partly a consequence of the mortgage market related financial crisis that followed the New Labour hyperbole of 2007, but mostly to do with the inherent contradiction in the insistence on Eco-Towns rather than just new towns. You simply can't have a radical programme to increase house building and protect the environment from house building. Building a town is a major industrial undertaking. A town has a necessary impact during construction, and an ongoing impact when lived in. The rural landscape is transformed.
The fact that finance has been less available has not helped, but any shortage of development capital is a temporary problem. The reason why no Eco-Towns are likely to be built is that no-one could satisfy sustainability experts at the department of Communities and Local Government they were Eco-enough for successive Housing Ministers to avoid criticism from the array of environmentalists scrutinising proposals.
Green ideology equates the development required by a growing human population with environmental pollution. Mark Brinkley was typical when he objected that '... a 20th century eco-initiative, the Green Belt, is being sacrificed to 21st century expedience'. Brinkley went on to question '... whether we really need all this new housing. The mantra the government seems to be following here is that house prices are too high because we havent been building enough homes for many years. But this is a very simplistic notion and experience from other housing markets around the world suggests that the relationship between supply and price is complex and difficult to predict'. Brinkley was happy to invert social reality and over-complicate the housing issue. What he really objected to were immigrants. 'With the entire population of the EU free to move wherever the jobs and the housing are available, it is likely that one of the unintended consequences of expanding the housing supply will be to expand the population to fill the void'. (2) This was a green spin on the racist argument that immigrants cause housing shortages, and after attacking immigrants it is a small step for environmentalists to oppose population growth in general. The lack of house building is the housing problem, but Eco-Towns were never going to provide the solution.
This anti-human ideology, expressed in the prefix "Eco", ensured great efforts were made to argue against every Eco-Town proposal. The CLG began Eco-Towns by welcoming views from all stakeholders, which meant that countless environmentalists quibbled that the ludicrous zero carbon proposals were not sufficiently sustainable, asking for ever less impact to be financed by the developer. The developers, or "promoters", employed countless other environmentalists in a futile attempt to satisfy the burgeoning stakeholder demands, and many no doubt believed they were in the business of protecting the planet before making a return on capital invested through building. No wonder some developers pulled out.
From the 57 proposals that resulted from Cooper's prospectus only 15 were shortlisted by the time of the publication of Eco-Towns - Living a greener future. (3) Some proposals were rejected as unsustainable, but some developers no longer thought the Eco-Town idea worth the hassle.
Only 10 of the sites were ever to be selected by panels of CLG managed experts. Initially there were only to be 5 approved, but this pathetic figure was doubled in September 2007 because of the strong response from 57 bidders. New Labour had missed the opportunity to go with 50 locations. Gideon Amos, then the Chief Executive of the Town and Country Planning Association told Building magazine that '... with a potential to deliver around 200,000 new homes, eco-towns are an essential part of the solution to the problem of delivering affordable homes at the highest environmental standards to families and households crying out for decent homes in a good environment'. (4) Amos and the TCPA were dreaming.
The 15 Eco-Towns shortlisted by April 2008 shown in relation to the Green Belt in 2011. Source: CLG (3)
The Eco-Town Prospectus made a fair enough case for much more house building, referring to the work done by Stephen Nickell at the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit, which advised the CLG:
'Without a major increase in new housing, homes will become increasingly unaffordable. During the last 30 years of the 20th century house-building rates have halved while the number of households grew by 30 per cent. House prices have doubled in real terms over the last ten years and nearly trebled in the last twenty years, making it ever harder for those trying to buy their first home. The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit has estimated that average home prices are set to reach ten times annual earnings for the next generation if we fail to build more homes.' (5)
A year later, and the shortlisted locations in Eco-Towns - Living a greener future were introduced by Caroline Flint, then the Housing Minister. Cooper had become Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 24 January 2008, to help Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling tackle the bursting of the 1994 to 2007 housing bubble. While New Labour had bigger financial problems, Flint was stressing the "Eco":
'Not all the shortlisted bids will be successful. There will be no compromising our commitment to excellence and there are tough challenges ahead for each project to meet the standards set. We will now be testing every detail of the proposals with local authorities, stakeholders and local communities themselves.' (6)
Flint was an New Labour expert in self-congratulatory delusion, and environmentalists like the Building Research Establishment were happy to be flattered, and paid a stream of fees in the process. 'It's no exaggeration to say that England is now a world leader in green building. While climate change threatens countries around the world, we are the first to seize the initiative, transforming the way that we plan, design and build... with historically low interest rates and high employment, the conditions are right for a healthy housebuilding industry over the long term.' (7)
Britain has become a world leader in not building under the leadership of Cooper and Flint, with government content to fund consultancies like the BRE with their portfolio of environmental objections to development.
