Inquiry launched to see how construction industry can meet net zero targets

A UK Parliamentary inquiry has been launched to see how the construction industry can meet net zero targets.

The industry is responsible for about 10% of the country’s carbon emissions and now the Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has announced it will look at why assessing embodied carbon in construction is not required by current government policy, despite extensive building policies such as producing 300,000 homes a year and relaxing planning rules to allow underused residential and commercial buildings to be demolished and rebuilt.

The Architects’ Journal has been running a RetroFirst campaign to prioritise retrofit over demolition and rebuild and has submitted evidence to the EAC, calling on the Government to ‘correct the disparity’ between the zero rate of VAT on new-build construction and the full rate charged on retrofitting.

In a recent Architects’ Journal article, EAC chairman Philip Dunne MP, said: ‘The RetroFirst campaign highlights how we should all be looking at retrofits and new builds.

‘We must make the best use of existing buildings, improving where it is feasible and affordable to do so and avoiding demolishing to rebuild for convenience. It is very much how we should look at sectors across the economy.

‘For decades we have been constructing homes and buildings with concrete and steel, with little thought to the carbon footprint involved. While government policy incentivising a housebuilding boom could contradict its net zero ambitions, there is an opportunity for innovation as we explore low-carbon and sustainable building materials.

‘Our new inquiry will consider how we can decarbonise construction and the opportunities that may arise, and I invite anyone with thoughts to submit evidence.’

The Committee on Climate Change has already recommended the government develop policies to minimise the whole life carbon impact of new buildings including increasing the use of timber.

Now the EAC has undertaken to examine progress in this area and how greater use can be made of other sustainable materials in the industry.

Areas covered by the EAC inquiry include:

  • To what extent have the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on decarbonising the structural fabric of new homes been met?
  • How can materials be employed to reduce the carbon impact of new buildings, including efficient heating and cooling, and which materials are most effective at reducing embodied carbon?
  • What role can nature-based materials play in achieving the government’s net zero ambition?
  • What role can the planning system, permitted development and building regulations play in delivering a sustainable built environment? How can these policies incentivise developers to use low carbon materials and sustainable design?
  • What methods account for embodied carbon in buildings and how can this be consistently monitored and applied across the sector?
  • Should the embodied carbon impact of alternative building materials take into account the carbon cost of manufacture and delivery to site, enabling customers to assess the relative impact of imported versus domestically sourced materials?
  • How well is green infrastructure being incorporated into building design and developments to achieve climate resilience and other benefits?
  • How should we take into account the use of materials to minimise carbon footprint, such as use of water harvesting from the roof, grey water circulation, separate foul and surface water drainage systems, porous surfaces for hardstanding, energy generation systems such as solar panels?
  • How should re-use and refurbishment of buildings be balanced with new developments?
  • What can the government do to incentivise more repair, maintenance and retrofit of existing buildings?

To submit written evidence to the inquiry, click here.