The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said that the policy had driven up home building standards and helped to create a thriving sustainable building industry in the UK.
The cross-party committee criticised the department for its decision to remove local authorities’ discretion to set high standards on energy and water saving — using the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) — in favour of a lowest-common-denominator national standard.
Committee chair Joan Walley MP said: “The secretary of state should think again before demolishing the Code for Sustainable Homes. The policy has been a big success in driving up home building standards, delivering local choice and supporting green exports. Building materials manufacturers in the UK told us that they use the Code as a green kitemark when they sell their products abroad.”
She added: “The coalition agreement promised that the government would ‘return decision-making powers on housing and planning to local councils’, but this decision bulldozes local choice in favour of a one-size-fits-all approach designed to benefit developers who want to build homes on the cheap.”
DCLG’s proposed needs test on the application of sustainability standards by local authorities also risks becoming a lawyers’ charter, according to the MPs. It could curtail local choice, delay the construction of new homes and compel local authorities to incur unnecessary legal fees, they said.
The committee’s inquiry found that DCLG failed to take into account the latest evidence on the declining capital costs of fitting clean energy technology to homes in its Housing Standards Review. The MPs also discovered that the 2016 zero carbon homes standard has been successively watered down.
The committee recommended that DCLG:
- examines the latest research on the decreasing cost of clean energy technologies;
- maintains and refreshes the CSH as a tool for local authorities to lever in sustainability;
- retains CSH standards on sustainable construction materials to support green exports and green growth.
Ms Walley MP concluded: “Hundreds of thousands of homes have to be built in the coming decades. Smart energy and water saving measures – which will ultimately save homeowners money on their bills – must become the norm if we want our homes to be fit for the future.
“The Code for Sustainable Homes incentivises developers and designers to think about sustainability from the outset of a project and throughout the development process. It is a proven and flexible way of pushing up home building standards and should not be dropped.”