Builders will be forced to design greener homes

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The Independent Online

Homes which are more eco-friendly homes will be built under radical reforms of house-building regulations as part of the Government's efforts to tackle climate change and create more affordable housing.

The Housing minister, Yvette Cooper, is preparing a major announcement next month which could herald a change in the type of houses that are traditionally built in Britain. For the first time, planning regulations are to be set down requiring planners and builders to take account of climate change.

Tough new planning guidance will require large housing estates to be sustainable, with district heating schemes where possible, water recycling and use of renewable resources. In the long-term, their construction will required to be carbon neutral. A second set of planning guidelines will require higher standards of insulation, soundproofing and energy-saving designs.

Instead of the sometimes draughty, and often badly insulated houses that are frequently built on new estates, the housing minister has been working with environmental experts, English Partnership, and the Housebuilders Federation to enforce higher standards.

"We're not going to build Swiss chalets all over England, but we are going to insist on better insulation and energy saving," said the official. "We want to do better than Sweden and even the Netherlands."

Scandinavian countries routinely build homes with triple glazing and higher standards of insulation that are more energy saving than in Britain.

The housing minister highlighted the need for change in a speech to the green alliance in May, when she announced a design competition through English Partnerships. One estate at Northstowe in Cambridge where 10,000 homes are planned on former MoD land is being used as a pilot scheme to cut energy and mains water use by half.

Housing development at Thames Gateway is also being used to pioneer low carbon development and move towards "carbon neutrality" in building 120,000 new homes in the future.

Ms Cooper, who is married to the senior Treasury minister and Gordon Brown ally Ed Balls, believes the new planning guidance will trigger a full-scale political battle with David Cameron's Conservative Party over the Government's plans to build an extra 200,000 homes in the South by 2016.

Ms Cooper will accuse the Tories of adopting a "Nimby" (not in my back yard) attitude to new housing. She will criticise David Cameron for "flip flopping" over the Kate Barker report for the Treasury, which showed that 200,000 houses a year needed to be built to make homes more affordable for families and key workers.

Critics of John Prescott, the former environment secretary accused by the Tories of wanting to "concrete over the South", say this summer's drought proved there was not enough water to support house-building on the scale envisaged by the Government.

Ms Cooper has told friends that Mr Cameron is "two-faced" over the demand for housing, telling some audiences the Tories would support more building, but backing his own front-benchers in the South-east who object to an expansion of housing in the countryside.

In March, Mr Cameron told The Independent: "The failure to provide an adequate number of new homes ... has contributed to the affordability problem."

But Michael Gove, the shadow housing minister, and 14 Tory MPs later tabled a Commons motion protesting about "unacceptable over-development in Surrey and other parts of the South-east". Theresa Villiers, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: "Suburbs like Barnet are under attack from John Prescott's excessive targets for new house building."

Ms Cooper also accused Mr Cameron of prevaricating about the type of homes he wants to build. He said in his leader's speech at the Tory party conference earlier this month: "We must be on the side of the next generation ... that means building more houses and flats for young people". But in a speech to Age Concern last week, he said: "We need to change the planning rules so that we get fewer small flats and more homes with gardens, fewer homes designed for young single people."