Leading the way on net-zero housing

construction crane on a building site

Leading the way it seems – Bath and North East Somerset has become the first council in England to successfully adopt an energy-based net zero housing policy as part of its commitment to tackling the climate emergency.   

The new housing development policy will ensure the energy use of any proposed development is measured and meets a specified target — setting a limit on the total energy use and demand for space heating. It will also require sufficient on-site renewable energy generation to match the total energy consumption of the buildings — ensuring the development is 100% self-sufficient.

New policies will also address building emissions such as a policy to limit carbon emissions resulting from the materials used in the construction of large-scale developments. These ‘upfront’ embodied carbon emissions will be limited to 900kgCO2e/m2.

The council will also impose net zero operational carbon standards for new major non-residential development.

The ground-breaking move follows the approval at a special meeting of Council where The Local Plan Partial Update (LPPU), which updates parts of the current Local Plan to better address council priorities including the climate and ecological emergencies, was adopted.

The Local Plan sets out the basis for decision making on development and the use of land that requires planning permission across B&NES. The adopted LPPU includes some changes, known as main modifications, that were suggested by an independent planning inspector to ensure the Local Plan Partial Update (LPPU) would be sound and legally compliant. They were consulted on last year.

The LPPU includes specific policies that will secure net zero development, help facilitate the delivery of renewable energy installations of an appropriate scale in the most suitable locations and further encourage the shift towards more sustainable forms of transport.

It will also help to replenish housing supply, enabling the council to meet its housing requirement in a planned way and have greater control over speculative planning applications. In addition, the LPPU will help the council to better manage off-campus, purpose-built student accommodation schemes where they meet a demonstrable need.

Councillor Tim Ball, cabinet member for Planning and Licensing, said: “Adoption of the Local Plan Partial Update (LPPU) ensures our policies are aligned with the latest national policy and put us at the forefront nationally with policies related to the climate and ecological emergencies. Bath & North East Somerset Council is the first Local Planning Authority (LPA) in England to have an adopted Local Plan policy requiring a net zero energy balance for new housing and we are the first in the West of England to adopt a biodiversity net gain (BNG) policy.”

The new Biodiversity Net Gain policy requires major developments to demonstrate a Biodiversity Net Gain of a minimum of 10% which is secured in perpetuity, for at least 30 years. Minor developments will only be permitted where no net loss and appropriate net gain of biodiversity is secured.

The council liaised with Cornwall Council and used their evidence base to support the new net zero construction policy. Their similar policy has been found sound by an inspector and will be considered for adoption in February.

The recent adoption of the Sustainable Construction Checklist SPD provides the reporting framework to demonstrate compliance with the new sustainable construction policies and the council’s partnership with the University of Bath will help to evaluate implementation and industry response.

The policy is the first new housing policy to be net-zero aligned based on 2030 trajectories of industry-leading organisations such as the London Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE).

Cllr Sarah Warren

Cllr Sarah Warren, who is the Cabinet members for Climate and Sustainable Travel, made the following speech to the special meeting – before the policy was voted upon and adopted.

“Chair, our Local Plan Partial Update was prompted with the key aim of providing a response in planning policy to our declarations of climate and ecological emergency. It breaks new boundaries with its new process for identifying land for renewables, as well as taking our Park & ride sites out of the Green Belt to permit installation of renewables. However, I want to focus tonight on energy efficiency in new build housing.

Nationally, the UK’s housing stock is some of the least energy efficient in Europe, due in part to the difficulty for those local councils who seek better performance from developers, of requiring this under National Planning Policy. Emissions from the built environment account for 66% of carbon emissions in B&NES, of which residential buildings contribute 38%. This is why it is essential that we prioritise trailblazing standards of sustainable construction in B&NES by adopting the updated policy this evening.

If we vote in support tonight, as of this evening Bath and North East Somerset Council will become the first local authority in the country to have successfully implemented a net zero new housing policy that specifically limits total energy use and space heating, and requires sufficient on-site renewable energy to match total energy use.

Our ground-breaking new energy-based targets are significant as they are much clearer to enforce than our previous ones. In exceptional circumstances, where offsetting of renewables provision is permitted, the funds raised will be used to install solar PV on low-income households and social housing. No local authority has hitherto had this approach adopted in a Local Plan.

In addition to creating truly net zero homes, that will halt greenhouse gas contributions from new housing, the policy will virtually outlaw gas boilers in new build, whilst ensuring comfortable, well-insulated, net zero homes for residents that are cost effective to heat during a cost of living crisis. It will also increase B&NES’ energy security, whilst boosting rooftop renewables installation around the district, minimising the need for greenfield renewables sites in meeting our generation targets.

The adoption of the policy at B&NES sets a precedent that these standards can be implemented in planning policy, and encourages other authorities to do the same. This policy can now be replicated across the country to drive delivery of net zero homes nationwide.

I want to particularly thank officers, local campaigners, and even national campaigning organisations such as Client Earth, who have provided the council with so much support in reaching this incredible result this evening. I am delighted to support the recommendations.”

More information on the LPPU can be found on the council website.

The decision has also been welcomed by Bath’s MP Wera Hobhouse who also happens to be the Lib Dem spokesperson on the Climate Emergency.

She commented:

“I’m so proud of my Liberal Democrat colleagues for spearheading forward-looking policies, making Bath and North East Somerset the first council in England to approve an energy-based Net Zero housing policy as part of its commitment to tackling the climate emergency. Our Council is also the first in the West of England to adopt a biodiversity net gain (BNG) policy.”

“With our national Government abdicating leadership on climate action, it is our local authorities which must step up by taking positive, concrete action. The Conservatives have missed Net Zero target after Net Zero target.

B&NES Council is fighting against this tide of Government inaction and must be looked to as a role model for others to follow. To complete the green transition in time, local governments must be empowered to effect real change in our communities – change that residents can see for themselves.” 

1 Comment

  1. Richard, a much faster and larger impact would come from relaxing the draconian rules for windows in listed buildings in Bath. My Georgian terrace house leaks air terribly. I would like to replace the existing sash windows with a look-alike double pane, but it is not permitted. Given the number of such windows in Bath, think of the benefit. The Council congratulates itself on actions that sound good but have a small effect and don’t rock the boat.
    George Feiger

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