So, it’s all change: we have a new Labour Government. A Government that has pledged to ease the UK’s housing crisis by building 1.5 million homes in five years, starting with restoring mandatory housebuilding targets for local authorities.

We all know the multiple, mammoth hurdles to achieving this: our overburdened and archaic planning system, weak incentives for developers, land supply and cost, and of course, supply chain issues.

We are also facing a climate and ecological crisis, which means any new home built must achieve net-zero emissions. But there are some - most notably government departments and volume housebuilders - who fear that adding robust energy efficiency and renewable energy requirements on new homes, necessary to help meet the UK’s legally binding target to reach net zero by 2050, will prove yet another brake on new house building.

Indeed, in December last year the Government issued a Written Ministerial Statement that told us that local energy efficiency standards that exceeded current or planned national building regulations ‘should be rejected’ unless they follow a less accurate methodology defined by central government.

The WMS has no consultation or evidence behind it, but of course was a big blow to local authorities keen to meet their commitments to tackling the climate emergency and our legally binding climate targets. We are part of an alliance, including the Good Homes Alliance (GHA), Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA) and the Low Energy Transformation Initiative (LETI), that’s seeking to revoke it.

But we have a new Government now: a Government that is making big announcements on housing already and has promised to 'take tough action to ensure that planning authorities have up-to-date Local Plans and reform and strengthen the presumption in favour of sustainable development'.

And, based on our research with three local authorities, there is emerging evidence that stronger energy efficiency standards do not negatively impact housing supply.

Cause for optimism: our research on three local authorities

Solar panels on roof

We've crunched the numbers on Bath & North East Somerset, Cornwall, and Central Lincolnshire. Each has declared climate emergencies, and each now has a Local Plan that uses best practice absolute energy metrics: energy use intensity (the total energy a building consumes) and space heating demand (units of heat required to comfortably heat a building).

These policies align with the sectoral action required to meet our national commitments under the 2008 Climate Change Act and go further than both current building regulations and the proposed new Future Homes Standard. Crucially, they are underpinned by comprehensive evidence demonstrating both feasibility and viability.

Our research found the following:


  • After the Council adopted its progressive Development Plan Document (DPD) on 15 June 2023, applications for planning permission for new housing increased by 8.5%, from 1,354 applications for housing developments in Q2 2023 to 1,469 applications in Q3 2023.
  • Notably, there was no sudden increase in applications before the adoption of the DPD, which is what is normally expected when new and improved policy standards are imminent.

Bath & North East Somerset

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  • After the council adopted its DPD in January 2023, accepted residential applications increased by 7.7% from 104 in 2022 to 112 in 2023. There was no change in the number of applications refused permission.
  • The above data shows that refusal rates have not been impacted by the introduction of policies using absolute energy metrics, strongly suggesting that these policies have not affected housing supply. It could even indicate that the new policies may even improve the viability of schemes with higher energy efficiency standards.

Central Lincolnshire

  • The picture is slightly less clear. The Council adopted its new DPD in June 2023, and while applications approved for major residential projects show no big change from a 2021-22 average (17 applications in the period June - December 2021 compared to 16 from June - December 2023), applications for minor housing projects reduced by 46.8% from 160 to 85 applications.
  • This is likely due to Central Lincolnshire’s higher standards for energy use intensity and space heating demand compared to B&NES and Cornwall. This might suggest that stronger standards could inhibit minor applications rather than the metric themselves, but it would be unwise to draw such a conclusion based on one local authority.

What does this all mean, and how can we help?

Clearly, more research is needed across a larger sample size to be confident about our preliminary findings and the conclusions that can be drawn. But what they appear to indicate is that energy-based net-zero policies needn’t be a barrier to delivering new homes at scale. Given the vanishing window we have to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown, this research is needed urgently to drive forward innovation and calm nerves in the industry.

...all progressive local authorities should be encouraged by these findings

It’s also clear that investment will be needed in training and upskilling of local energy assessors as well as planning departments. But this will be the case whatever new requirements and metrics are formalised.

While we hope and expect that the new Government will strengthen the proposed Future Homes Standard and revoke the 2023 WMS, the upskilling of local energy assessors to model development energy performance using absolute energy metrics poses no additional burden beyond what will be required through the introduction of the Home Energy Model, which will be used to demonstrate compliance with the Future Homes Standard.

It’s too early to see whether our new Government’s actions will be as good as its word. But all progressive local authorities should be encouraged by these findings.

And we can help. We can provide local authorities with a comprehensive evidence base to support policy development and implementation, offering a range of policy approaches to best suit the ambitions and setting of your local area. We are experienced in upskilling planning departments and can support you through the local plan examination process, having helped more than a dozen local authorities do the same.

Learn more about our solutions for local authorities here.

Looking for support? Get in touch with our Director of Sustainable Places, Lewis Knight:

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