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Thu, 21 January 2021

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Improving the quality of our homes will level up our communities

Improving the quality of our homes will level up our communities

Credit: PA Images

5 min read

Making our homes more environmentally friendly and better to live in is absolutely essential for both net zero and levelling up.

Through his 10 point plan to kickstart the green industrial revolution, the Prime Minister has demonstrated that the levelling up agenda remains central to this Government’s mission.

In my view, there is no better way to level up communities than by improving the quality of the homes people live in.

The Government could deliver this priority, alongside those of reaching net zero and helping businesses to build back greener, by doubling down on its commitment to home energy efficiency - one of the ten priorities in the plan.

One of the more obvious ways of decarbonising housing is reducing the amount of heat that leaks out of our homes.

Energy efficiency is an area where we are already making progress, particularly with the significant Green Homes Grant, which I am delighted is being extended for another year until March 2022.

This scheme is commendable both in terms of tackling climate change, helping those who can least afford it to upgrade their homes, and supporting construction businesses during these difficult economic times. 

But what comes after this scheme? Levelling up the country’s housing stock will take years to complete and we will need new financial incentives to keep up consumer demand and support jobs in the retrofit supply chain. In constituencies like mine where the median yearly income is less than the national average and the housing stock is older and draftier, energy efficiency measures could make a big difference to people’s lives by cutting bills and making homes warmer.

The Government is set to publish a Heat and Buildings Strategy later this year which I hope will include a long-term plan for energy efficiency.

Given the diversity of the housing stock and those who dwell in it, there is of course no one-size-fits-all solution; we need a multi-pronged approach.

For example, investment in retrofitting social housing through a series of publicly-funded grants and loans to housing providers will help to bring the costs of energy efficiency products down while upgrading the homes of those who can least afford the upfront investment, but perversely often pay higher bills than those who can.

On the other hand, allocating a smaller amount of public funds to leverage private finance will likely work better for homeowners and landlords, potentially through a ‘help to improve’ loan guarantee or incentive scheme similar to the Government’s incredibly successful Help to Buy scheme. 

Whatever the mechanism, helping people to hire workers to upgrade their homes will benefit small businesses in the construction sector in particular. Investment in home retrofits for net zero will help to support over 150,000 skilled and semi-skilled jobs by 2030, and reduce household energy expenditure by £7.5 billion per year, according to the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group.

We will also need to work with the market to bring the cost of low-carbon heating options down. The Government could announce a date for industry to phase out the sale of new gas boilers, while setting a cost reduction challenge for the heat pump sector in return for ongoing subsidy, as the UK did so effectively with offshore wind.

The Chancellor showed excellent environmental leadership this summer when he announced the Green Homes Grant, as has the Prime Minister with his 10 point plan. I hope they continue to build on this in the months to come. 

Though there is an active debate about whether to replace natural gas heating with green hydrogen, for off-gas grid homes, like many in my constituency in Cornwall, the rapid installation of heat pumps provides a no-regrets option.

I was delighted to see the government set a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year to 2028, and I look forward to seeing new funding commitments in due course to deliver it.

Nationwide energy efficiency programmes will also require a significant investment in people. As someone with a background in construction, I am always encouraging students to get into the sector, not least as it’s currently missing the people-power to deliver upgrades for the UK’s 29 million homes.

A net zero skills review led by the Department for Education would help us to equip our young people with the skills they need to thrive in a high-skilled green economy, whether it’s manufacturing wind turbines, fixing electric vehicles, or retrofitting homes.

This can build on the important work of the Green Jobs Taskforce which was just established. In the context of Covid-19, where we face high youth unemployment, a review could not be more timely. 

Making our homes more environmentally friendly and better to live in is absolutely essential for both net zero and levelling up.

Energy efficiency is a solution where we really can get started right now, helping small businesses to recover and people to save on their energy bills while staying warmer.

The Chancellor showed excellent environmental leadership this summer when he announced the Green Homes Grant, as has the Prime Minister with his 10 point plan. I hope they continue to build on this in the months to come. 

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