Drastic reduction in new home energy efficiency targets

House under construction
Image caption A stronger house building industry is seen as vital if the Welsh economy is to expand

Energy efficiency targets for all new homes built in Wales have been cut drastically by the Welsh government.

Building regulations will require an 8% cut in carbon emissions from next year, rather than the planned 40%, saving £4,000 on the cost of building a house.

Ministers said they had to balance green concerns with economic growth.

Friends of the Earth said it was "gobsmacked" by the way developers had "rolled over" the Welsh government but house builder Redrow welcomed the move.

Welsh government officials said reducing the target from a 40% to 8% cut compared to 2010 regulations would reduce the cost of building an average house in Wales by more than £4,000.

Housing Minister Carl Sargeant had been under pressure from developers, who had warned the tougher regulations were making it uneconomic to build homes in much of Wales.

Redrow chairman Steve Morgan warned last November that the rules would make the building of affordable housing no longer viable in areas such as Wrexham and the south Wales valleys.

'Right balance'

On Wednesday Mr Sargeant told the Welsh assembly's communities committee that he had tried to balance economic circumstances, including stimulating the economy and growth, jobs, training and development, against environmental needs and climate change targets.

"I think we've tried to strike that right balance," he said.

"It will never be enough for some - and I will also, I expect, receive a lobby from other organisations saying we've taken our feet off the gas.

"I'll be very clear, we haven't.

"We are committed to delivering this within the timescale we said, but it will be very challenging, it's just we've shaped the journey differently."

Friends of the Earth Cymru director Gareth Clubb said he was "absolutely gobsmacked" when he heard the news.

"The consultation included two options - the Welsh government's preferred option of 40% and a non-preferred option of 25%, which the Welsh government felt could lead house builders in the wrong direction," he said.

"To find that the Welsh government has gone for a figure which is less than one third as ambitious as the least ambitious target that was consulted on is just absolutely breathtaking.

"The Welsh government has been just rolled over by the house building lobby, there is no other explanation, absolutely none.

"Champagne corks will be popping in corporate headquarters right across the major house builders, because this is a development that the house builders will use to influence the legislatures in England, Scotland and elsewhere," he added.

Managing Director of Redrow South Wales Stuart Rowlands congratulated the minister for "listening to the voice of the industry".

"He certainly has relaxed some key areas that gives the industry some breathing space at a very difficult time".

Mr Rowlands said the "cumulative impact of everything" had been "crippling the industry".

"We're already, in my view, building more efficient houses in Wales, generally, than in England."

Struggling buyers

Mr Sargeant also told the committee that proposals to require new homes to be fitted with fire sprinklers would now be phased in between 2014 and 2016.

"From April 2014, the regulations will apply to high risk properties such as care homes, new and converted student halls of residence, boarding houses and certain hostels and from January 2016 to all new and converted houses and flats," Mr Sargeant said.

"This phasing will allow the house building industry to gain experience and skills, and gives the sector the opportunity to innovate and reduce the costs of installing sprinklers."

The minister also announced that a shared equity scheme, Help to Buy Cymru, would be launched later this year to support buyers struggling to get on the housing ladder.

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