Unfortunately the planning inspector Simon Emerson has removed B&NES council’s requirement for new homes to be built to Code for Sustainable Homes level 5 from the Core Strategy. He has also increased the number of homes to be built in Bath from 11,700 to 13,000 as a result of reducing the affordable homes requirement from 35% to 30% in areas outside Central Bath.
We feel that Mr Emerson has bent over backwards to do what the big builders asked, in disagreement with the council’s requirements for higher standards and fewer homes. The big builders appear to have more control over policy than the local council. We also feel that he has overstepped his powers; in that the Deregulation Bill which stops council’s imposing higher standards, will not be enforced until after the next general election in 2016 when the Zero Carbon Homes building regulations are due to be introduced (see below). We also feel that with rising house prices the reduction in affordable homes requirements outside central Bath, with the consequent increased requirement of 13,000 homes in total cannot be justified in the face of rising house prices (see below).
The changes are due to be debated by the council on July 10th, but they are no longer negotiable, so there is nothing Transition Bath can do to influence any further changes.
The inspector removed the Code for Sustainable Homes requirement because of what he claimed was ‘Government Trajectory’. This ‘trajectory’ has been driven by the influence of large house builders who claim that by reducing requirements on them and allowing them to build to minimum standards they will build more homes – something Transition Bath disputes.
Amendment to Deregulation Bill Defeated
The amendment to the Deregulation Bill that Transition Bath supported which would have allowed local authorities to continue to specify higher levels of sustainability in new homes have been defeated by 209 votes to 272 . Unfortunately our local MP, Don Foster, despite our petition voted against the amendment.
Although the amendment was defeated the government has provided assurances minimum standards introduced in the Deregulation Bill will not be enforced until the 2016 Zero Carbon Homes standard is introduced – more information is available here and here.
Infrastructure Bill redefines ‘Zero Carbon Homes’ – again
In the Queen’s Speech the government also announced its plans for Zero Carbon Homes under the Infrastructure Bill, ‘Zero Carbon Homes’ have been redefined, and are no longer ‘Zero Carbon’ but something equivalent to Code for Sustainable Homes level 4 and a carbon offset called Allowable Solutions to offset some of the rest of the homes’ carbon emissions. Our analysis suggests that this new definition will have roughly double the carbon emissions compared to the previously agreed definition (equivalent to Code for Sustainable Homes level 5) which in itself was not zero carbon! The previous definition of ‘Zero Carbon Homes’ was itself watered down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the March 2011 budget.
The Infrastructure Bill also promotes oil production and fracking and appears to be incompatible with the UK’s Climate Change Obligation, as George Monbiot puts it provides”a legal duty to maximise greenhouse gas emissions“.
Reduction in affordable homes requirements means more market homes
The inspector has reduced the requirement for affordable homes outside central Bath from 35% to 30%. This means that homes will have to be built to satisfy the requirement for affordable homes. This increases the total number of homes to be built from 11,700 to 13,000.
We don’t think this can be justified and feel the inspector has ignored the following legitimate arguments
- House prices in Bath have risen by 10% in the last year, which means that a imposing 35% affordable homes is viable, we believe the inspector has based his analysis on old out of date house prices
- By removing the requirement for Code for Sustainable Homes level 5, sites will be cheaper to develop increasing the funding available for affordable homes
- The inspector’s argument than land for building will not come forward because of the costs imposed on the developers by the council as a result of their affordable homes requirement is clearly false. For land to not come forward the value of the land which is defined by the selling price of the homes minus the development costs must be greater than the value of the land in its current use. The agricultural land in the Bath area is values at about £25,000 per hectare, but the average land value of recent land sales (e.g. MOD sites, Keynsham West) has been £2.5 million per hectare. It is clear that a farmer unlikely not to sell his/her land for development, given the development values is 100 times its current agricultural value. It is clear that the council imposed additional costs are not an impediment to land coming forward, and it is clear there is sufficient margin to impose higher levels of affordable homes perhaps up to 45% – which would significantly reduce the need to build 13,000 homes
To resolve this we feel the council needs to re-assess its viability studies which determines what level of affordable homes is economically justified using updated sales prices and lower sustainable building standards.