Lib Dems angered by Tory backtracking on ‘conservatory tax’ plans
Coalition ministers split over green initiative
A rift has opened up between ministers at the helm of the Communities and Local Government department over plans to require households to carry out energy-efficiency work if they extend their home.
Liberal Democrats are furious that housing minister Grant Shapps and communities secretary Eric Pickles are backtracking on the proposals, known as consequential improvements.
Mr Shapps and Mr Pickles relinquished support for the plans without consulting communities minister Andrew Stunell. The proposals were labelled a ‘conservatory tax’ by the Daily Mail and are expected to be scrapped by prime minister David Cameron despite an ongoing consultation, which closes on 27 April.
Angry Lib Dem sources hit out at the two Tory ministers for briefing against Mr Stunell on a policy they had both backed just two months ago and insisted the fight was not over.
‘If it has been abandoned, then the Lib Dems have not had that conversation,’ said one source. ‘It is very irritating to see them [Shapps and Pickles] briefing against something that wouldn’t have gone out of the door without their support in the first place. Neither were against it [consequential improvements] in the past, so to be moaning two months later is rubbish really.’
The plans, introduced by Mr Stunell in February, would have seen households carrying out extensions having to spend up to 10 per cent of the costs on energy-efficiency works, which can be done at no cost through the government’s flagship green deal energy-efficiency scheme.
Under the green deal, households will receive energy-efficiency works on their homes for no upfront cost, with the tab being picked up by private sector companies, which will recoup the cost through the resulting savings in energy bills.
The UK Green Building Council launched an attack on the government for performing a U-turn on the back of ‘ludicrous media headlines’ and having ‘no backbone on green issues, even when they save people money and are good for the economy’. Celebrity architect Kevin McCloud also waded into the row, arguing the proposals were ‘as sensible as sensible gets’.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Mr Shapps and Mr Pickles, alongside chancellor George Osborne and employment minister Chris Grayling, also wanted to ‘kill’ the green deal on the grounds that it was adding to people’s energy costs.
However, asked on Twitter by Inside Housing whether it was true he wanted to see the green deal abandoned, Mr Shapps replied: ‘No. I’m a huge fan of the green deal, which we invented in opposition.’
He has not yet responded to requests for information about his attitude to consequential improvements.
Climate change minister Greg Barker dismissed the reports of a Tory backlash against the green deal as ‘bonkers’.