Efforts to make new homes in Shetland more environmentally friendly are pushing up building costs by up to £10,000 per house.
According to the Hjaltland Housing Association a carbon reduction programme being pushed forward by the Scottish Government means rents could increase in the future to help cushion the blow.
The government wants new housing developments spanning 500 square metres or more to reduce their carbon emissions by at least 15 per cent.
Any increase in cost would be outweighed in the long run by lower utility bills, but that is of little consolation for the housing association, which does not pay those bills itself but is still faced with a massive capital outlay during construction.
It could also pose a problem for the hundreds of people struggling to find a foothold on the property ladder. The suggestion for greener housing schemes forms part of a proposed interim planning policy (IPP), which is currently out for public consultation.
It formed part of a discussion by members of the SIC’s infrastructure and environment forum at the Town Hall on Tuesday.
Hjaltland’s project manager Brian Leask told forum members the options for heating a house were limited in Shetland compared with mainland developments.
“The costs have got to be met. If you have savings in your utilities, then that’s okay. It’s okay when you’re building your own home, but when you’ve got a high capital outlay like we have, and if you are not paying the utility bills, it’s more of a problem.”
Mr Leask said Shetland had to seek “alternative solutions” because it could not connect to mains gas. He said sophisticated heat pumps had to be installed in the new housing development in Brae at a cost of £10,000 each.
“People don’t have a choice of what to go for. They have to go for what is offered. It’s more difficult to achieve the standards being required than it is elsewhere in Scotland.”
Although a 15 per cent reduction in emissions is very much at the lower end of the government’s scale of carbon reductions, Mr Leask warned forum members not to be tempted by the consultation document’s suggestion of going beyond that threshold.
“We’re happy with a 15 per cent reduction. The consultation paper is asking if we should be doing better than the minimum. But if it was decided to increase that to 25 per cent or 30 per cent, that would have a big impact on us.”
His comments sparked concern among some forum members.
Betty Fullerton said it would take some time for anyone to make savings on their utility bills if house prices went up.
“I’m very concerned about younger people getting on the ladder,” she said, adding the problem was exacerbated by older residents choosing to downsize in their retirement years.
Long-standing member of the Scottish Crofting Foundation, Norman Leask, wondered whether planning could write to government officials pleading Shetland’s special circumstances as defence.
“I’m suggesting we put together a paper and go back to the Scottish Government and say, ‘this is quite difficult’. They’re not unreasonable people to deal with.”
Hjaltland will work together with planners in a bid to make Holyrood aware of the problems and hopefully iron out a compromise.
As well as construction, feedback is also being sought on the proposals for IPPs for minerals, which would regulate the commercial extraction of peat, sand or shingle. It also proposes the creation of a community trust fund, into which developers would make contributions for the good of the area in which they work, and a greater emphasis will also be put on using recycled materials.
SIC development plans manager Hannah Nelson told members the IPP documents had gone out to public consultation having been seen by the council’s planning board in February.
The move is being made to reflect changes in attitude in government on planning policy.
Shetland’s current local plan was launched in 2004, however changes in national policy have led to the interim measures being proposed ahead of the next local plan’s launch in 2012.
The proposals to the IPP recommending greener houses can be seen on the SIC website. Responses must be submitted by 15th May.
Anyone with a view on mining must respond by 1st May.