What do you see as the biggest
challenges arising from Net Zero?
“Net Zero is an incredibly complicated way of dealing with energy efficiency and its wider environmental and societal impacts. I’m not entirely sure it’s the right way to do things. What concerns me is how we are off-siting and othering our carbon capture. There are also multiple ways to assess Net Zero in housing which can be confusing.
“As a nation, we tend to claim that our carbon footprint is small compared to countries such as India and China – but guess where the vast majority of our consumer products are produced? As a developed nation, we have to hold up our hand to the fact that we have the greatest impact on the environment. In developing nations, a lot of life revolves around recycling, reusing and repairing. We don't do any of that; we are a throwaway society.
”Achieving Net Zero within our housing stock is going to be a costly effort, at a time when build costs continue to rise and the market is hardening. Retrofitting is even more expensive, prohibitively so for average householders, and adding in Net Zero to new builds may mean that some schemes become financially unviable. I predict that planners may be facing having to balance the delivery of much needed affordable housing with the need to address climate change, along with funding improvements in education, transport, green infrastructure and don’t get me started on biodiversity net gain!
“Ultimately, we need to engineer our way out of these problems, and one of the ways to do this is to lead on technology, design and innovation and share this knowledge with others so that technology can become accessible and scalable. This is a far better approach to encouraging people around the world to reduce the impacts of climate change. And this needs to happen urgently because I completely subscribe to the view that we are facing an absolute climate emergency.”
What are your views on section 106 and the proposed changes in this area?
“Section 106 is a case of ‘better the Devil you know’. Although it’s a bit clunky and has proved frustrating at times, it does, in essence, provide a negotiable deal between a developer and a local authority, where viability issues are taken into consideration so that the developer is not penalised for any remediation work required to make a brownfield site as viable for development as a ‘virgin’ greenfield site. Section 106 acts as an incredibly important negotiation mechanism and appears to work, in the majority of cases.
“What I find interesting is the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) as an adjunct to S106 to provide a means for capturing growth in land value. If the CIL remains at a suitably low level, it often doesn’t impinge on viability. However, we know the Government is now moving away from Section 106 towards a different setup with an infrastructure levy – essentially, a mandatory development land tax.
“I can't get my head around how on earth that can work and successive governments have failed to implement it. As far as I can see, we get a lot of ‘brownfield first’ coming out of government but they’ll soon find that it’s actually ‘brownfield not at all’ because developers will feel completely disincentivised to take on these kinds of sites.”
We'll soon be releasing a longer interview with Sian, including her take on the planning system and her frustrations with – and passion for – the development sector.