Sweltering heat, water shortages, and floods: the past year alone has made the case for adapting our existing and future homes to the changing climate. In England, one in six properties are at risk of flooding and 20% of homes suffer from overheating. With 80% of our buildings projected to still be used in 2050, these figures, along with costs to families, may only increase given rising temperatures. As Conservatives, we must ensure we pass on resilient homes, not climate liabilities, to the next generation by retrofitting our current housing stock.
We must also future-proof new homes being built today. This will further strengthen resilience and is much cheaper than adapting buildings later. For instance, modifying a small semi-detached house for passive cooling costs around £9,200, but the equivalent measures are only £2,300 to implement during construction. The following policies help meet this challenge and boost housing development while reducing long-term consumer costs and the planning backlog.
Cooling our homes
Presently, homeowners require planning permission for many measures to reduce overheating; external shutters are recommended to passively cool homes, yet require approval. Extending permitted development rights to such methods would reduce the load on the planning system while making it easier for homeowners to adapt to climate risk.
On future-proofing new homes, a national urban greening factor (UGF) would be effective in reducing overheating. The policy sets a minimum requirement for green infrastructure, calculated by scoring different types of greenery, such as green roofs, trees and hedges, based on environmental benefit and multiplying this by their surface area on the property to reach a UGF score. This could be used in conjunction with local authority targets for areas covered by tree canopies, which also increases shade and biodiversity.
Pouring flood risk down the drain and preventing water shortages
Another issue is flooding. While mitigation measures are mentioned in planning policy, building regulations do not mandate flood resistance for at-risk properties. Considering flooding causes an average of £1,400 million of damage per year, adaptation should be required.
This requirement should also mandate sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS). Industry-backed SUDS, such as permeable pavements or stormwater management ponds, are cost-effective and provide additional benefits to the local area. For example, green space solutions can boost ‘pride in place’. Revisions in 2018 to the National Planning Policy Framework do require SUDS on major developments, but local implementation is lacking, and thus requirements for SUDS must be put on a statutory footing using Schedule 3 of the Flood and Water Management Act.
But flooding isn’t the only risk, we also face shortages caused by hotter, drier summers. In 2021 the government released plans to introduce a water efficiency label for consumer products and to review building regulations to boost water efficiency. An additional two pronged approach would create a Water Performance Certificate, much like the EPC, and introduce minimum water efficiency standards into the Future Homes Standard for fittings such as taps, toilets, and showers that would gradually increase overtime, spurring industry innovation. Just introducing water labelling and reforming building regulations could save consumers £26 billion through reduced energy and water bills.
Frontloading environmental assessments
Finally, the government can reduce planning uncertainty and backlogs through greater clarity in planning law and by encouraging risk mapping. Legislation merely states local development plans must contribute to mitigating and adapting to climate change. Such guidance, while welcome, is not well defined, leading to delays in approvals and legal challenges over projects’ climate commitments. This uncertainty reduces appetite for development and deters finance - investors want properties resilient to climate change that will not depreciate over time. The government should amend the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to set a clear requirement and definition for climate adaptation in planning policy and decisions. This should be supported by detailed guidance and metrics covering flooding, heat risk, and water efficiency, such as those outlined above. This will increase resilience and provide businesses with the certainty they need to develop and invest.
This should include mapping zones of hotspots and water stress and linking this data into planning policy. This will, in conjunction with greater planning clarity, allow developers to self-select appropriate proposals before submitting them for planning. Developing the capacity of local planning authorities to build such data sets and mapping tools will require government support. This approach of frontloading environmental assessments will reduce the planning backlog and decrease approval times, helping the government meet its target of building 300,000 homes annually.
I hope the new government agrees that on housing and climate resilience, going for growth doesn’t mean going for broke. Accelerating development and improving our climate resilience can go hand in hand, saving us all money in the future.
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