Low Carbon Housing: the challenge A National Assembly for Wales abstract on the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee inquiry into low carbon housing

Housing is responsible for 13% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 8% of Welsh emissions

We are facing significant challenges in meeting our climate change commitments. A reduction in emissions of 80% by 2050 will require bold and decisive long-term action by the Welsh Government.

Making housing in Wales more energy efficient will be one of the main ways of achieving this. The difficulties we face are compounded by the nature of Wales’ existing housing stock. It is old – the oldest in Europe.

Why is this important?

Energy efficiency is a measure of the amount of energy used to do things like provide heat and hot water, which is the largest use of energy in houses. Improving energy efficiency means getting more from the energy that is used. Low carbon or zero carbon homes are designed and constructed to release very little or no carbon at all during their lifetimes, and are therefore very energy efficient.

65 - 70 per cent of the housing stock that will be in existence in the 2050s is likely to have been built before 2000

Improving the quality of our housing will also enable Wales to meet its international and domestic obligations to reduce emissions.

In undertaking the inquiry, the Committee considered the following:-

  • What role can housing can play in Wales’ low carbon transition, including the potential positive impacts on greenhouse gas emissions?;
  • The development and availability of technology needed for highly energy efficient housing;
  • What changes are needed to ensure that existing housing stock is as energy efficient as it can be?
  • Whether it is possible and feasible to deliver low carbon, energy positive, affordable housing at scale in Wales and, if so, how this can be achieved;
  • What are the barriers to delivering transformative change in house building in Wales?
  • What is the role of Ofgem and the national grid in enabling grid evolution to accommodate new types of housing, and what are the challenges presented by decentralised energy supply?
  • Whether Wales has the requisite skills to facilitate and enable change in the housing sector;
  • What changes are needed to Building Regulations in Wales to accelerate progress towards ‘near zero’ energy standards and beyond?
  • How communities can be planned and shaped to be more energy efficient and low carbon (including examples of good practice in Wales and further afield).

The Committee's report demands an ambitious vision from the Welsh Government. The scale and pace of delivering highly energy efficient homes needs to be urgently increased, or it will fail to meet the challenges it faces.

What the Committee did


In addition to a Committee visit to the SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre at Swansea University, a partnership developing technology to turn buildings into power stations, a survey was created and a number of video interviews held with people from across Wales to test public attitudes to low carbon housing.

Surveys were completed by a diverse range of Welsh citizens of different ages, with different living circumstances and in different locations - from Monmouthshire to Pembrokeshire, and from the Vale of Glamorgan to the Isle of Anglesey. We also wanted the survey to reflect the views of the wider public and not just those who consider themselves to be the most passionate about environmental causes.

We received a total of 970 responses to the survey which revealed the following:-

  • When thinking about the type of home they would like to live in 9 in 10 respondents to the survey felt that the affordability to rent or buy, and the running costs of the property were the most important factors;
  • 67% of respondents felt that the environmental credentials of the property were important or very important, higher than the 64% who felt that the visual appeal of the property was important or very important.
  • "Warm and comfortable" (54.6%), "Practical" (49.5%) and "Cheap to run" (43.9%) were the most common words chosen by respondents to the survey to describe their opinion of low carbon homes.
  • However, half of our respondents were not sure if they felt that low carbon or zero carbon homes were attractive and 42% weren't sure if low carbon or zero carbon homes are affordable to buy or rent.

We also conducted a series of video interviews with people from across Wales, from Swansea to Gwynedd and Cardiff to Denbighshire. Again, we were eager to gather a range of views and those interviewed varied from people who did not consider themselves to be very environmentally conscious to key stakeholders within the sector.

A number of themes emerged which informed subsequent evidence sessions and the recommendations made to the Welsh Government in the Committee's report. You can view the full video below.

Committee members Dai Lloyd AM, Mike Hedges AM (Chair) and David Melding AM with staff members from SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre at Swansea University on 19 January 2018.

We also heard evidence that the Welsh Government needs to do more in a number of areas. A variety of key stakeholders and witnesses submitted written evidence and/ or participated in oral evidence sessions at the Senedd.

What we heard

The importance of low carbon and zero carbon homes

There are many reasons why we should improve the energy efficiency of our housing stock. The most pressing is the need to deliver on legal obligations to eliminate fuel poverty and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

Our view

A ten year route map towards zero carbon housing

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government must prepare and publish a ten year low carbon housing strategy. The strategy must include milestones and targets and must deliver, within its lifetime:

  • The retrofit of all houses in fuel poverty in Wales to zero carbon in operation standards;
  • All new build houses in Wales to be built to zero carbon in operation standards;
  • A complimentary planning and building system with low carbon and energy efficiency at their centres, and supported by rigorous, independent inspection regimes;
  • Financial incentives to encourage buyers and owners to buy low carbon housing and invest in retrofit measures;
  • Funding interventions that maximise the impact of Welsh Government investment in low carbon housing; and
  • A fully trained workforce, ready to construct and improve homes using the latest technologies.

