Allowable Solutions – a local perspective on zero-carbon growth and carbon offset

Author: 11/12/2014

Since the Planning and Energy Act in 2008, local authorities have been exploring their legal opportunity to define challenging standards for improving the energy performance of new development over and above Building Regulation requirements.

Milton Keynes Carbon Offset Fund

Even earlier in 2004, the National Energy Foundation, in partnership with Milton Keynes Council, Milton Keynes Energy Agency and English Partnerships, undertook a pioneering feasibility study of a carbon-capping regime for the new city. This was funded by the Energy Saving Trust’s Innovation Programme.

It was proposed that zero-carbon growth could be achieved by reducing emissions from new developments by making use of renewable energy or, as an interim measure, making payments into a Carbon Offset Fund. This fund would be used elsewhere in Milton Keynes to reduce carbon emissions by cutting energy use or producing renewable energy. The Local Plan included a policy requiring zero-carbon development with an option for payment into a Carbon Offset Fund where on-site carbon neutrality was not the developer's preferred course of action.

Notwithstanding the legal complexities and developer objections to the Local Plan policy, the Carbon Offset Fund was eventually established in 2008. The Milton Keynes Energy Agency, and latterly the National Energy Foundation, have assisted the council in developing and managing a variety of local energy efficiency projects within the borough and use the fund to reduce carbon emissions. To date, projects funded through the Carbon Offset Fund have cumulatively offset over 5,000 tonnes of CO2. Projects include:

  • Subsidised loft and cavity wall insulation.
  • Local authority housing refurbishment.
  • Light bulb amnesty.
  • Boiler cashback scheme.
  • Solid wall insulation grant.
  • Age UK energy efficiency improvement scheme.

Government's stepped policy approach to zero-carbon homes

The Government is now advancing the same type of mechanism, which it is callng ‘Allowable Solutions’.

“….we recognise that it is not always technically feasible or cost effective to meet the zero carbon homes standard purely through measures on site.

So while we intend to set a more stretching minimum on-site energy performance standard for new homes from 2016, we will also put in place a cost effective and flexible mechanism to allow house builders to meet the remainder of the zero carbon target by supporting off-site carbon abatement measures termed ‘allowable solutions’.

A role for local authorities in Affordable Solutions?

The proposed role of local authorities in Allowable Solutions is to work with house builders, but in the context of a national framework rather than their own local authority arrangements. Strategic carbon abatement schemes are mooted but not defined, and measures are not to be tied to specific locations.

The framework is proposed to be established through the Building Regulations and not planning. Furthermore, the Government states it will work with industry and local authorities to develop appropriate arrangements for the verification and certification of allowable solutions. Here at the National Energy Foundation, we are in the process of approaching the Department for Communities and Local Government to participate in this work.

The decision is still to be made as to whether to go for a criteria-based approach or to define a statutory list, which could be set out in secondary legislation. The overriding aim is not to rule anything out at this stage as long as they are capable of delivering verifiable carbon savings at a cost-effective price.

Pricing is also still to be determined with further analysis before a decision is made. Once the price cap has been determined, it will be reviewed every three years.

The next general election will determine the future of Allowable Solutions - either as a nationally administered scheme or, as local authorities would prefer, locally administered and targeted to improve existing building stock and reduce carbon emissions.

How can we help your local authority with Allowable Solutions?

  • Assisting your council identify and develop appropriate schemes for funding.
  • Working with your Building Control teams to get prepared for the development of the Allowable Solutions framework.