Committee calls for ambitious 10-year zero carbon housing plan

(Title Image: Cardiff University)

Environment & Rural Affairs Committee
Low Carbon Housing (pdf)
Published: 2nd August 2018

“Challenging targets need challenging solutions. Reducing the amount of energy we use in our homes will substantially accelerate progress towards these (low carbon) goals. Achieving the targets will require a considerable ramping up of ambition and must span the whole of Wales’ policy levers.

“We are calling on the Welsh Government to bring forward a ten-year low-carbon housing strategy, including milestones and targets to kick-start housing development now and for the future.”

– Committee Chair, Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East)

1. Low carbon housing kills two birds with one stone

Housing is responsible for 8% of greenhouse gas emissions in Wales. The Welsh Government is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% of 1990 levels by 2050 under the Environment Act 2016. They also have a commitment to reduce fuel poverty (where energy costs a household 10% of its income).

The Committee called on the Welsh Government to draft a 10-year plan to set a clear target for a reduction in carbon emissions from housing, to retrofit all homes in fuel poverty to meet a zero carbon standard and to make necessary changes to the planning and building regulation system.

2. Regulations vs Housebuilders

The Welsh Government and other interested parties believe low carbon housing should start at the design stage – meaning low carbon building has to be written into building regulations. It also needs to address what the Committee describes as “the failure of the market to provide energy efficient affordable homes”.

Housebuilders argue that lack of low carbon housing is a sign of low demand and ultimately their business is driven by consumer demand. They suggest any changes to building regulations would see fewer homes built in Wales, hitting Welsh Government house-building targets.

The Committee also believes the current building regulations inspection regime isn’t working. Witnesses raised concerns about a lack of random testing on new-builds, the need for a single quality mark and any issued arising from the Grenfell Tower disaster.

An independent review of affordable housing commissioned by the Welsh Government is due to report back in April 2019.

3. It would cost £1.8billion over 12 years to eliminate fuel poverty by retrofitting homes

Wales has some of the oldest, coldest housing stock in the UK which makes heating them more difficult and more expensive. The Committee was told that to meet zero carbon commitments and eliminate fuel poverty in Wales it would take a £150million investment every year for 12 years; at present, the Welsh Government has spent around £31million a year since 2011.

There were calls for incentives to be provided to private householders and landlords to retrofit their own homes, but the problem there has been the disaster of cavity wall insulation and cladding – much of which has now been removed because they caused more problems than they solved.

The Committee believes there’s an opportunity to do this on “street-by-street” basis rather than home-by-home due to the limited number of property types. This means it could be done on a large scale if the focus was more on housing types than individual houses. It will also depend on the availability of skilled workers within the construction sector – to which the Committee demanded progress reports from the Welsh Government.

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