Are we going to Build Back Better?

Transition Town Letchworth

Ivel Court where a planning application has been submitted for 24 apartments - Credit: Transition Town Letchworth

The North Herts District Council's Local Plan Examination is nearing its end, with the final modifications approved by the council last Tuesday for public consultation.

If the Examination Inspector approves the final Local Plan and the council adopts it, applications for significant numbers of new homes will probably be submitted to NHDC soon after that.

A recent government publication has advised that planning authorities have the right to set local energy efficiency targets for new homes. Transition Town Letchworth (TTL) have been making the case for sustainable development throughout the Local Plan process and are now lobbying for all new homes to be capable of operating at net zero carbon levels.

Homes built to this standard will, without any major retrofit to the fabric of the building, lower their carbon footprint as the National Grid decarbonises. TTL have shared with the district council an ambitious list of expectations of what needs to be covered in the Supplementary Planning Document that NHDC is intending to write to deliver energy efficient homes above national building standards.

The knowledge and technology exist today to build 'zero carbon' homes, and the lifetime cost of these homes should be less than homes built to current building standards.


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The Goldsmith Street development in Norwich is one of a growing number of examples of delivered, affordable, homes built to zero carbon standards.

In North Herts 3,839, (25 per cent) of new homes are planned to be built on land owned by either NHDC or Herts County Council; and in Letchworth nearly all of the Local Plan schemes are on land owned by either of these councils or by the Heritage Foundation. Landowners can specify the energy efficiency of homes that will be built on their land.

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Those of us living in Letchworth know how difficult it is to get permission to retrofit our homes to be energy efficient, and so we are expecting NHDC, HCC and the Heritage Foundation to commission homes that should never need to be retrofitted.

The zero carbon building standards for new homes are a useful reference for those of us looking to retrofit existing homes to lower our carbon footprint.

If you are planning building work then you may want to make sure your architect and builder deliver a home improvement that will help to minimise your carbon footprint and energy bills, rather than one that just meets the building regulations.

For a wall, this may mean an extra 6cm of insulation. TTL have developed a shared knowledge base on how to carry out home improvements which maximise energy efficiency benefits and we have first-hand experience of the resulting benefits.

2021 is definitely the year to start Building Back Better!

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