The maiden voyage of the Government’s Green Homes Grant (GHG) in 2020 certainly started with all the pomp and ceremony you would expect from a £multi-million scheme designed to create a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly housing stock for the UK.
It formed part of a wider adventure and expedition, the Prime Minister’s so-called Green Industrial Revolution, which promised exciting new horizons and a new way of thinking.
But even as the GHG set sail there was mutinous talk from those charged with steering a safe and successful passage for the flagship scheme.
These concerns about funding, the speed of assessments and the availability of contractors to complete work on time were quickly addressed and reassurances were issued that the GHG’s course remained true and would deliver the promised land of sustainability for housing that its masters had enthused about at its launch.
How could such a new flagship scheme already begin to look dead in the water?
Missing support and direction
Fast-forward to the Chancellor’s long-awaited Spring Budget, however, and there were plenty of signals that this latest green flagship was floundering badly.
Industry bodies and individual manufacturers were pleading with the Chancellor to listen to the mounting concerns that the GHG was destined to fail on its fantastic voyage unless the Government delivered more support and more direction.
There were even open letters signed by groups such Actuate UK – a new alliance of building services and engineering organisations – ahead of the Budget warning of the potentially calamitous fate of the GHG unless the Chancellor acted quickly and decisively.
They pointed to familiar issues - the low take-up of available green grants by homeowners; the struggle to get proposals assessed; and the backlog of work that was already mounting up for registered contractors despite the comparatively low number of successful applications.
How could such a new flagship scheme already begin to look dead in the water and what would the Government do breathe new life into it?
Another flagship sets sail
Yet the Budget came and went without any meaningful reference to the flagship GHG.
There were fresh promises about a green revolution, such as the new UK Infrastructure Bank to be set up in Leeds with £12bn in capital aimed at funding £40bn worth of public and private projects.
The focus was trained on this new flagship, another bright and innovative sustainability policy. So where does that leave the GHG, a flagship less than 12 months old that already seems to have been deemed surplus to requirements?
It is safe to say industry reaction has not been positive. Eddie Tuttle, Director for Policy, External Affairs & Research at the CIOB, said there were more misses and hits in the Budget and continued: “Perhaps most disappointing is the complete lack of mention of decarbonisation of the built environment and absence of any reference in the Budget to the struggling Green Homes Grant scheme.
“The UK’s built environment accounts for approximately 40 per cent of our total carbon emissions, and any attempt to forge a green industrial revolution must address the energy efficiency of buildings as a matter of priority if it is to succeed.”
RIBA President, Alan Jones, said the Chancellor’s measures did little to reassure his profession of the Government’s commitment to reach net zero or drive a green economic recovery.
Business as usual?
Julie Hirigoyen, Chief Executive at UKGBC, was equally forthright and said ‘build back business as usual’ would be a more fitting description for the Government’s plans to build back better.
“We are still none the wiser about the fate of the Green Homes Grant scheme, which just a few short months ago the Chancellor told us would support over 100,000 jobs in green construction up and down the country,” she added.
“UKGBC, together with many others in our industry, have strongly advocated that the £1.4bn of unspent funding be rolled over to 2021/22, but today’s Budget leaves both industry and householders still in the dark.
“Beyond the opportunities for green investment offered by the Infrastructure Bank and new green gilt and retail savings product, this Budget appears to ignore the huge part that greening our buildings can play in delivering our post-Covid economic recovery. Tackling carbon emissions from buildings – particularly the existing housing stock – is not easy, but we cannot afford to duck the challenge any longer.
“The Chancellor’s ‘investment-led’ green recovery should not ignore the voice of the industry calling for a national retrofit strategy to unlock vital green jobs across the whole country.”
Lack of ambition
Product manufacturers seem equally dismayed, but continue to drive innovation and develop new solutions to improve long-term sustainability. Companies like Mitsubishi Electric remain at the forefront of a genuine green revolution in developing new and improved renewable energy products and tackling issues such as air quality and ventilation in buildings as the UK looks to recover from the impact of a global pandemic.
But I would argue that they are being let down by the Government’s lack of ambition for its own flagship policies and programmes.
Peter Caplehorn, Construction Product Association Chief Executive, acknowledged that the Budget did include a series of policy and funding announcements relevant to its members and industry: “It is important to note however that given some of these may be ‘re-announcements’ of existing commitments or allocations of existing funding, the full interpretation of these announcements will take longer to analyse,” he continued.
“We knew beforehand that the Budget would focus primarily on the recovery from the virus and job protection; therefore, we are not surprised that construction per se was not a major beneficiary.
“We must also point out our disappointment that there was little in the Budget on energy-efficient retrofit of the existing housing stock, given the importance that government has placed on Net Zero – particularly in the year of COP26 – and especially given the concern over government’s delivery under the Green Homes Grant.”
The future direction of the GHG remains unclear and those working to try and make it a success they are still awaiting some indication from Government that it still believes its own flagship is worth saving.