The prime minister’s ten-point plan for a green industrial revolution is aimed at achieving ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050. In the housing sector alone the challenge is enormous: just to reach the government’s interim target for housing by 2035 means retrofitting 1.2 million UK homes every year to high standards. Will the government’s plan be up to the task?
In the Conservative election manifesto, £9.2 billion was promised over five years for energy-efficiency work, beginning in 2020/21. But only part of this funding has been announced so far. The main programme is the £2 billion allocated for the Green Homes Grant, of which £500 million is available to local councils to help low-income households. This was extended until March 2022 (and until December 2021 for the local authority element) but with no extra funding. However there is a promise a new Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund ‘to continue upgrading the least efficient social housing.’ At first, just £50 million of this was provided for ‘innovative approaches to retrofitting social housing at scale to make them greener’ although an extra £60 million was announced in the Spending Review; more is promised for future years.
There are other initiatives which require private sector investment. Government wants to squeeze out the installation of gas boilers and achieve 600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028. The Future Homes Standard will make new housing ‘zero carbon ready’ and will ban gas boilers. Although a proposal to bring this forward to 2023 wasn’t included in the Johnson plan, The Times says it is still the firm intention. The government is already consulting on tougher energy standards in the private rented sector and says it will consult on a mandatory requirement on lenders to declare the energy efficiency of homes when they are sold.
Altogether the green home finance initiatives are set to improve the energy efficiency in 2.8 million homes with 1.5 million reaching the interim target (a band ‘C’ Energy Performance Certificate) by 2030. Assuming this ambition relates only to England, it is still well short of achieving the 2035 interim target for the whole stock, so presumably will require the Green Homes Grant to get more money later, as well as the promised social housing fund.
Whether the funding is adequate is, at this stage, only one of the obstacles to achieving the government’s targets. Already there are problems in delivering retrofits through the grant scheme, with The Guardian reporting that only 1,174 installers had signed up to the scheme while 36,000 householders had applied for the grants. Bloomberg says only 267 grants have been paid so far. Obviously the scheme’s extension will give them more chance but the teething problems could have been avoided if the government had heeded warnings to plan earlier to train installers and increase the industry’s capacity. Also, because the scheme is voluntary, it seems likely that it will leave many houses falling short of band C and requiring further work later.
Replacing gas boilers with heat pumps is also a major task, involving a 20-fold increase in numbers installed annually. While capacity is also an issue here, other question marks apply to the quality of and consumer confidence in heat pumps, and whether they will work properly in homes that are still not energy efficient. This is why the green lobby has been advocating a ‘fabric first’ approach which tackles insulation first and heating systems afterwards.
Bringing forward the Future Homes Standard is an excellent move, although as the Climate Change Committee point out, if this had been introduced when the Climate Change Act was passed, two million new homes would already have been built to higher standards, but will now require expensive retrofits.
It also makes sense to ensure that existing homes can’t be let or easily sold if they are not energy efficient, and extra money is promised through the ECO scheme to help landlords comply. The real risk here is that, with turnover in the private sector of around one million tenancies annually, the inspection scheme won’t deliver and the standards could fall into disrepute.
So, our judgement on the prime minister’s plan is that it’s a good start for the housing sector but there is still a very long way to go. As Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, put it: ‘This must now be turned into a detailed road map – so we all know what’s coming down the track in the years ahead.’ Judging from Inside Housing’s recent summary of the plans being made in the sector to achieve zero carbon, housing professionals who lead this field are in full agreement with Lord Deben.
Original post: Inside Housing