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Opinion Piece by Sue Riddlestone, CEO, Bioregional

26 March 2021

Now is the moment to use our voices and influence policy 

The UK Government is actively deliberating how to achieve net zero carbon in the built environment and reverse biodiversity loss as part of a slew of new policies.

Those of us in the Futurebuild network have a huge amount of practical experience that we can bring to bear to influence things. What can we collectively do to help make a success of all this – and tackle the huge challenge of delivery?

For a start, take a look at the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and Design Codes, which closes tomorrow on Saturday 27 March, and the new Future Buildings Standard which runs until 13 April. Are they good enough? Let the Government know what you think.

If you’re not convinced that your voice would make any difference, a group of us fed into the Future Homes Standard consultation last year and four of our five main points were taken on board. That’s proof we can influence policy! 

While the policy changes are happening, the big industry players are gearing up to them. This year many of them have been busy producing zero-carbon plans and roadmaps in anticipation of new regulations.

For example, it has been incredibly heartening to see the Home Builders Federation working, with a direct line to Government, on an industry roadmap and delivery hub to supercharge net-zero, environmentally positive new homes since September. Along with many others in the sector who have contributed to this process, I have seen first-hand how closely this is linked to the policy content, and also how seriously it is being taken. I feel that we have been able to inform the content, which is very satisfying. This should be made public soon.

At Futurebuild a year ago I met someone from the Construction Industry Training Board who was asking attendees to contribute to research on Building Skills for Net Zero. That work is now complete and out this month. It has clear actions, numbers, and says what needs to happen.

We’ve been part of the UKGBC led Accelerator Cities network for local authority-led retrofit, producing a retrofit playbook together last year. While we were busy working on this, I was thrilled to discover that a proposed National Retrofit Strategy has been developed by the Federation of Master Builders, with 40 supporting organisations. They are lobbying the Government to adopt it ahead of the UN COP26 climate talks in Glasgow in November.

Homes England, which shamefully had not been including sustainability in its tenders or plans, is now working to rectify this. I recently joined many others, possibly you (!) at a workshop for this facilitated by BRE and the Design Council. There were so many amazing experts in the (Zoom) room. I hope our input is taken on in full.   

And all of this is being influenced by the incredible work of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the body responsible for advising the Government on how to achieve our carbon budget. In December the CCC released a roadmap to zero carbon, with sector models including for buildings.   

Notwithstanding questions over Cumbrian coal mines, and the apparent difficulty of getting its head around what is needed, it seems that the British Government is now genuinely committed to achieving net zero and to walking the talk ahead of COP26.

We now need to speak with clear, constructive and consistent messages, standing side by side with the big industry players, about what is needed in the form of policy, training, support and incentives. We can do this via MPs, select committees and through policy consultations.

Then, keeping everything crossed, we can begin 2022 aligned to set off with a workable plan to achieve net zero in our sector and help reverse biodiversity loss.

For many years at Bioregional we have been building, or advising on the development of sustainable, zero-carbon communities which enable One Planet Living. As a purpose-led organisation we have always drawn on our experience and the stories of these projects to influence government policy and industry practice. We are contributing as best we can to this current wave of activity.

I for one am challenging myself to make the time to keep contributing to the policy, to think big, and to partner with others, so we can get our collective shoulders behind the delivery of a net-zero and sustainable built environment.

I really believe that finally, we can do this!

Sue Riddlestone OBE is CEO & co-founder of Bioregional, a charity and social enterprise working, with partners, for 25 years to create sustainable communities, products and services which enable us to live well within the natural limits of our planet.

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