Sunday, February 27, 2022

Muddling towards zero carbon

Given the consensus that there needs to be significant progress towards (net) zero emissions from housing and transport if the transition is to be negotiated without severe social disruption the disarray in Government is both puzzling and concerning.  Having committed to a Planning Bill and revisions to the NPPF it is too much to hope that the current hiatus will last, but none of the suggested changes to the current legal and policy framework would make the transition any faster or more certain. Quite the opposite.  If, for instance, the Government confirm 2025 as the date for zero carbon housing, a million more houses will be built that would require retrofitting to add to the 20million+ that are waiting to be upgraded.  Meanwhile the industry might be coming to its senses and responding to consumer demand for houses that can be heated with lower energy bills.

In Abingdon we have one volume builder installing air source heat pumps and solar PV on houses with limited construction carbon, and EV charge points - all before being required to do so.  A neighbouring developer will find it difficult to build to a lesser standard.  Another developer (building to a carbon negative standard in construction and operational carbon) has come to an arrangement with Gridserve to provide EVs for the car club for its residents, setting and example that other developers might find hard to resist, even it wanted to. Hiyacar (, can make it really simple to make car sharing a step towards decarbonising transport. Fortunately these market pressures (and even corporate responsibility?) can raise standards even where adopted policies, building regulations and conditions on outline permissions are out of date and behind the zero carbon curve.

Also in Abingdon we have examples of road schemes inherited from another era - one where carbon reductions were not the paramount objective.  The combination of 'working-from-home', active travel, 15 minute neighbourhoods, electrification (and automation?) of road transport, avoidance of construction carbon, busing-back-better and car sharing/clubs, means that all road schemes need to be re-evaluated.  There are councils hoisted on the petard of 'infrastructure first' who should be redirecting their energy to 'accessibility first' in ways that will not depend on new construction and that will be life enhancing. There are likely to be cases where road capacity both within and between urban areas is reduced and not increased.

And in Plymouth Persimmon Homes have found it possible to build with air source heat pumps and PV that has influenced the orientation of the houses.

The resounding message from COP26 was that Government(s) are incapable to lead the way to zero carbon. It will be down to businesses and consumers to drive down carbon emissions through their choices. This will not be sufficient without Government interventions but where voters lead politicians will follow.

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