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Court challenge for housing developments

Government green homes roadblock faces legal challenge
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

A government ‘roadblock’ on councils setting higher energy-efficiency standards for new housing developments faces a challenge in court.

Good Law Project is supporting Rights Community Action to launch legal action over a government policy which is delaying efforts to tackle fuel poverty and slowing the transition to net zero.

The government’s climate change advisers have warned that all new buildings must be ‘zero carbon’ by 2025 if the UK is to meet its legally binding net zero targets.

But a recent report by KPMG has identified the lack of energy-efficient homes as one of the weakest links in the UK’s efforts to reach net zero – and a key area where it is lagging behind its European neighbours.

Fuel poverty in England

The latest government figures show that in 2022, over three million English households were in fuel poverty.

Improving energy efficiency in homes has been identified as one of the key solutions.

Despite this, in December 2023, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities issued a Ministerial statement which limits the ability of local authorities to go further than building regulations through local plan policies that require developers to implement higher standards of energy efficiency in new housing schemes.

‘In the midst of a climate emergency and with millions of households struggling to pay their heating bills, we think the government’s roadblock to delivering more energy efficient homes is not just illogical, but unlawful.

‘That’s why we’re going through the courts to make it easier for councils to be at the forefront of unlocking the next generation of green homes.’

Good Law Project’s legal manager

The legal challenge

Rights Community Action, supported by Good Law Project, has now launched a legal challenge against the government, arguing the Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) undermines local authority powers in an unlawful fashion that goes against the objectives of the Climate Change Act 2008.

In addition, the challenge argues that the government has failed to properly apply its own Environment Act 2021, which requires policy to be assessed properly for its environmental impacts.

The legal challenge follows a joint letter sent to Secretary of State Michael Gove by local authorities and campaigners, opposing his department’s ‘unnecessarily draconian’ statement.

The letter urges the government to ‘clarify the policy in the WMS by making clear that local planning authorities can adopt standards in local plans which… go beyond building regulations so long as such policy is robustly evidenced and viable.’

‘Communities and local councils in England have been developing and adopting zero carbon plans for places, but the government seems determined to smash any local hopes, instead dictating a sub-standard approach, failing to apply its own environmental assessment procedures to the policy that has been announced.

‘In November, the court heard the case of Salt Cross Garden Village, where the government argued in favour of the decision to remove key zero carbon policies from an area action plan for a new development, which was supported by local communities and led by the council. Grosvenor, the developer, objected to these policies and attempted to water down the communities’ climate aspirations.      

‘The government has again acted to undermine its own policy on net zero homes, making our vital carbon reduction targets even harder to achieve. This is the first test of the government’s own Environment Act 2021 policy principles, and it has woefully underperformed. Building homes that are warm, generate their own electricity, and provide safety and security to people should be the priority of any practical, forward-thinking and knowledgeable government.’

Director of Rights Community Action

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