Posted by: Jules Birch10/04/2012
Twice before governments have attempted to force through improvements to the energy efficiency of existing homes and then backed down. Now the backlash is building again.
In both 2002 and 2006 the plan was to amend Part L of the Building Regulations so that home owners building an extension or replacing the windows or the boiler would also have to address the efficiency of the rest of the house. Both times vested interests and political cowardice killed the idea off.
Six years on and a consultation has just finished on a similar idea – but with three crucial differences. First, it’s being proposed by the coalition, not Labour. Second, the backlash is exposing Conservative and Lib Dem divisions. Third, and perhaps most importantly, a link to the Green Deal provides a way to spread the cost of the work for owners who cannot afford to pay for it up-front.
The relevant part of the consultation launched by the Lib Dem communities minister Andrew Stunell at the end of January (regulations on consequential improvements for domestic extensions) finished on March 27. The government’s preferred timetable is for the change on ‘consequential improvements’ to come into force in October so that it can be linked to the introduction of the Green Deal and give householders a way to invest in energy efficiency and pay for it from the resulting savings as a charge on their energy bill.
The case in favour of the policy is clear. A quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions coming from existing homes, so action is essential if we are to stand any chance of meeting our international obligations to cut them. If the government is correct that ‘the measures will pay for themselves in fuel savings’ through the Green Deal then who has a problem with that?
The papers are against it on a ‘home is your castle’ platform. For Christopher Booker, the EU-hating Mail columnist, the idea amounts to a ‘green tax’ that will mean a ‘red tape nightmare for home owners’. However, he also broadens the attack to include the Green Deal in general and plans to require landlords to improve the energy efficiency of any home they want to rent in particular.
On the Today programme Tim Yeo said he sympathised with the aim but that the way forward was to make people enthusiastic about energy saving. Compulsion might not be the best way to do this.
But other Conservative backbenchers seem to have made a more nakedly political calculation. The Green Deal was all the idea of Lib Dem Chris Huhne, the Part L consultation is piloted by Lib Dem Andrew Stunell. Tory MPs like the one quoted by Sky News think this is not just a ‘daft idea’ but a Lib Dem one to boot.
Even more worrying for defenders of the idea is the criticism of compulsion coming from organisations such as Consumer Focus and Which quoted in the Mail story and signs that the government is struggling to convince people that energy efficiency really will pay for itself from savings in fuel bills.
In speech in February (thanks to @melstarrs on twitter for the link), Andrew Stunell was adamant that the consequential improvements policy will go ahead and that the government will resist the u-turns of the past. ‘It’s the grand old Duke of York of building regulations policy,’ he said. ‘But this time we’re going to do it.
Let’s hope he’s not compelled to get to the top of the hill and march back down again. Let’s hope that Conservative MPs remember that it was not a Lib Dem or a junior minister who promised this would be ‘the greenest government ever’.
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context