CRIKEY! I have to say even I struggle with the number of announcements (good, bad and hopeless!) that this government declare when it comes to energy, the environment and what changes need to be made in housing, both new-build and existing homes, to get us to net-zero.
In my blog just last month, I was celebrating the fact that in November 2020 the Prime Minister announced a very ambitious Ten Point Plan, aimed at eradicating the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050.
As a little reminder here it is:
- A ban on combustion engine sales by 2030.
- A pledge to quadruple offshore wind power by 2030
- Boost hydrogen production, with the promise of a town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade.
- Investment in Nuclear Power and the next generation of small and advanced reactors.
- £1bn next year to insulate homes and public buildings using the green homes grant.
- Support for greener energies in the aviation and maritime sectors.
- 30,000 hectares of trees planted every year
- An extra £200m invested in carbon capture initiatives
- Plans to promote public transport, cycling and walking.
- A pledge to make London “the global centre of green finance”
We have a housing system that is in desperate need of a green, ecological revolution
Dropping Number 5
All good stuff I’m sure you’ll agree.
But then, on the 27th March 2021, the government announce they are scrapping point number 5!
The Green Homes Grant Scheme is being abolished just 6 months after it was launched!
This scheme was regarded as being the centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s promise to “build back greener”, but now it’s gone.
I can’t quite believe it.
From what I can gather, as I continue to pull the press release apart, it seems that following the fanfare of the government’s £2.5bn green announcements last summer, they’ve abandoned the Green Homes Grant, which was £1.5bn of the overall fund.
It’s worth noting that they have ditched it with only 4-days notice. It ends on the 31st of March!
They have increased the fund to improve homes for people on low-incomes from £500m to £1.3bn (through the Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme and Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Demonstrator which we’ll discuss later) but they are scrapping £1.5bn of funding for moderate-income families to receive grants of up to £5,000 or £10,000 to install insulation and low-carbon heating into their homes.
The government’s excuse was that the scheme was only intended to give “short-term stimulus”.
Why ‘short-term stimulus’ when the industry’s needs a long-term approach?
In fact, you could say it was more of a short-term botch-job. There were more than 123,000 applications for the grant in its short life-span, but only 28,000 vouchers for improvements were issued and only 5,800 energy saving improvements installed!
And only last week, a select committee of MPs criticised the scheme for its poor administration.
It’s worth remembering that this scheme, which should have been amazing and just what the green retrofit industry needed, has been dumped just 6 years after the government scrapped it’s ‘Green Deal’ for Home Insualtion in 2015
AND 5 years after it dumped its commitment for ALL NEW homes to be ‘ZERO CARBON’ from 2016!
What is it with government’s inability to get green housing right?
We are now left with a gaping hole in funding and with no new initiative for moderate-income families to make ecological improvements to their existing homes.
This is staggering when you think we are only 7 months away from hosting the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26 1st-12th November 2021) in Glasgow!
It doesn’t send the right message.
This stop-start approach is not only confusing for everyone (including me!) but it causes massive disruption for an industry desperate for a long-term approach and government consistency.
Just as we gear up to implement a scheme, it is either replaced by something else or scrapped completely, which is not only frustrating and inefficient, but it is going to prevent us from meeting our net zero targets and it is definitely going to affect the 250,000 new jobs in the green industry that government has promised.
I’d prefer the government thought longer and harder to get their policies and incentives right, last 30+ years and actually deliver, rather than grabbing short-term headlines.
Local delivery scheme
It is however, worth taking a moment to look at the ‘Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme’ which has recently been extended since its launch last summer and has gone from being a £500m fund to being a £1.3bn fund.
Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced the additional funding to raise the energy efficiency of low-income and low EPC rated homes.
Local Authorities in England can submit bids for funding under the following provision:
- Households should have a combined income of no more than £30,000
- Homes to be improved should be currently rated as EPC bands E, F or G.
- 100% subsidy for owner-occupiers (up to £10,000)
- Two third subsidy for social and private landlords (up to £5,000)
A real opportunity
The fact that so many low-income homes in the uk are heated using gas boilers gives the government an amazing opportunity to promote renewable forms of household heating such as Air Source Heat Pumps.
The government has set a target to deploy 600,000 heat pumps a year by 2028 (the total number of heat pumps currently installed in the UK by 2019 was around 239,000) and get as many homes as possible to EPC Band C by 2035.
The government need to get their house in order and provide far more support for more air source heat pumps to replace oil and gas powered boilers in all low-income and moderate-income families across the country.
They simply aren’t pushing hard enough, fast enough or providing the financial assistance needed to meet our net-zero targets!
Also this month, on the 3rd of March, we were presented with Rishi Sunak’s budget. He announced the creation of new ‘Green Finance Schemes’.
His previously announced ‘Sovereign Green Bond’ designed to allow citizens to invest in national renewable energy projects, is being complimented by the creation of a new retail savings product for investors to support green projects and establish high-quality carbon offset markets.
Another major step in the right net-zero direction was Sunak’s announcement of a ‘North Sea Transition Deal’ to incentivise decarbonisation of its offshore industry.
But, overall energy companies were really disappointed by the lack of investment by the Chancellor to fund the Prime Minister’s Ten-Point Plan for net-zero carbon and a drive towards a green revolution.
We can’t avoid this
I have to say when you analyse the last 6 months of government announcements it is just bizarre.
The Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan was fantastic and a big step in the right direction.
But, when one of those schemes is embarrassingly pulled after just 6-moths you begin to wonder what is going on.
And I’m afraid the Chancellor’s budget just doesn’t go far enough to transform the 20m+ existing homes throughout the country that fall well short of being net-zero.
Of course they have been dealing with COVID-19 and rolling out the vaccine programme.
But, we cannot avoid dealing with a housing system that is in desperate need of a green, ecological revolution.
Our future and our children’s future depends on it.
George Clarke is an architect, writer, lecturer and TV presenter