My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who speaks with authority on climate change. I support the amendment in the name of my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. We were both members of the Select Committee on the built environment, and we heard a weight of evidence that supports the amendment.
In July 2015, when the Government announced that they were scrapping a proposed regulation to require all new homes to be carbon neutral, they justified their action on the grounds that they sought to continue to reduce the overall burden on housebuilders. That has always been the argument used, and it is where the debate takes a wider turn. Reducing the burden on private sector housebuilders has also been the justification: for the mantra of deregulation that led, in March 2015, to the Government removing the code for sustainable homes; for the failure to implement national standards for lifetime homes; and for a complete failure to plan for the future and the mitigation of climate change, and to plan for longevity—the two most transformational impacts happening on our society.
The pursuit of deregulation at the expense of foresight and, frankly, simple common sense marks a certain opportunism in the Government that is, basically, dangerous. As we have heard already, there is no evidence from the industry to suggest that deregulation in this form leads to faster or better building, or to lower profits. In fact, intelligent builders, large and small—we heard about the London example—find that there is a market for sustainable homes that reflects the starting price and is reflected in lower bills. There is a driver for improvement that we should recognise in policy.
The Government’s Foresight unit warned a year or two ago, with total conviction:
“The potential role of land and land use in both climate change mitigation and adaptation will be profound. The move to a low-carbon economy will increasingly influence land use decisions, settlement patterns, the design of urban environments, and choices on transport infrastructure”.
That is the reality, but I fear we have a Government who reject the obligation to think ahead, who ignore the evidence, and who seem to be in denial of the reality of the significant emissions, as we have heard—I think 25% of our emissions come from the built environment—and of a potential increase in our population of 9.7 million homes over the next 25 years, with all the imperatives that creates for sustainable housing and infrastructure.
Taking just the code for sustainable homes, elements of it are now incorporated into building regulations and defined as new national technical standards. They are designed to reduce burdens, but in evidence to the Select Committee, Worcestershire County Council—hardly a pusher for a socialist agenda—said:
“Withdrawing the Code for Sustainable Homes appears to have sent a signal to developers that sustainability measures are less important than before, meaning that councils wishing to promote better environmental performance in new development will struggle to deliver higher standards.”
The UK Green Building Council put it equally bluntly:
“In the last 10 years we have had this very clear trajectory and everyone has known where they are going and have had a lot of time to put in place the strategies. Now we do not know where we are going”.
The Select Committee’s judgment has already been quoted. It was absolutely certain that the decisions would add to long-term costs and that there was no evidence that they would have any impact on the Government’s stated primary objectives to speed up housebuilding. It also said that it did not have,
“a clear explanation as to how new homes will be energy efficient and environmentally sustainable”.
I urge the Government to reverse their decision on this extremely important matter. This is the opportunity for the Minister, who has listened so closely throughout the debate, to show foresight and, frankly, common sense, and accept the amendment.