Sunday, 3 August 2008

Eco Homes and HIPs

What a surprise, yet another green initiative from the UK Government turns out to be false.
A group of MPs from all parties, working together to tackle climate change(really!), has said that current government policy is contradictory, and that many decisions need to be devolved to local authorities. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said in its recently released report, 'Climate Change and Local, Regional and Devolved Government' that there was inconsistency in the implementation and development of climate change policy across central, regional and local government - including the effective development of low carbon heating strategies.

The document urges the Government to force local authorities to include climate change indicators in their Local Area Agreement - which sets down an area's priorities. Taking action on cutting heating and energy costs is covered by the climate change indicators - which will be used to judge an authority's performance and also inform funding decisions.

No mention of the disasterous HIPs, which estate agents now claim are simply being ignored. The Law Society has accused estate agents of breaking the law by failing to prepare Home Information Packs for properties they are marketing. The packs were introduced a year ago and were made compulsory for all homes put on the market in England and Wales in December.

The aim is to provide potential buyers with greater transparency. But Law Society president Paul Marsh said in the current slow market, many agents and private sellers are delaying drawing up the Hip, which costs £300 for each property, until a sale has been agreed. The evidence is that these Hips are being ordered and not being processed. They are being suspended until such time as a buyer is found. "I don't think it is within the spirit of the regulations. Actually, I don't think it is within the regulations."

Also 46 MPs criticise the government's supposedly 'green' building policies as ignoring the real issues in favour of easy headlines. The first report into the environmental impact of offices, shops and factories says that instead of focusing on making new buildings 'zero carbon', the government's focus must shift to existing buildings, which make up 99 per cent of the current problem. Around half of all Britain's carbon emissions are associated with buildings, yet the government's focus has deliberately been on new properties, despite just one per cent of buildings being replaced each year. The group's inquiry, led by a cross party group of MPs and peers found that a major policy shift was needed to deal with the issue of existing buildings. Up to 70% of all non-domestic properties will still be with us in 2050, which means that existing buildings are one of the areas where the biggest carbon savings can be made.

The report also says that the government must lead by example. Many government buildings are among the worst performers when it comes to energy efficiency. Another group of MPs has criticised the government for relying on "green tariffs" in order to appear to be getting Departmental electricity from renewable sources. Although the government claims to have sourced 28.3% of its power needs from renewable sources, Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee said it had bought in the renewable power, rather than investing in on-site generation systems.
While six government Departments apparently used 95% renewable electricity thanks to green tariff power, the government only generated 0.0004% of its own electricity from on-site renewables like solar, wind or biomass power systems in 2005-06. The committee chaired by former environment minister Tim Yeo cast doubt on the "green" electricity the government had bought in, pointing out that even Defra was unhappy with the government claiming carbon emissions reductions from the green tariffs. Reporting on its inquiry into government efforts to cut its own carbon footprint, the committee said it believed green tariffs were a mere "branding" of renewable electricity that power companies have to buy under the Renewables Obligation each year anyway, regardless of whether customers are signed up to the green tariffs.

It is believed that around a third of energy savings can be made with little or no cost to anyone. In the UK, we also waste as much heat as we use. The group's report found that an overly bureaucratic approach to policy by the government was hindering progress. There are currently over 160 government departments and bodies involved in setting and delivering the green agenda.

The All Party urban Development Group's main recommendations are:
* One single measurement tool so businesses can compare one building with another and determine how green it is
* Better co-ordination of different government agencies working on environmental policy
* Clear advice and information for tenants and landlords on how to reduce energy use and make easy savings.
* Tighter building regulations that demand greater improvements from developers
* In-depth research on what fiscal and other incentives would make businesses change their behaviour

Commercial property is responsible for 17% of the UK's CO2 emissions. This is the equivalent of 250,000 long-haul flights between London and New York each year, or the averagely yearly car use of 90 million people.

The authorities have been talking the language, but on details are consistently falling short. These are wasted oppertunities, helping to give the impression that green equates to taxing and not reducing carbon emissions.

hattip AECB

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