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Zero chance of zero carbon homes say housebuilders

Many of the UK's major housebuilders have admitted they do not believe they will meet the government's goal for zero carbon new homes by 2016.
Senior managers in seven of the UK's largest housebuilding firms made the admission in a poll conducted by sustainable buildings consultancy firm Inbuilt.

Most respondents to the housebuilder poll felt the treasury's definition of zero carbon, for stamp duty relief purposes, played no part in helping them to deliver zero carbon homes. Housebuilders said they faced increased build costs and very little chance of passing on this cost to the buyer.

Housebuilders said the government must simplify its definition of zero carbon and allow builders to access at least some offsite-generated renewable electricity from certified, additional sources if they are to stand a chance of meeting its aims for 2016.

Dr David Strong, chief executive of Inbuilt, said: 'At first almost all of them said they thought the 2016 target was achievable, albeit with significant caveats. As our discussions continued, their discomfort became palpable, expressed in warnings about the unrecoverable costs, the lack of reliable technologies, supply chain, skills or expertise, and the trouble accessing renewable energy sources'.

Most of the housebuilders who responded felt biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps and solar technologies were the renewable energy technologies most likely to help them reach the zero carbon target.

David Strong said: 'There is clearly a risk that some housebuilders are seizing the first technical solution they can afford, rather than taking the long-term view or considering the broader sustainability implications of their decisions. This could lead them into technical cul-de-sacs which cost a fortune to back out of later on.

'We should also heed the warnings of insurers like NHBC and its equivalents in Canada and New Zealand, all of whom at some point have had to deal with costly construction crises as a result of untested, poorly managed government initiatives to speed up the delivery of new homes'.

All respondents held the view that new build housing had a significant role to play in helping to combat climate change, but a lot more needed to be done to tackle the performance of existing homes becuase this is where the greatest environmental, social and economic returns could be made.

The poll to national housebuilders was conducted between January and February 2008.
1 April 2008

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