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Reducing emissions held back by construction skills gap

Words: Laura Edgar
low carbon homes

Advances in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions have been held back by the skills gap in construction, housing design and the installation of new technologies.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) said this is the result of the UK Government “chopping and changing” policy.

In its report UK Housing: Fit for the Future, the committee recommends that the government should use initiatives under the Construction Sector Deal to tackle the low-carbon skills gap, with new support provided to train designers, builders and installers to ensure that homes have low-carbon heating, are energy and water efficient and are flood resilient.

The report highlights that there are plans for 1.5 million new UK homes by 2022: it insists that these homes must be low-carbon and energy efficient. The costs of making homes low-carbon, energy and water efficient, and climate resilient “are not prohibitive, and getting design right from the outset is vastly cheaper than forcing retrofit later”.

The committee says that from 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid. Instead, they should be heated through low-carbon sources “have ultra-high levels of energy efficiency alongside appropriate ventilation and, where possible, be timber-framed”.

There are also increasing requirements for green space and sustainable transport in planning and guidance.

The committee found that reducing emissions from UK homes has stalled, while energy use in homes, which accounts for 14 per cent of UK emissions, increased between 2016 and 2017. It warned that the UK’s legally binding climate-change targets won’t be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. Efforts to adapt are “lagging” behind what is needed to keep the population safe and comfortable.

Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, noted that the report confirms “what we have long-suspected – UK homes are largely unprepared for climate change”.

“There must be compliance with stated building designs and standards. We need housing with low-carbon sources of heating. And we must finally grasp the challenge of improving our poor levels of home energy efficiency. As the climate continues to change, our homes are becoming increasingly uncomfortable and unsafe. This will continue unless we take steps now to adapt them for higher temperatures, flooding and water scarcity. Our report shows that this work has barely begun.

“Major improvements in how we design, build and use our homes are needed to meet these challenges. We have highlighted the need for appropriate sources of finance and funding – and a national training programme to ensure we have the building and construction skills required in the UK. Climate change will not wait while we consider our options – the nationwide shift we need to make UK homes climate-ready must start today.”

UK Housing: Fit for the Future contains a raft of other recommendations, from retrofitting to SudS. They include:

  • The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) must clarify the rights and obligations of local and regional authorities in relation to climate change mitigation and adaptation. This includes clear statutory duties, and clarification of how far local and regional authorities are permitted to go in setting tighter new build standards.
  • MHCLG should close loopholes allowing homes to be built which do not meet the current minimum standards for new dwellings. This includes provisions on the expiry of planning permission, and permitted development rights relating to change of use.
  • The government should develop a targeted package of new measures to incentivise and support those developers and individuals who wish to take early action in building low-carbon and resilient homes.
  • MHCLG and the Department for Transport (DfT) must strengthen the importance of sustainable transport plans that are integrated into the development throughout the design process, including the development of walking and cycling routes and early consultation with public transport providers.
  • For areas within walking distance of high-quality public transport, MHCLG and DfT should set minimum density guidelines to ensure that local authorities concentrate housing in these areas wherever possible.
  • Local authorities must consult the bus industry at the local plan stage to ensure that new housing areas can be serviced by commercially viable routes.
  • MHCLG and DfT should explore the potential for new rail stations, and light rail, tram and bus (including bus rapid transit) routes to unlock areas for housing development while mitigating transport impacts.
  • Sub-national transport bodies should play a role in coordinating regional housing plans and sharing good practice across local authorities.
  • The UK Government and devolved administrations should take steps to monitor and reverse the decline in urban green space through clearer policy and more support for schemes that deliver multiple benefits.

UK Housing: Fit for the Future can be found here on the Committee on Climate Change website.

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