What we heard

Building zero carbon homes for the next generation

The Committee heard evidence of the need to ensure that low carbon solutions are embedded at the design and planning stage of housing developments, for instance by planning for reduced reliance on car travel.

The Committee heard a range of views about the extent to which changes to building regulations can facilitate a shift to low carbon house building. Concerns were expressed that raising standards in Wales may discourage housebuilders from building in Wales, whilst others feel that an ambitious new standard is necessary to drive change.

"As part of my decision I did consider whether the property was environmentally friendly, partly from an energy efficiency perspective, because I was taking on a mortgage and wanted to make sure that my heating bills weren't going to be really huge. I think at the time there was an energy performance certificate and I remember that I looked at that and it was a pretty good outcome so it was a positive for me. It wasn't the most important factor though, the location, the size and those kind of things were more important but it was something I considered as part of my overall decision as to whether to go ahead with that particular property." Tom Bedford, first time buyer, Newport

Our view

New build houses

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should revise Part L (Conservation of fuel and power) of the building regulations to increase the required energy efficiency of new homes. It should set out a clear timetable to move to zero-carbon in operation, so that house builders, the supply chain and skills providers can prepare for these changes.

The Welsh Government should ensure that the inspection regime is robust and resourced appropriately to underpin confidence in low carbon housing. The Welsh Government should introduce a quality mark which:

  • assesses the performance of energy saving technology "in operation"
  • places an obligation on the installer to ensure the required performance is delivered or repair or replace the technology; and
  • will be independently designed, inspected and enforced.

What we heard

Bringing existing homes up to zero carbon standards

The problems of poor energy efficiency in homes in Wales is most acute in our existing housing stock. Wales has more older, colder homes than in the rest of the UK which makes them more expensive to heat.

The Welsh Government has made a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050, but 80% of the houses we will be living in then have already been built. New housing accounts for only 6% of our housing stock.

"The factors that most concern clients that we deal with when renting or buying a home is very simple - location, price, size and general condition. With regard to environmentally friendly properties, it's certainly a criteria that certain people would look for, but in terms of detail of going beyond a question of an energy 'C' rating or cost to run - unless it's extremely high it doesn't really have much of an affect for people we deal with." - Jon Hooper-Nash, Lettings Manager, Cardiff

Our view


The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should undertake and publish within the next 12 months a comprehensive cost and benefit analysis of retrofitting to zero carbon in operation all households that are in fuel poverty.

The Welsh Government should continue to invest in and expand the current retrofitting schemes under Arbed 3. The Advisory Group on the Decarbonisation of Existing Homes should report to the Committee on the feasibility of retrofitting homes under this scheme by "type" of dwelling.

The Advisory Group on the Decarbonisation of Existing Homes should report to the Committee on how it plans to encourage the "able to pay" and low income homeowners to retrofit energy efficiency measures.

What we heard


A robust supply chain and a skilled workforce to install the new technology are crucial to delivering the zero carbon housing Wales needs. The view of the majority of participants to the inquiry was that there is a lack of appropriate skills in Wales to deliver low carbon housing at scale.

“I think Wales has a lot to do in terms of the skills capacity as does the rest of the industries. It's not just a Wales specific issue. There's a huge education that we need to do across all sectors around skills capacity, how we build the new engineers of the future and what that means, and there's a lot of initiatives out there already to look at that but it is a huge issue." Gill Kelleher, Policy and Engagement Manager, SPECIFIC

Our view

Training and skills

The Committee recommended that training and skills should be central to the Welsh Government's long-term low carbon housing strategy. The Welsh Government must ensure there is sufficient investment in training provision and appropriate equipment needed to undertake the training.

The Welsh Government should report to the Committee within 12 months on the measures being put in place to ensure the construction sector has the appropriately skilled workforce to deliver its targets for energy efficient homes.

The Welsh Government should report to the Committee within 12 months with an assessment of the impact of Brexit on skills and labour supply in the construction sector.

What we heard

Financial interventions and incentives

There are many ways to maximise available funding to deliver low carbon housing and potential financial incentives to support consumers to choose low carbon housing. The Committee heard that financial incentives could be used to encourage take up of low carbon housing.

Our view

Funding and finance

The Committee recommended that the Welsh Government should prepare and publish within the next 12 months a report on the options available to it to leverage funding to deliver low carbon housing at scale through both retrofit and new build.

The Welsh Government should work with major mortgage providers in Wales to incentivise preferential lending rates for low carbon homes and report back to this Committee within 12 months on progress.

The Welsh Government should ensure that any funding to stimulate the housebuilding market, such as the Stalled Sites Fund, is contingent on the finished building being zero carbon in operation.

The Welsh Government should re-examine the case for aligning the Land Transaction Tax to the energy efficiency of a property and report to the Committee on this within 12 months.

Making a difference

The Committee would like to express its sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to share their experiences, views and ideas during the inquiry.

Your views are important to us and do make a difference. Your contribution has informed the report and recommendations, which calls for an ambitious vision from the Welsh Government, if it is to meet the challenge it faces.

You can read the background to the inquiry and the Committee's full report on our inquiry page:

You can keep up to date with the Committee's work by following us on Twitter: @SeneddCCERA

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