There were also many leading planners enjoying the green inquisition of the surviving Eco-Town proposals, adding their own requirements in the process. Rynd Smith, as Head of Policy and Practice for the Royal Town Planning Institute, was full of fresh constraints: 'Government must ensure successful proposals go beyond environmental targets, in addition meeting the following three criteria; the towns must have strong public transport links to other major metropolitan centres, sufficient local jobs to support the majority of the towns population must be within a reasonable distance of the development and the town must offer a broad range of recreational activities'. He said that if Eco-Towns were not built to be economically and socially self-contained, '... the environmental credentials of the development will be severely undermined because residents will be encouraged to spend more time behind the wheel of their car, heading off to more vital, enticing or convenient locations'. (8) While Brinkley rejected population growth Smith aimed to contain the mobility of any Eco-Town residents. No town in Britain needs to be self-contained.
The RTPI were evidently eager to add green qualifications for proposed Eco-Towns, but they were not the only professionals recommending developers consider more than the development. The TCPA had been quick to work with the CLG to define Best Practice in Urban Extensions and New Settlements by March 2007, ready for Cooper to loudly launch the Eco-Town Prospectus. The leading authors were:
Cayzer's Growth Areas Division was to encourage the development of the London-Stansted-Cambridge area as the M11 corridor, arguably up to Peterborough. Other areas were identified around Milton Keynes in the South Midlands, the "Thames Gateway" along the estuary, and Ashford in Kent. These too have failed as green-growth programmes, and are sure to provide ample lessons for the 250 New Towns Club.
The 250 New Towns Club would do well to look at these green-growth programmes in critical detail to work out why and how they failed. The records are dispersed, and will take some effort to capture. I suspect that common themes will become apparent, and a continuity will be seen with the way the Coalition government is talking about a "presumption in favour of sustainable development". It was not as if New Labour were operating a "presumption in favour of unsustainable development"!
While the RTPI seemed to require self-contained settlements as a measure of sustainable development, the TCPA and the CLG seemed to require linked settlements for Eco-Towns that were more than urban extensions. The Best Practice guidance explicitly did not reiterate '... the historical concept of the new towns programme developed by post-war Labour and Conservative governments, although it might be noted that these governments achieved decent-quality new homes for some 3 million people'. Instead '... the focus is on a new interpretation of the new settlement model a linked new settlement. In some senses this builds on the "beads on a string" form expounded by Peter Hall and Colin Ward in Sociable Cities (9), but in other respects it differs'. (10) The guidance was dismissive of self-containment as a requirement, but offered nothing that developers could rely upon in promotion:
'Today it could be said that the attainment of self-containment is almost impossible in the more crowded parts of England, and in any case may be undesirable in locations where building a major town offers a less sustainable answer than might be offered by a cluster of new and existing settlements.' (11)
There was no agreement about what constituted an Eco-Town between the RTPI and the TCPA, at the top of the planning profession. The CLG were unclear. The environmental consultancies can't really be blamed for doing what they do best, earning fees by problematising development proposals, and government willingly funded stakeholder opposition to Eco-Towns. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee spent an amount of their own effort criticising the zero carbon housing aim that, as Cooper had insisted upon, underpinned the Eco-Towns:
'Currently, the Governments target is for 2 million new homes to be built before the zero carbon target comes into effect in 2016, and for a further 1 million to be built afterwards. The Government should change the balance of its target so that the proportion built after the zero carbon target comes into effect is increased significantly.' (12)
While Britain's annual new housing production was falling dramatically during the financial crisis in the mortgage market the cross party House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee were effectively saying that this could be seen as a green opportunity. If the targets were postponed the lack of house building today could be presented as a promise of more zero carbon homes in the future. Delay in advancing any Eco-Towns was considered a virtue by environmentalists within and without government, regardless of anything the NHPAU thought. The Environmental Audit Committee went further to argue '... the importance of protecting and where possible extending existing Green Belt boundaries'. (13) That was quite a problem when several of the shortlisted Eco-Towns were either within the periphery of Britain's Green Belt on poor quality land, or just outside and in the way of extension. The Green Belt keeps growing.
