Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

What do recent policy changes mean for our Green credentials?

Emboldened by winning the recent Uxbridge by-election, senior members of the Government have been rolling back on many of their policies intended to meet the country’s net zero carbon emissions target.

Question marks remain over which policies will survive and which will fall by the wayside, but any cross-party consensus appears to have been well and truly blown out of the water with a more populist approach being pursued by the Prime Minister.

The news headlines have been dominated by the announcement of the issuing of hundreds of new licences for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea, even though it will be many years before any of these fossil fuels flow into our heating systems, or the fuel tanks in our cars.

They appear to be rolling back on replacing gas boilers with heat pumps by 2035

Patrick Mooney Patrick Mooney News editor of Housing Management and Maintenance magazine

Money for new fossil fuel schemes, but not renewables

The Prime Minister said producing these fuels closer to home will actually help the country to meet its net zero target commitments, as well as creating thousands of jobs. He did, however, re-commit to the deadline of stopping the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

Alongside this Rishi Sunak said millions of pounds will be invested in a new carbon capture and storage facility in northeast Scotland, with a second project in the Humber. The Peterhead scheme is known as the Acorn Project, a name possibly chosen with some irony.

His critics say the change of direction is a worrying backward step and that investment should instead be made in increasing our capacity for producing renewable energy, while the carbon capture project is greenwashing, dressed up in experimental technology and largely untested.

Nothing was said by the PM about boosting energy saving schemes (like roof and wall insulation) for millions of homes, nor in stimulating the boiler replacement scheme with heat pumps.

Where does this leave the Government’s Green credentials?

Evidence for some scepticism can be found in an internal Government audit which found that a series of environmental measures are running badly behind schedule and in some cases their successful delivery cannot be guaranteed.

The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) sits within Whitehall, reporting to the Treasury and Cabinet Office, and is charged with monitoring the progress of major schemes. It is not a lobbying or campaigning body

It has recently given a “red” rating to each of the following:

  • a scheme to reduce packaging (deferred in mid-July to an unspecified date),
  • a deposit return plan for plastic bottles,
  • a boost for recycling
  • a tree planting and woodland creation programme.

All are integral to meeting net zero pledges by 2050 but the IPA has concluded that their successful delivery “appears unachievable”.

Schemes placed in the red category are regarded as having “major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable”.

MPs on the cross-party Environment Audit Committee recently reported that the Government had met less than half of its annual tree-planting target in England.

In retreat

In addition, the committee said it was “disappointed to observe that Forestry England is not on track to contribute fully to national tree-planting targets: to date it has only planted 303 hectares against its own target of 2,000 hectares between 2021-2026. Ministers should also commission work to identify opportunities for woodland creation on the wider government estate.”

Responding to the IPA report’s publication, Greenpeace UK said: “In the fight against climate breakdown, plastic pollution and the destruction of nature, our Government is in full and chaotic retreat. The real winners from rolling back green policies are the fossil fuel companies and big plastic producers who can carry on making a tidy profit at the expense of climate and nature.”

However, the Prime Minister refused to acknowledge these issues and instead he has embarked on a major PR drive which included declaring that he was the motorists’ friend, while also announcing a review of low traffic neighbourhoods.

He said Green targets should not “unnecessarily give people more hassle” and he wanted to meet net zero in a way that was both pragmatic and proportionate.

Policies being ditched

Indeed, in recent weeks Rishi Sunak and fellow cabinet big-hitters, Michael Gove and Grant Shapps have been lining up the policies they are willing to ditch.

Levelling up and Housing secretary Michael Gove was the first to signpost the “rethinking” by calling for an urgent review of the phasing out of domestic gas boilers and their replacement by heat pumps by the year 2035.

No new date was set for the changeover, but gas and oil suppliers have been lobbying for such a delay for some time and they appear to have got their way.

Mr Gove also said he was looking at how ministers can "ease off or relax" the pressure on landlords to ensure all private rented housing meets grade C of the energy efficiency requirements by 2028.

"I think we are asking a little too much of them and therefore we will give them a greater degree of breathing space," he added. However, Mr Gove omitted to say that landlords had already been consulted on this measure over two years ago and were effectively given a seven-year timetable to deliver.

I’m not sure if tenants will be queuing up to thank the Minister for this pause in implementation (with no new implementation date given), as the current woeful standards of insulation in many privately rented homes is forcing the occupants to spend small fortunes on trying to warm their draughty homes.

Controversial and counter-intuitive

Next up was Energy Secretary Grant Shapps, who said the Government will “max out” the remaining oil and gas reserves in the North Sea. This was taken by many to mean the Government will soon approve the controversial Rosebank oilfield near to the Shetlands, which could produce more than 500 million barrels of oil in its lifetime and will surely blow a hole in our net zero emissions target.

If Rosebank does proceed it flies in the face of increased efficiencies in the renewables sector, where over the last decade the costs of solar energy have fallen 89% and wind energy has dropped by 60per cent. This makes them far cheaper than fossil fuels.

At the weekend it was reported the Prime Minister has ordered a review of low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in England, saying that he is on the side of drivers. He told the Sunday Telegraph he was supporting people to "use their cars to do all the things that matter to them".

Further delays possible

Both Sunak and Gove have said the Government remains committed to banning the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, but it would not be a surprise to see the implementation date be made the subject of a review, or for the date to be pushed back to the mid 2030s or even later. 

Given that the ULEZ (ultra low emission zone) scheme in London was originally established by Boris Johnson when he was the capital’s Mayor, but is now being widely attacked as unnecessary and an anti-motorist measure by Ministers, such U-turns should not come as a surprise.

Of course ULEZ is primarily about protecting the health of Londoners, so it might be harder for the Government to ignore or dismantle it prior to the next general election.

Clearly the Government has decided to take a huge political gamble with its recent change in direction and only time will tell if the public support them.

But they do appear to be taking a huge risk, not just politically but also with the environment and all of our futures.

Patrick Mooney is news editor of Housing Management and Maintenance magazine