One of the best bits of news we’ve heard in a long time was delivered by Ed Miliband last week
He set out a visionary plan to upgrade the energy efficiency of existing homes and in doing so cut carbon emissions 29% in 10 years. It’s also a terrific fillip for the construction industry: the government’s figures suggest a £2bn a year workload and 65,000 jobs – and the UK Green Building Council puts the figure far higher. Of course we have the election in a few weeks, so anything could happen – and we’re definitely keeping it in the spotlight with our Charter 284 campaign. As we said back in 2006 in our 99% campaign, tackling the existing stock has to be at the heart of any carbon reduction strategy, and now we have an ingenious system of green loans and a pay-as-you-save mechanism (originally suggested by the UKGBC) to pay the upfront costs.
The strategy will be implemented in three stages. Six million homes are to be insulated by the end of 2011. Where practical, all lofts and cavity walls are to be insulated by 2015. And 7 million homes are to have an eco upgrade by 2020, including the fitting of smart meters. So far so good. The next step is to work out how the loans will be raised and whether homeowners will take them. On the first point, pension funds are showing an interest, and the government has floated the idea of a green bank. On the second, the success of the boiler scrappage scheme is encouraging, but success will depend on how well the marketing and sales operation is handled. As we report this week, the Tories have mooted the idea of supermarkets partnering with contractors to offer a one-stop-shop. The hares have been set racing.
One more big question is how the work will be done – there’s a chronic shortage of installers, and without them the initiative risks becoming a cowboy’s charter. Small builders are the obvious beneficiaries of the initiative, but ultimately we will need the muscle and the brands that only larger firms can supply. Presumably the question of capacity will be addressed in the soon-to-be published report from Paul Morrell, the chief construction adviser, on the low carbon economy. In depressed and uncertain times these are plans to shout about. UKGBC – take a bow.
Denise Chevin, editor
It’s one of the iron laws of British politics that nobody ever lost a vote by threatening to scrap a regulation. The Tories frequently invite the public over for a bonfire of pettifogging rules and the infestation of bureaucrats who make their pathetic livings by enforcing them. Indeed, for the past three years they’ve been saying the Building Regulations are “simply unfit for purpose” and should be replaced by a set of minimum performance standards. And Labour has toyed with the extension of self-certification in a 2007 consultation on the future of building control. But there is a world of difference between regulations that ensure buildings are safe, durable and thermally efficient, and nice-to-have-if-money-is-no-object rules that say every new home must have wheelchair access. Our Charter 284 campaign calls for a scaling back of the nice-to-have regulations because housebuilders can barely cope with the burden of turning every new home into a disability-friendly mini-power station. But we do think the basic stuff is essential: our feature on New Zealand’s 100,000 leaky homes is a warning of what happens if there aren’t clear, properly enforced rules. Politicians who boast that the Building Regulations are not safe in their hands might get elected this time, but if they get it wrong it won’t happen again.