3 October 2016: London’s Zero Carbon Homes planning policy officially started on the 1st of October. Attending a recent industry workshop around the new ZCH rules – it’s clear that many organisations involved in the sector are still not quite aware of what this this all means. Hence answers to some of the most frequently asked questions raised follow below.

  • What exactly started on 1 October 2016?

All new planning applications in London for residential projects above 10 units will now need to provide an energy assessment which will set out how the development will achieve a zero carbon status.

  • When was this first announced?

There have been no announcements by the GLA that this new ZCH policy was going to commence from 1 October. Instead, information has largely had to be gleaned from new planning documentation and a number of recent responses by the Mayor to questions.  The new policy and its implications were first picked up in a post on the Energy for London website here, following the publication of a new GLA Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) document on Housing.

  • Where is detail behind this policy set out?

Three GLA planning documents set out the new policy requirements to some extent: they are the SPG on Sustainable Design and Construction; the SPG on Housing and a GLA Preparing Energy Assessment guidance paper.

  • Erm…anything shorter..?!

Architects Journal recently ran an article on the new ZCH requirements (Comply or cough up: Unpicking London’s radical zero carbon rules) in which the GLA summarised details of the policy. This is copied below:

What is zero carbon? Starting on the 1 October, the London Plan Policy 5.2, Minimising Carbon Dioxide Emissions, will require residential projects of more than 10 homes to go beyond the currently required 35 per cent reduced carbon and instead head for zero carbon. In England, the government definition of a zero carbon home is one where CO2 emissions from regulated energy use – such as heating, hot water, fans and lighting – are reduced to zero, meaning that there are no annual net carbon emissions.

Zero carbon in London will require a minimum 35 per cent reduction below Building Regulations Part L 2013 on site, with any remaining carbon shortfall accounted for with an offset payment of £60 per tonne of carbon dioxide per year for a period of 30 years. This will typically result in payments of between £1,000 and £2,000 per dwelling to the local borough, to be earmarked for carbon dioxide savings elsewhere. Projects that can demonstrate zero-carbon compliance on site will not have to pay this cash levy.

‘Zero carbon’ is achieved using a combination of three factors: fabric, on-site measures and off-site measures (which could including the offset payment to the local authority). The current definition of zero carbon does not include ‘plug-in’ appliances, such as computers and televisions. Moreover, a zero-carbon home is not limited to renewable energy. Surplus energy from renewables generated on site – for example photovoltaic cells during summer – could be used to offset non-renewable energy taken off site from the National Grid at another point in the year.

  • Is there any additional information on the new £60/tonne offset payment policy?

The London Plan has had policies in place to allow for offset payments to be made for sometime – but, before doing so, councils would need to provide an evidence base establishing the price per tonne of carbon being applied. In practice, few  managed to work through this – Islington being one major exception (see here). A GLA Housing Viability Assessment has now set out that a price of £60 per tonne of CO2 can be used by boroughs, with no further analysis being required (see earlier post for detail). It should be noted the Olympic Park planning authority also has a zero planning policy in place and last month published planning guidance on its carbon offsetting policy.

  • What will councils do with the carbon offset payments?

A series of MQT questions to the Mayor provided some detail on this – see the following post.

With the then Chancellor abandoning the Zero Carbon Homes pledge  in 2015 and the subsequent closure of the Zero Carbon Hub, London’s policy and progress on implementing ZCH has now become nationally – and even internationally – important.

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