The vague 2008 shortlisted proposal of Rushcliffe had by 2009 turned into three proposed settlements of Kingston, Newton, and Cotgrave Place, all facing objections from those who wanted to protect the Green Belt around Nottingham and Derby. The 2008 proposal of Weston Otmoor in the Green Belt around Oxford had been joined with another at Shipton, on the Cherwell river. The redevelopment of the coal workings in Rossington was not liked for being in Green Belt around Doncaster. By 2009 all these modest schemes were facing opposition emboldened by the Environmental Audit Committee's views. No Eco-Town, least of all those which wanted to make something of poor quality Green Belt, were welcomed by any significant planning authority. Green Belt was sacred.
Britain's numerous planning authorities had the Draft Planning Policy Statement: Eco-Towns - Consultation to hide behind. This listed only 11 locations then being considered, but all subject to lengthy consultation up to April 2009. In that process each developer had to produce a Sustainability Appraisal and a Habitats Regulation Assessment, in addition to showing their development was zero carbon enough. Then, in November 2008, Scott Wilson graded 20 proposals A, B, or C in some incomprehensible process that judged the Sustainability of locations. (14)
Only two Eco-Town proposals were given an A Grade. The gradings were disputed by promoters and detractors alike, and the PPS allowed wide interpretation by environmentalist objectors. 'The definition of zero carbon in eco-towns is that over a year the net carbon dioxide emissions from all energy use within the buildings on the development are zero or below. Planning applications should demonstrate how this will be achieved'. (15) This ludicrous "zero or below" requirement was impossible to understand. For a government being criticised for setting annual targets for housing production New Labour were spectacularly incapable of setting a measurable definition of zero carbon. Cooper never bothered to define her zero carbon rhetoric in the effort to appeal to greens, and there were numerous schisms amongst environmentalists about what "zero carbon" should mean. There still are.
Two years after the tiring chatter around the Eco-Town Prospectus a struggling New Labour got around to the Eco-Towns Location Decision Statement. Some of the unloved Green Belt proposals were still being discussed, Rossington and Elsenham were criticised, Weston Otmoor, Pennbury, and Ford were told to think again, and Middle Quinton was unresolved. The developers for Manby, Curborough, Marston, Hanley Grange, Leeds City, and Coltishall had pulled out, exhausted. Coltishall in Norfolk had gone, but Rackheath was raised as a preferred location. The withdrawal of Marston in the identified growth area situated between Bedford and Milton Keynes meant that the many worked out Oxford Clay pits around the closed but extensive Stewartby brick works were not developed either. An opportunity that should be looked at again. The decision suggested 14 locations, but in reality only 4 sites were being accepted by government after all the consultation. (16) They were:
It was amazing that even these 4 developers continued in their effort to get going. Next they were invited further to bid for a share of no more than a trifling £60 million of public funding to contribute towards local infrastructure. The next New Labour Housing Minister was John Healey, who meekly told Housebuilder magazine '... we wanted to see up to ten eco towns by 2020. Despite the recession I am giving the green light today to the first four pioneering proposals and making the offer to work with and help fund six more. The standards are high but I am confident of wider interest from developers and councils'. (17) He was clearly deluded. 'Our planning system must be an egalitarian system, driven by an egalitarian vision - not the grand designs of a few, but greener, more affordable homes which help everyone do their bit for tackling climate change.' (18) He was no less deluded than the TCPA of course, who loved the nonsense about Eco-Towns saving the planet.
