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Anger over plan to scrap Merton Rule

A call to scrap the Merton Rule has unleashed furious protest along with allegations of 'scandal and skulduggery'. In last week's H&V News (August 25), the British Property Federation (BPF) claimed the rule was the result of blinkered thinking and was actually hampering the uptake of renewable technology throughout the UK. It said that far from enabling developers to generate up to 20 per cent of a building's energy from onsite renewables as intended, the Merton Rule left buildings unable to produce more than 5 per cent. 'For many developments, measures such as wind turbines or solar panels are useless at fighting climate change,' a BPF statement explained. 'In many cases it would be much better for buildings to purchase green energy from off-site sources able to generate low-carbon emitting energy on a larger, more efficient scale.' The comments have sparked strong reaction from the Sustainable Energy Partnership, which represents major environmental and fuel poverty non governmental organisations NGOs and a range of sustainable energy trade associations. It claimed the campaign by the BPF and the Home Builders Federation (HBF) to force a Government u-turn on the rule was 'totally unnecessary and politically damaging'. 'The current campaign by the BPF and HBF to overturn this modest yet proven and highly successful policy in the forthcoming Climate Change Policy Planning Statement is nothing short of scandalous bearing in mind the urgent need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions,' said Partnership organiser Ron Bailey. 'There is no evidence that the Merton Rule has deterred development, that the technologies are untested, unavailable or unproven, or that developers find it hard to deliver on-site renewables. Quite the reverse.' Andrew Warren, chair of the Partnership added that given the Government's national zero carbon homes timetable, he expected it embrace the Merton Rule not fall for the 'current developer campaign of misrepresentation and skulduggery'. 'The government's micro-generation strategy refers to Merton and Croydon councils very positively as 'trailblazers' [for implementing the Merton Rule]. Nothing has changed since those words were written to justify a policy u-turn.' Friends of the Earth (FoE) also urged the Government not to cave into pressure from developers. 'Buildings are responsible for around 40 per cent of UK carbon dioxide emissions,' claimed Naomi Luhde-Thompson, FoE's planning co-ordinator. 'The Government must show that it is serious about the urgent need to cut UK emissions, which have risen under Labour. This means supporting the Merton Rule and ensuring all new homes are carbon-zero by 2010.' A BPF statement re-emphasised it was committed to 'greening-up' UK buildings, but that investing in inefficient onsite renewables was not the best way of doing this. 'Opposing the 'Merton rule' does not mean we are opposing green measures,' it said. 'It is vital that we give some context to this debate. If the only method we use to measure green credentials is how much renewable energy we use, then it means we could leave the heating on full with windows wide open, keep computers on all night and lights on at weekends, but power it with 10 per cent renewables and still call ourselves green. 'This would of course be nonsense, but it demonstrates that there is a step-by-step approach we need to take that encompasses more than just the type of energy we use. 'People need to think beyond the headlines and look at the full context if we are to find a solution to this problem that is workable and cost-effective. In some cases, on-site renewables can be a workable solution, but not always. The industry must not be straight jacketed into a single method which may not always work.'