A new green deal for UK housing?
In recent years it is fair to say that the UK’s progress in promoting the construction of environmentally sustainable homes has ground to a halt. The success of initiatives such as the Code for Sustainable Homes was reversed by a Conservative government more concerned with the profits of housebuilders than with the long term effects of energy inefficient homes.
The UK previously had a Green Deal as the government’s flagship policy to promote and fund the installation of better insulation in a national housing stock which is failing in many places. Unfortunately, this was scrapped in 2015 and homes have been sliding further into disrepair ever since - not to mention the fact that we have lost another two years in the fight against carbon emissions.
In addition, the government scrapped any requirement for all new homes to be carbon neutral. This obviously left our housebuilders with no motivation to build zero carbon homes - given that this is not a group known for its charitable leanings, it is no surprise that the continued hammer blows inflicted by the government essentially reversed all the good work done over the previous decade to 2015.
For this reason it is encouraging that ministers are preparing to release a new “clean growth” plan which it is hoped will begin to repair some of the self inflicted damage and vandalism done to the housing stock.
The report has won the backing of everyone from government ministers to energy companies to green campaigners. Its most interesting recommendations are as follows:
> Reinstating the requirement for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2020
> Changing Stamp Duty to offer rebates to owners of homes which have been refurbished to a good standard
> Tax relief for landlords who improve the energy efficiency ratings of homes in their portfolios
> Bringing all existing homes up to an energy rating of at least C by 2035, and providing financial assistance to low income homes in order to achieve this
These are all good things, but as mentioned previously we will already have lost five years by the time this report is fully actioned - if it ever is. Whilst it is a welcome step for ministers and energy companies to realise their responsibilities to our environment and housing stock, it would be wrong for this report to be presented as anything radical. Instead, let it be recognised as nothing more than a return to the previously abolished status quo. The original abolition in 2015 was derided at the time as being foolish, and finally it seems that those responsible for it have seen the error of their ways.
Since the demise of the Green Deal in 2015 there has been a halving of investment in domestic energy efficiency and a fall of more than 80% in the number of improvement measures installed in homes. The savings and measures proposed in the clean growth report suggest that there are more than £7bn worth of savings available to UK people through efficiency improvements. In terms of energy usage, the UK Energy Research centre estimates that this is the equivalent of six times the amount of energy which will eventually be produced under the disastrous plans for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power stations. And let us not forget the human cost in all this; improving insulation in homes improves people’s lives, health and happiness. Whilst elements like that are often omitted - especially by this current government which displays a general lack of regard for human comfort - it is important to remember that improving our environmental footprint is not an abstract thing. It directly improves lives.
Let's hope that the new clean growth report recommendations are implemented in full - or, even better, are seen as a springboard for actual radical change.