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B&NES net zero carbon planning policy likely to drive more efficient buildings and cut energy bills 

University of Bath researchers, in collaboration with the South West Net Zero Hub and Bath & North East Somerset Council (B&NES), have published a report on the introduction of the UK’s first net zero carbon planning policy. The review into the first six months of the policy implemented by B&NES, has found that it is likely to drive significant carbon savings in new buildings.  

In January 2023, B&NES became the first local authority to adopt a local planning policy that goes beyond UK Building Regulations to ensure that future new homes are built to net zero standards. The council was supported by the Hub to achieve this.  

The policy covers both the operational or day-to-day emissions (of heating, powering and cooling), as well as the ‘embodied’ emissions that are released in a building’s construction and maintenance. All new residential and major non-residential building developments are now required to achieve net zero operational energy by meeting ambitious energy consumption targets and matching consumption with on-site renewables, with offsetting allowed only in exceptional circumstances. 

The authors of the report studied every planning application made to B&NES since the introduction of the policy in January 2023, before following up with applicants. They found that more than half (55%) of planning applications were non-compliant, primarily due to a lack of awareness of the policy. 

The study also found that most planning applicants broadly support the intentions of the policy, while highlighting concerns about increased planning and construction costs, and lack of awareness of the policy. 

The researchers now say that a longer-term study is needed to track the evolving industry response, quantify the real emission savings through construction and occupation, and further engage with stakeholders to support the policy’s implementation, further development, and wider impact. 

The new framework makes Bath and its surroundings an important testbed for future national regulations and local planning policies. It is hoped that the findings of this report will help other local authorities implement similar schemes. 

Jon Rattenbury, South West Net Zero Hub Programme Manager said: “The Hub supported Bath & North East Somerset Council to develop its groundbreaking policy and we want to help the authority with implementation. This research demonstrates the challenge of putting policy into practice and we support ongoing activity to help industry meet the new standard.” 

Dr Will Hawkins, Principal Investigator of the report and Lecturer in the University of Bath’s Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering said: “Buildings directly account for a quarter of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, so early pioneers like Bath & North East Somerset Council can have big impacts both locally and further afield. Our collaboration aims to maximise the benefits for builders, developers and building occupiers, as well as the environment.”  

Read the report Pioneering Net Zero Carbon Construction Policy in Bath & North East Somerset: Investigating the industry’s response to the introduction of novel planning policies — the University of Bath’s research portal