The 14 Eco-Towns shortlisted by July 2009 shown in relation to the Green Belt in 2011. Source: CLG (16)
The PPS had required that '... planning applications should demonstrate a high level of engagement and consultation with prospective and neighbouring communities'. (19) This was easier said than done of course. Communities could hardly be brought together before the development was a built reality. The government set up a website to let people fantasise about "my eco-town", and in the engagement process to "have your say". www.direct.gov.uk/ecotownshaveyoursay is now closed, and we'll never know the contributions people made to the discussion.
The New Labour ambition was small from the start. Eco-towns were supposed to be "small new towns" of at least 5,000, and maybe 20,000 households. Most of those shortlisted were at the low end of that range. Any reduction on 5,000 and they become eco-villages. Shipton on the river Cherwell was the smallest 3,000 home proposal, but the Leeds sites were scattered throughout the city. Some sites in Leeds were graded C.
The Eco-Town Prospectus talked of a minimum target of 5,000 to 10,000 homes for only 10 locations. (20) In total, assuming all 20 locations were approved, the Eco-Towns initiative was only 159,500 homes. However 4 were finally approved, totalling 20,500. The approval result was nearly a tenth of the 200,000 that Amos had estimated. A fraction of the 240,000 homes New Labour argued were minimally required every year to meet demographic growth. With only 20,500 Eco-Town homes being discussed the objectors talked up the zero carbon requirement in all house building.
The meddling Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment had told the Environmental Audit Committee that since Eco-Towns, developed over many years, represented a much small quantity of new homes built compared to annual production targets, '... the ambitious environmental criteria for development in the proposed eco towns need to be applied to all significant development'. Richard Simmons, CABEs chief executive, had recommended that '... from 2016 all significant developments are subject to the same tests as for eco-towns'. (21) A worrying prospect for house builders given the systemic failure to build any Eco-Towns.
The TCPA carried on telling developers what they should do to improve the design of housing in Eco-Towns. The TCPA seemed oblivious to the fact that the numbers of homes that might be built was dwindling the more they insisted on a plethora of briefing criteria to be achieved without design repetition. 'Eco-towns must challenge the pattern book approach to housing employed by some developers and show that innovative thinking can be applied to housing and house types and that this does not have to increase costs. In the longer term, savings can be made through good-quality design'. (22) If anything a pattern book approach to planning was necessary to aggregate the Research and Development costs. Like CABE, the TCPA wanted architectural novelty in the pursuit of all housing being zero carbon by 2016, without thought for how the R&D was to be financed in 5,000 home settlements. Even New Labour's UK Low Carbon Transition Plan appreciated that '... building zero carbon homes will require substantial change on the part of house builders and their suppliers.' (23) That is an understatement.
Others rejected newness entirely. Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, insisted in Country Life that ' the best eco-town is an adapted existing one'. He only saw a loss of landscape ' in the erosion of green belt and in the spread of executive estates, wherever developers can cajole a council or a Minister into giving [planning] permission.' He believed ' the eco-towns were located with no thought for their landscape impact, as if nothing was learned from the post-war new-town experience.' (24) There are lessons to be learned from the post-war new towns, and landscape is important, but Jenkins would have no new settlements, "Eco" or otherwise. Regardless of design quality.
Responding to Prime Minister Gordon Brown after the Queen's speech at the State Opening of Parliament, David Cameron could easily lay into the government's record: 'Eco-towns - he told us there would be loads of them. In fact only one is still alive. He promised zero-carbon homes - well, I can tell the House there have been virtually zero of them'. (25)
Only the St Austell Eco-Town project seems to be still alive on the Internet, on http://eco-bos.com, but nothing has happened yet beyond an architectural design competition for the 50 home Pilot Phase in 2010. This is pitiful, and Cooper in particular should be embarrassed.
At the 250 New Towns Club we are not talking about reviving the failed Eco-Towns programme because we need many new towns for more people. Or as James Heartfield sensibly and stridently put it:
The Eco-Towns have indeed amounted to nothing. However, while house price inflation co-incided with confident mortgage lending terms until the financial crisis, house price inflation has wobbled but returned under conditions of cautious mortgage lending. (26) Britains vast majority of home owners will be relieved. Most people have felt uneasy with financial dependency on the debt and equity in their home. Most people also know that not enough new housing is being built to meet demographic growth. Britain needs to build a lot more new housing.
