All posts from: October 2009
Footprint magazine comes out today, with lots of exciting stuff from the Sustainable Housing Awards, which were held last week and organised by Inside Housing. Jon Snow hosted and was very popular with the audience: he was genuinely interested and had a serious message about the need for action, as well as a few jokes (about MPs expenses, for example).
Mr Snow also has a scheme to get trees planted on every street, by making utilities companies put in tree pits whenever they dig up a road, which seems like an admirable way to quickly improve communities. The problem at the moment is the place to plant, not the trees: councils can take care of that bit.
Our public spaces are so important on many levels: cared for green spaces can prevent anti-social behaviour, cut asthma, give children places to play and explore, mitigate flooding, boost the environment and just look beautiful.
People need trees and green space. Yet so little money goes into the ‘dead’ spaces between tower blocks or by the side of the road - it often requires a little innovation to boost them. We saw a lot of that in the awards entries – and the best were about community engagement and participation as much as money. Even so, some compensation when they dig up your road, in the form of a line of new trees, would be a good start.
Environment Secretary Hilary Benn spoke to architects yesterday about the need to adapt houses for climate change. In a speech to the Royal Institute of British Architects, he said that the profession is essential for greener homes.
Which is absolutely true: green homes need to be orientated the right way to make the most of heating from sunlight; they must be easy to live in sustainably; and they need to look wonderful and people-friendly, so there is no danger they will be demolished 30 years later – which is one of the biggest wastes of carbon, money and energy.
So it is great that Mr Benn was speaking to RIBA. However, that a minister from DEFRA that raised the subject, rather than housing minister John Healey, highlights one of the problems of government on green issues.
Which department should be leading on green retrofitting? Would it be Mr Benn and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? Or would it bethe Department of Communities and Local Government, or the Departmentof Energy and Climate Change. Until this is a big enough priority that one department takes it on and pushes it forward, it seems unlikely that anything will get done at all.
Energy prices in the future are going to be frighteningly high. Last week, energy regulator Ofgem published its predictions for the future. Even the good scenarios look scary. Our creaking energy infrastructure will need investment of between £95 billion and £200 billion. The cash is needed partly because of our international carbon reduction commitments and partly because there hasn’t been enough investment in the energy infrastructure for decades.
That money has to come from somewhere and it is likely to come out of our pockets. Energy bills are predicted to increase by 14 per cent to 25 per cent by 2020, with a possible jump of 60 per cent.
So while social landlords are concerned about rent floors and rent arrears, they should perhaps be thinking a bit more about the energy efficiency of the homes that they are renting.
It is no good if someone is living in a lovely social home if they can’t afford to heat it. Too many people, especially the elderly, already choose between putting the heating on and buying food and the recession has pushed more people into fuel poverty.
It will take a long time to overhaul the social housing stock and cut fuel bills. Social landlords need to put this on their agenda now.