Requirement for landlords to improve housing performance at the tenants request shows government is serious about on green policy

I have to confess that when the DECC press release popped into my inbox this week – ‘Huhne heralds green homes revolution’ – my first thought was ‘how many times can you re-announce the same policy?!’

Perhaps that was a bit harsh. Yes, I seem to have been reading similar press releases since George Osborne’s ‘Green Budget’ speech at a UK-GBC event in April 2009. But on the other hand, DECC have to get through to the general public, as well as readers of Building Magazine, the latter being pretty familiar with the Green Deal and its link to what the last government called ‘Pay As You Save’ –highlighted by this editorial back in March.

And to be fair, there is an important development here. The idea of householders accessing a package of energy efficiency measures, at no upfront cost and paid for from the savings on energy bills, is no longer new. But further down the page we learn that “the forthcoming Energy Bill will create powers allowing any tenant asking for reasonable energy efficiency improvements to receive them from 2015 onwards. It will also allow local authorities, to insist that landlords improve the worst performing homes.”

So landlords could be made to improve the performance of their properties. It isn’t clear whether that means mandatory installation of a certain type of Green Deal ‘package’ or minimum standards based on EPCs, but the principle is sound. The minister, Greg Barker, said as much at Tory party conference, but this is the first time we’ve seen it in writing, which is always reassuring.

This is significant because the Green Deal does need a helping hand. Kevin McCloud has done wonders for mainstreaming the designer home, but getting 26m householders to willingly take up the Green Deal may be beyond even his powers – although we continue to give it a really good go through the Great British Refurb campaign.

In addition to forward thinking companies being on the vanguard of marketing the Green Deal (I’m thinking of people like M&S, Knauf, Gentoo and Parity Projects), we’re still likely to need a bit of carrot and stick.

That’s where you get into politically difficult territory of varying stamp duty or council tax - and the issue of regulation – across the whole owner occupied sector, not just private rented. But this announcement shows government has acknowledged the issue and all credit to those at DECC for persuading colleagues across government that it is needed.

I can’t yet say whether the Green Deal will be the ‘game-changer’ we need. The cost of raising private sector finance, without going through a Green Investment Bank or being backed in some way by government, remains a major concern.  

The lack of clear targets for how much carbon the Green Deal will actually cut also reflects a lack of certainty, which doesn’t do industry any favours.  And perhaps most importantly, whether this proves to be anything more than a clever way of delivering purely the most cost-effective measures is still a worry.

But let’s end on a positive note. Green Deal to employ 100,000 by 2015?! That really would be something to cheer about.

John Alker is the director of policy & communications at the UK Green Building Council