While we should forget the prefix "Eco", the 250 New Towns Club might most usefully look again at the good locations identified in this ridiculous planning episode, either as locations for 40,000 household new towns, or a number of smaller developments. That requires some effort in collating information about the projects, which the CLG never recorded centrally.
There are zero Eco-Towns. No doubt to the satisfaction of Simmons, the pursuit of zero carbon housing persists, however. Neil Jefferson, chief executive of the Zero Carbon Hub on www.zerocarbonhub.org had a description of zero carbon provided by Healey in July 2009:
'A zero-carbon home is one whose net carbon dioxide emissions, taking account of emissions associated with all energy use in the home, is equal to zero or negative across the year. Our definition of "energy use" will cover both energy uses currently regulated by the Building Regulations and other energy used in the home'. (27)
That was easy to say, after a lengthy consultation, (28) and a published impact assessment, (29) but rather more complex to translate into commercially viable architectural designs. (30) In 2011 Jefferson is still trying to achieve a workable definition of zero carbon from Cameron's Coalition government. 'Our job is to continue to work with government and all those involved in the housebuilding industry to help make this policy a reality from 2016'. (31) Jefferson should stop fiddling with carbon measurement, and the ZCH should be wound up. It is daft that the house building and materials manufacturing sectors fund them.
It has just become very clear that the Coalition thinks differently to New Labour, and wants only the emissions covered by Building Regulations, such as heating, fixed lighting, hot water and building services, to be reduced to zero by 2016. The zero carbon purists might not let the ZCH and the CLG ignore emissions from cooking or from a host of plug-in appliances, such as computers and televisions. Jefferson is facing another round of quibbling about the new zero carbon scenario. (32) This must involve the ZCH negotiating with the Building Research Establishment. The BRE Group has a sweet contract with government since Cooper at the CLG agreed to turn their EcoHomes system into the Code for Sustainable Homes to create a series of steps for revising the Building Regulations. That was in 2006, at the beginning of the promotion of zero carbon and Eco-Towns.
Cooper allowed the Standard Assessment Procedure for Energy Rating of Dwellings - the key first to EcoHomes, then the steps in the Code for Sustainable Homes, and now the Building Regulations - to be maintained as private knowledge by the BRE Group. The Department of Energy and Climate Change depend on them. (33) Under the terms of its agreement over SAP part of the BRE Group, BRE Global, licences both the Code Assessors and other Code Service Providers, establishing a protected fee stream even as construction activity declines. Publication of SAP 2009 has not fixed the broken Code, and neither will SAP 2012, or SAP 2015, as the Building Regulations attempt to make all buildings zero carbon.
Britain has a critical Building Regulation concerned with reducing energy use in buildings, being revised to a shifting definition of zero carbon, the assessment of which government allows to be privately monopolised by BRE Group as a fee earning consultancy. That it can afford to support a charity, the BRE Trust, is of no comfort to all other consultancies, and the construction industry in general. The incomprehensible regulation of the design of buildings is the only legacy of Cooper's zero carbon housing fantasy, which she imagined would be made manifest in a number of Eco-Towns. After the effort in planning, no Eco-Towns are likely to be built. The Eco-Towns are about as zero carbon as they possibly could be, while the zero carbon regulation of construction grinds on. CABE got their wish, and building designers must keep paying the BRE Group.
The ZCH are powerless. They must deal with BRE Group, but why does the construction industry let the "black box" operation persist? Why can't SAP be public knowledge, maintained by government for all?
Jefferson hardly cares. He has his reports to build on, and writing more will keep ZCH staff busy. (34) He is '... really pleased that we have had confirmation that the Hub's task group's recommendations for levels of on-site Carbon Compliance will form the basis for the 2016 Building Regulations'. (35) No doubt there are environmentalists busy arguing for the scope of the Building Regulations to be extended to regulate energy using behaviour in the home. They may win out unless the house building and materials manufacturing sectors manage to oppose them.
Expect a lot more talk about zero carbon, none of which will amount to more high performance new house building that most people can afford.
Expect a lot more talk about too many immigrants, and too many people from the Coalition government and a constituency of environmentalists imposing sustainability as the qualification for planning approvals.
The lesson of Eco-Towns is that zero carbon means zero development...
Ian Abley 28.03.2011
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