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Housing: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Volume 699: debated on Monday 3 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What level of compliance with building regulations is assumed in the calculation of official government estimates on carbon dioxide emissions from domestic buildings.

My Lords, it has been assumed that the accumulating stock of new dwellings will fully comply with the minimum requirements in the regulations. Since 2002, standards of energy savings have been significantly raised and, starting this month, we shall be undertaking systematic sampling of new-build dwellings against these higher standards.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, but why have the Government failed to implement the recommendations of the 2005 environmental Select Committee report on housing to increase compliance with the building regulations?

My Lords, to my knowledge we have not failed to comply. Our actions since 2005-06 to improve the technical efficiency of building will bring the savings that we have anticipated. Since 2002, we can look forward to a 40 per cent greater efficiency in the standards of house-building efficiency; not least, for example, because condensing boilers, which used to make up only 20 per cent of the market, are now up to 90 per cent. That alone will bring an extra 1 million tonnes of carbon reduction annually.

My Lords, will my noble friend give the House some information on non-domestic buildings and whether buildings such as offices, hotels, shops, et cetera, comply with the energy-saving requirements of the building regulations? If there is a problem, is she taking action to do more research on that?

My Lords, we clearly have to have greater compliance with non-domestic buildings than with domestic buildings. We announced that we would be moving towards zero carbon homes in 2016, and we have been looking at how we can set a road map equivalent for the non-domestic sector. We have commissioned the UK Green Building Council to provide a comprehensive analysis of the costs and barriers to that, which is on our website. We have set up two steering committees with external developers and government departments which manage large estates. We are working very seriously on this.

My Lords, the improvement in new-build quality is much to be welcomed. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what is being done about the 22 million pre-existing buildings, which of course create far more emissions than any new building is likely to catch up with for many years?

My Lords, the noble Lord’s point goes to the heart of the Question. There are things that we can do with the existing stock, but they are more difficult than with new build. For example, through the Warm Front initiative some £850 million has been allocated in the current spending round to improve carbon efficiency through insulation and so forth, and some 1.6 million people have been helped in this way. The initiative is expected to generate around 500,000 tonnes of carbon savings by 2016. There is an investment of £20 billion in the Decent Homes programme to modernise, draught-proof and increase the thermal efficiency of some of our worst council housing stock. Further, we need to work with the Technology Strategy Board so that we can encourage industry to develop improved products and better devices to increase efficiency overall.

My Lords, that is really important. Work is going on across government to watch things like only boiling the amount of water required in kettles and switching off lights. While I cannot give the noble Earl a precise assessment, I would be happy to write to him because I should like to know the answer myself.

My Lords, can the Minister clarify today whether developers and builders will be able to use emissions trading in order to claim that they are actually complying with the Government’s zero carbon initiative? Does she agree that if they are allowed to do that, it will seriously undermine the intentions of this policy?

My Lords, I cannot confirm that, so I shall have to write to the noble Baroness. What I can say is that we are working with industry across a whole range of fronts to provide incentives for and improve compliance with these building regulations. After the 2006 changes, we embarked on the biggest training programme we have ever put in place, and we are continuing our dialogue with the industry. Last year we announced that we would be looking at building controls as a whole and are just about to introduce a consultation process to do that, because we need to sharpen up our enforcement of building controls. Those developments will make a real difference to compliance.

My Lords, in view of the limited progress made by the Government in achieving the 2010 carbon emissions target and in view of the importance of domestic boilers in this regard, will they consider making it a requirement that by, say, 2020, all boilers, including those already installed, will have to meet certain efficiency standards?

My Lords, as I have said, we are making real progress towards the introduction of condensing boilers, and I think that we are making good progress in terms of the 2010 target. Our assumed savings by that date are going to be in the order of 4 million tonnes from all dwellings. I will think hard about what the noble Lord has said because it is an important point.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that it is rather naive to suggest, as she did in her first Answer, that there is 100 per cent compliance with the regulations? Has she not heard, as I have, some of the horror stories told by owners moving into new-build houses and finding less than the proper amount of insulation in the roof, or even none at all? How many builders have been penalised for such breaches?

My Lords, we have some anecdotal evidence of the absence of compliance. Part of the problem with regard to insulation is that it is concealed, and that is why we are now taking systematic samples. I have no knowledge of prosecutions, and I am not entirely certain that we actually collect the data. However, I shall certainly get back to the noble Baroness about this.