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Is the U turn on ‘allowable solutions’ really a bad thing?

17 July 2015 No Comment

Before we can answer that, let’s start by understanding what an allowable solution is:

‘Allowable solutions’ was the term for any approved carbon-saving measures that would be available to developers from 2016 to allow for the CO2 emissions that they would not normally be able to mitigate in new buildings on site through energy efficiency measures or the use of low and zero carbon technologies (which are called, in combination, carbon compliance).

However, a recent announcement by the Government stated that it does not intend to proceed with the zero carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme for domestic construction, or the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards. This has been met with concern across the construction sector.   This has not been helped by the fact that there has been no consultation with industry prior to this decision being made.

While there were likely to be issues defining the technologies and projects which would have qualified as allowable solutions, it has been recognised for some time that on site carbon reduction measures alone will struggle to deliver truly zero carbon/energy buildings and so allowable solutions have been seen as a key element of the strategy to deliver these.   

The announcement, buried on Page 46 of an 88 page HM Treasury document titled ‘Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation’ was described by Julie Hirigoyen, the Chief Executive of the UK Green Building Council, as “underhand”. She went on to say that it was the death knell for zero carbon homes and was short sighted, unnecessary, retrograde and damaging to the house building industry. She also condemned the arbitrary nature of the announcement and the lack of prior industry consultation.

Concern was also raised by Paul King, the Managing Director Sustainability, Communications & Marketing at LendLease Europe who described the move as “extremely disappointing“, and Rob Lambe, the Managing Director of Willmott Dixon Energy Services who said that the announcement “seriously undermines industry confidence in government policy and will diminish future investment“.

The Chief Executive of the British Property Federation, Melanie Leech, described  abandoning the allowable solutions mechanism as “short-sighted with respect to both the government’s long-term carbon budgets and the European Union’s obligations for nearly-zero energy buildings from 2020“.

Why the U turn?

The lack of consultation with industry makes this a difficult one to answer however the government rationale for scrapping the proposed scheme, was that it would reduce net regulation on house builders and stimulate the housing market. In addition it has been clear for some time that the offsetting element of the allowable solutions scheme did not fulfil the requirements of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) under which the UK have to deliver nearly zero energy buildings from 2021 (and 2019 in the public sector).

Where then does this leave the Government’s commitment to zero carbon domestic buildings by 2016 and zero carbon non-domestic buildings by 2019?

The first thing to be said is that the decision not to proceed with the zero carbon allowable solutions carbon offsetting scheme applies to domestic construction only. Nevertheless, it is difficult to believe that it will not also be extended to non-domestic construction. Secondly the decision not to go ahead with the 2016 changes to energy efficiency standards, in combination with the weak standards introduced in 2014, means that the gap between where we are now, and what we would need to do to achieve zero carbon buildings any time in the near future is considerable and will require strong government and leadership, taking industry with it, to achieve this..

The biggest issue now is how the government will regain the industry confidence and remove uncertainties about future legislation. It is clear that the government need to act quickly to confirm their commitment to reducing national CO2 emissions and provide clear guidance on how they propose this will be achieved.  The million dollar question is ‘How will the the requirements of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive be achieved, which requires that “Member States shall ensure that by 31 December 2020 all new buildings are nearly zero-energy buildings?”

As for Tata Steel, we continue to be committed to the design of more sustainable products that contribute to solutions, which are lighter, last longer and use fewer resources to produce, or in fact turn buildings into power stations.

Next time we’ll start to look at how we can all answer the million dollar question…. watch this space


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