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Labour accuses government of 'watering down' eco standards

Labour has accused the government of watering down zero-carbon housebuilding regulations after ministers indicated that sites with small numbers of homes could be exempted from the ‘allowable solutions’ rule.

Under this rule, developers would be expected to offer some form of compensation – such as a cash payment – if they find it difficult to hit environmental standards on particular sites.

While the way allowable solutions will operate is yet to be finalised, the government has said it favours exemptions for some sites, based on the number of homes planned.

But Labour MPs including the shadow planning minister attacked the proposals during a debate on the Infrastructure Bill in a parliamentary committee last week.

Roberta Blackman-Woods told the committee the government’s consultation paper on allowable solutions should be subtitled: “How to get some builders off the hook on delivering zero-carbon homes.”

She added: “What is perhaps more startling is that the government is dressing up this watering-down of standards as setting a challenging new standard for housebuilders.

“We know that is balderdash.”

Ms Blackman-Woods said her party was “not totally against allowable solutions” as they had been designed to “enable offsite carbon abatement only where it was not possible”.

“Because of the watering-down of the proposals, that is no longer the case,” she added.

The government’s proposal to exempt some sites from the allowable solutions rule was defended at the committee by Stephen Williams MP, parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Communities and Local Government department.

The coalition’s proposed approach would ensure “every new home” had “an enhanced energy performance standard compared with now”, he said.

“The exemption we propose is purely from the allowable solutions part of the scheme.

“Although we have not yet formally announced our response to the consultation, we anticipate that this will be based on a unit-size criterion.

“In those cases, they would be exempt from that target.”

A government consultation on the small sites exemptions closed last week.

UK Green Building Council senior sustainability adviser Louise Sunderland said: “It seems rather odd that small sites are being exempt from this flexibility mechanism; it was designed to allow zero carbon to be applicable to exactly these types of sites.

“The exemption of small sites is being presented as a mechanism to encourage small housebuilders to re-enter the market, but there is no evidence that the zero-carbon standard is a barrier for small builders or that the exemption will help them overcome the many other barriers to the market.”

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