He could make CSCS cards mandatory on government contracts, equalise VAT on new build and refurbishment, or even speed up planning … in fact, there’s no shortage of the things the industry would like Tony Blair to cross off his to-do list before he leaves office.
But one of the most pressing themes is the response to climate change. At the party conferences, all the main industry bodies will be calling for measures to reduce carbon emission.
Arguably Blair can take credit for putting the issue at the top of the political agenda by, for example, pledging to cut Britain’s carbon emissions 60% by 2050. Gordon Brown, by contrast, has been silent on the issue. But so far, Blair’s record shows him to be strong on rhetoric and weak on delivery. If we’re being kind, that’s because the problem is as large as it is intricate – it can’t be solved by a bill, some amendment of the Building Regulations or even the installation of windmills on politicians’ houses (if they can get them through planning). To understand the size of the job, consider the statistics in a report released this week by the RICS. To meet the 2050 target, London alone would need to build the equivalent of 25 nuclear power stations, or install 17,000 wind turbines, or fit 53 million solar PV roofs, even if there is no growth in energy use.
And that’s where it gets really difficult for politicians. As we’ve pointed out in our 99% campaign, building greener houses and offices will make little impact in this timescale. We need to invest in renewables and build nuclear plants – although that debate is far from over (see Bill Dunster on page 38). And again, one might ask where Brown stands on this.
But, as the RICS report makes so clear, that won’t be anywhere near enough. The key is to cut energy consumption. There is no shortage of ideas about how to get people to do that, the catch is that they’re going to be costly and/or unpopular. For example, at a Labour fringe meeting, the Construction Products Association will call for stamp duty relief for sellers who make their homes more energy efficient when they move. This is echoed by John Gummer, who is leading the development of green policy for the Conservatives. He is arguing that voters’ increase in public awareness of global warming means that they are willing to put up with the cost and inconvenience of state interference in their homes. For a prime minister who has prided himself on his courageous leadership, surely this is one last chance for Blair to demonstrate it.
Denise Chevin, editor