The Future of Sustainable and Eco-friendly Housing in the UK
With huge demand for housing in the UK, the Government has been accused of ignoring the potential environmental damage of extensive home building. So what are the Government's plans for the future of sustainable development and eco-friendly homes in the UK?
Sustainable communities and eco-towns
The Sustainable Communities Plan, launched by the Government in 2003, was aimed at meeting housing shortages by building communities ‘where people want to live and work' and which are ‘sensitive to their environment'.
Such good intentions were reiterated by Gordon Brown in 2007 when he announced plans to help solve the housing crisis by building 5 new ‘eco-towns'. These towns will be built mainly on derelict land, contain 10-20,000 homes (both private and social housing) and will run on locally-produced renewable energy.
A report by the Sustainable Development Commission in May 2007 claimed that the Government was not living up to its intentions, building too many houses in areas suffering from water shortages, and building new developments with poor transport links and no local amenities.
Building new homes to ‘zero carbon' standards
There are ambitious plans to build all new houses to ‘zero carbon' standards by 2016. To encourage purchase of these houses, any zero-carbon houses will be exempt from stamp duty until 2012, as long as they cost less than 500,000 pounds.
Zero-carbon houses should generate no net carbon dioxide emissions over the course of a year. Electricity is generated onsite from renewable sources, and the houses are designed to be energy efficient and are superinsulated, to keep precious energy in.
Such homes currently barely exist, and building them is more expensive than building a standard house. To make the target a reality, many more incentives will probably be required to encourage developers to buy in to zero-carbon housing.
BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development) is a housing development south of London designed to be zero-carbon. Car use is discouraged, recycling is encouraged, and the houses were built from locally-sourced recycled or renewable materials, are highly energy efficient and use energy from renewable sources generated on site.
Current building regulations and energy efficiency ratings
Currently there are few incentives for developers to build new houses to higher environmental standards than the Building Regulations. Building Regulations require certain standards of insulation and energy efficiency, and were tightened in 2006, but they are not always enforced, and such measures are insufficient to meet future carbon emission reduction targets.
The Code for Sustainable Homes (replaces EcoHomes in 2007) is an environmental rating system for housing in the UK, rating houses between 1 and 6, where 6 is the greenest. Developers will be ‘encouraged' to meet Level 3 of the new code, and this level should become mandatory for publicly-funded new homes (and possibly others) from April 2008.
Home Information Packs (HIPs), which will eventually be required for all houses on the market, will contain Energy Performance Certificates. These tell prospective buyers how energy efficient the house is, and provide advice on how to cut emissions and fuel bills. There are hopes that sellers will aim to make their houses more desirable by improving energy efficiency before selling.
The Sustainable Development Commission does not believe improving the standards of new homes is enough to meet carbon emissions reduction targets. The carbon emissions of existing houses can be greatly improved, for example by installing loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and turning down thermostats. This could be the most cost-efficient way to meet targets and make UK housing more sustainable.
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