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Tue, 4 August 2020

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Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is central to a green recovery

Improving the energy efficiency of our homes is central to a green recovery

Planning for a greener future must be central to the Government’s efforts to boost the economy at this critical moment. Housing can be at the heart of this, says Wera Hobhouse MP Credit: PA Images

4 min read

Investing in improving the energy efficiency of our homes has the potential to create desperately needed jobs, as well as helping to achieve a carbon zero future, protecting our planet for future generations.

Covid-19 has thrown our lives into disarray.

Alongside the tragedy of the ongoing public health crisis, the pandemic has also led to an economic crisis.

Up and down the country people have been plunged into financial instability as entire sectors are facing collapse, taking with them livelihoods and certainty for millions of people. And this may not be quick to fix.

An OECD report this week predicted an 11.5% fall in UK GDP in 2020 – this is the largest economic shock for generations.

Given the dire forecast, Boris Johnson’s Government must look at how to rebuild our economy, reenergising the sectors that have been worst hit and creating new opportunities for people who find themselves out of work.

Planning for a greener future must be central to the Government’s efforts to boost the economy at this critical moment. Housing can be at the heart of this.

In the UK there are millions of homes which lack basic insultation. In fact, only 1% of homes in England are in the highest band for energy efficiency.

Given this atrocious record, it hardly surprising that there are millions of families struggling to pay their energy bills.

This is bad news for our communities and for our national emissions.

Investing in improving the energy efficiency of our homes has the potential to create desperately needed jobs, as well as helping to achieve a carbon zero future, protecting our planet for future generations.

To get every home in the UK to the minimum acceptable standard of energy efficiency, we will need a huge infrastructure project to update around four million homes.

To go even further, and raise the 80% of homes currently at the lowest acceptable standard by one level, work would be required on another 15 million homes.

This is an enormous undertaking, but an essential one.

The Liberal Democrats want to see all homes of low-income households, including social rented and owner occupied, to be upgraded to Energy Performance Certificate Band B by 2025, and all other homes and non-domestic buildings to reach EPC Band B by 2030. This is part of the Liberal Democrats plan to achieve net zero by 2045.

To reach net zero by 2050 – let alone 2045 - this work has to start now.

First off the Government must set out a clear 25-year investment plan to upgrade every home. Without the vision and resources the sector will lack the confidence it needs to bounce back post Pandemic.

We need to galvanise the construction sector, including owners of private rental, social housing and owner-occupied homes. It is vital that the supply chain and necessary skills are built up so the Government can deliver on energy efficiency targets.

The UK should be leading the world when it comes to cutting emissions but we must do in a way that makes sense for our economy.

New legislation could ensure that - by the time of the next point of sale or re-let - every home would have a Home Energy Action Plan for energy performance upgrading. This would give families clarity about when upgrades will happen.

Incentives will also be important. A five-year time-limited financial assist for owners to, would kickstart the entire project. This needs to be balanced alongside regulation which could require owners to upgrade by one step at each further sale or re-let, until the entire upgrade plan has been completed.

During a time of immense economic hardship, every improved home will help to cut fuel poverty; stimulate the economy; absorb surplus labour; and improve health and wellbeing, relieving pressure on our NHS.

This is a future that we cannot afford to sleepwalk past. That is why I have written to Robert Jenrick, secretary of state for housing, communities and local government, to push for these measures to be introduced. I am delighted that MPs representing the Liberal Democrats, Labour Party and Plaid Cymru joined me in making this call.

Like the Covid-19 pandemic, the Climate Emergency is a global challenge. The UK should be leading the world when it comes to cutting emissions but we must do in a way that makes sense for our economy.

Covid-19 has hit reset on many of our key sectors. We need to take this moment to rethink and map out what we want our country to look like in five, ten, even twenty years. Investing in the upgrading of our existing housing stock, to ensure we can meet our ambitious climate targets and wipe our fuel poverty in the UK, is how we get there.

 

Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democract Member of Parliament for Bath and Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the environment and climate change.

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