Ecobuild 2013

Speech by Communities Minister Don Foster at the Ecobuild green building conference and exhibition.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The Rt Hon Don Foster

Every year the reputation of this exhibition grows. This is the place to come if you want to see the cutting edge of sustainable development. If you want to meet the ‘who’s who’ of the green world. For me it’s an occasion to listen and learn. I’ve been promised a tour of the new world later on. Cool concrete, living glass, the evolution of light. Sounds wonderful and shows just how far technology has come.

I’ll learn a lot today. In building a sustainable future we need education and we also need some regulation. But I know that, above all, you want certainty.

We’re doing a number of things to give people the confidence they need to build sustainably. We brought in the National Planning Policy Framework. It doesn’t just make it easier to build - boiling down 1,300 pages of guidance to a bite-size 50. It puts the focus firmly on sustainable development.

And we’ve brought in new energy certificates which now need to be displayed by all public buildings larger than 500m2. You’ll find one on display in my own office in Victoria.

But, here in the midst of Climate Week, as we seek to move towards zero carbon homes, I know you’ve one particular issue on your mind….

You want me to tell you what we’re going to do about Part L of the Building Regulations and upping those efficiency standards. As the letters and conversations I’ve had with the industry illustrate, you need to know where you stand.

Now this is something I’m working very hard on. Like you I want to get things sorted out quickly. I know the housing market abhors a vacuum. But the truth is these important decisions take time. They’re not as straightforward as we’d like them to be.

And that’s because competing pressures are at play. The housing situation in this country remains difficult. We’re desperate to give young people a foot on the ladder. To give families more room to grow. To make sure people who are struggling have an affordable roof over their heads.

That’s why we’re doing everything we can to meet the housing need; whether it’s building more homes, bringing more empty homes back into use, or reforming the crazy paving of housing standards. And I recently appointed a Challenge Panel - an independent group of experts - to free up the system.

So decisions on energy efficiency measures aren’t taken in a bubble. Reducing the carbon footprint for new homes will cost money. Which, in turn, if not properly managed, could act as a drag on other objectives - potentially resulting in fewer homes. At a time of economic fragility, we have to tread carefully.

So I’m attending the meetings, having the conversations, thrashing things out in order to strike the right balance. That’s what coalition government is all about. But we promised a statement on Part L of the building regulations in the spring and that’s what we will deliver. You will get the certainty you need.

But there’s more we can do now. The energy performance gap we’re facing is in the here and now. The emerging evidence shows not every home is living up to the sustainable performance standards set 3 years ago. There’s a gap between what these standards should deliver and the actual energy performance of many buildings. Whether it’s because of the way joints were constructed. Weaknesses in thermal envelope design or even a lack of clarity around the Standard Assessment Procedure.

We need to know more so we can close the gap. I think the answer is about more than narrow questions of regulation or education. That means building up a body of evidence, crunching the data and identifying solutions. And that’s not just my view. It’s what industry told me when we consulted.

Industry, the voluntary sector and government must work as one. Organisations like the Zero Carbon Hub are doing a fantastic job tackling our sustainability challenge. The way they’ve galvanised companies into backing the cause to the tune of more than £1 million is one measure of their success.

But I also know that the industry are looking for something more from us…

More than cheer them on from the sidelines…

Reassurance that we will be ready when the time comes to offer support and show we’re on their side.

Don Foster signing a document
Don Foster signs a funding agreement with Zero Carbon Hub for crucial research and testing

That time has come. I’ve come here to do more than just praise the Zero Carbon Hub. I want to reward them for their efforts and help them help us all to close the energy performance gap. So today I am delighted to announce we are granting the Hub £380,000 to unlock important research and testing. £380,000 I know will be used wisely to close the performance gap.

More than the money, I hope this will give industry the certainty it needs about where government’s intentions lie.

It’s important work the hub is doing. In fact, we’ve worked out that sorting the performance gap could save consumers up to £100 per year on their energy bills. At a time when people are coping with rising energy prices, going green can help balance the books.

Which brings me neatly to the Green Deal. A green fist that packs a sustainable punch. People can now make improvements to property without shelling out on upfront costs. What’s brilliant about the deal is that the cost and the credit have to be lower than the estimated savings you make on your energy bill. So whether you’re a homeowner or a small business you can save money as well as energy.

The Green Deal is going with the grain of consumer demand. Solidifying the low carbon market and creating the certainty companies need to invest.

So we’re working towards a brave new world of energy efficiency. We know there’s an urgent need to get on with it. Especially given the fact domestic buildings produce a quarter of UK emissions…

At times I feel that we’re going too slowly.

However, we must remember that changing carbon habits will always be harder than changing technology. But the evidence is that things are turning around.

Consumers are seeking out energy efficiency. Partnerships are being forged in the green heat of a new environmental world. Government is backing sustainability. So please keep the faith. Stick with it. Technology and team work can take us home. In London last year, right here in this very building, Britain hosted the most sustainable Games ever. If we can do that, then zero carbon should be well within our grasp. And I’m determined to do everything I can to make sure we reach out and grasp it.

Published 6 March 2013