Despite widespread local concerns, targets imposed by Whitehall mean that 33,500 new homes have to be built in Greater Cambridge (ie South Cambs and Cambridge City) by 2031. There was infuriatingly little democratic accountability in setting this target, but we do have a real opportunity to influence the sort of homes that get built.
This is because our councils are just starting on the process of creating a new Greater Cambridge Local Plan, which guides development and sets the local rules that developers have to follow (at least in theory) for the next decade.
There are, of course, complicated restrictions imposed by central government on what can be done, but at our recent Zero Carbon Futures symposium, we discovered some key things that community minded citizens should be demanding.
Firstly, Local Plans are legally required to be in line with the requirements of the Climate Act, and this now requires the UK to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Although to date most councils have ignored this, they’re unlikely to be able to get away with it in future. Given our Councils’ recent Climate Emergency declarations and commitments to reduce carbon emissions to Net Zero, we’re calling on them to do their duty and develop an exemplar Local Plan that is clearly in line with the requirements of the Climate Act.
Secondly, given the longevity of housing, achieving Net Zero means that the new Local Plan clearly must require all new housing to be Zero Carbon. Both London and Reading have set a Zero Carbon Standard for their new homes. This requires developers to build homes that are up to about 1/3 more energy efficient than required by Building Regulations, use renewables and offset any remaining emissions by paying into a fund. This money is then used for things like retrofitting council houses so tenants have lower bills too.
Although many developers will claim they can’t afford this, the evidence shared at our symposium made it clear that this is not true. For example, the law says that if a developer pays too much for the land, that’s their problem: they still have to meet the required standards. But the other key fact is that the additional costs of ultra-low carbon homes are modest. For example, evidence submitted to the Committee on Climate Change showed that by the early 2020s (when the Local Plan will come into force) a well-designed ultra-low carbon semi-detached house might cost just £4500 extra, but it would cost virtually nothing to heat. I suspect most of us would think that was a good deal!
More information on the findings of the symposium is here, or to help our campaign, do contact us