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Tue, 7 July 2020

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One of the most energy inefficient in Europe, the UK's housing stock needs retrofitting to meet Net Zero

One of the most energy inefficient in Europe, the UK's housing stock needs retrofitting to meet Net Zero

The UK’s housing stock is one of the most energy inefficient in Europe. So we have the irony that despite relatively cheap energy, we have some of the highest energy bills, says Lord Teverson | Credit: PA Images

3 min read

The two twin challenges, climate change and bio-diversity loss, can provide a credible route to economic renaissance. Upgrading the energy efficiency of our housing stock should be at the core of that new beginning.

There are those rare times in politics when an answer to a problem is not only obvious, but the solution is supercharged – it solves a whole range of allied political goals.  And when all those goals are ones shared by the Government in power, and pretty well most of the opposition, it has to be unstoppable – doesn’t it? 

Well, except that it isn’t.  In fact for a decade or more there has been little progress.

That is the story of retrofitting the UK’s housing stock.  29 million homes. 

The Government’s Clean Growth Strategy is clear: all homes should meet Energy Performance Certificate standard band C by 2035. 

Only a quarter of those homes achieve that standard now.  The other 21 million await a clear Government plan of action.

And what are those other policy issues that get a big helping hand from retrofitting? 

Here’s the list: reaching Net Zero carbon by 2050, building back better post-Covid-19, ending the scourge of fuel poverty for 2.5 million households in England alone, finding a shovel-ready means of creating well paid secure jobs, reducing energy bills, better health for those families we want to ‘level up’, making sure job creation happens across the country and not just in the south east, reducing thousands of winter excess deaths. 

We might well save the NHS a bob or two on the way.

The UK’s housing stock is one of the most energy inefficient in Europe. 

So we have the irony that despite relatively cheap energy, we have some of the highest energy bills. 

In fact we are going backwards. 

All new homes were due to be zero-carbon from 2016 – but that policy was airbrushed by the Treasury in 2015.  Every new home built since will need a retrofit.

Household emissions have risen with loft and wall insulations under Government schemes falling by a staggering 95% since their peak in 2012. 

A fifth of our carbon emissions originate from households – heating, hot water and lighting.  And as the Climate Change Committee regularly reminds us – to get to Net Zero we have to tackle this issue and start a serious programme now.

All too frequently governments focus solely on the new build sector, but even here the track record has not been good. 

All new homes were due to be zero-carbon from 2016 – but that policy was airbrushed by the Treasury in 2015. 

Every new home built since will need a retrofit.

But we enter a new era.  There is consensus that the recovery from lockdown and self-isolation needs to be green. 

The two twin challenges, climate change and bio-diversity loss, can provide a credible route to economic renaissance.  

Upgrading the energy efficiency of our housing stock should be at the core of that new beginning.

Although investment in home energy savings delivers a real and positive return, the gains are not immediate. 

The cost of converting our stock to at least EPC band C is £65 billion.  

But that is very much in the ‘can do’ category. 

Not all, or even most, has to be public money. 

The recently established Green Finance Institute set up by the Government and the City is confident it can create the instruments to cover the gaps.

So today I’m asking the Government to explain how it intends to deliver this vital programme, when it will tell us the plan, and how it will work. 

The benefits are multiple. 

To achieve net-zero it has to be done. 

The investment delivers a positive return. We have a policy instrument that benefits all regions. It offers the poorest households the greatest benefit. 

Let’s start now.

Lord Teverson is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

 

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