Net zero: an update from the housing, communities and local government committee

Green Alliance is tracking the UK’s net zero policy progress in key areas of government throughout this year. This week we are featuring a series of daily blogs in which we hear from the chairs of five parliamentary select committees, who answer our questions about the progress being made in their committee’s area of interest. This post is by Clive Betts MP, chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.

Is your select committee holding any inquiries which are relevant to the UK’s net zero ambitions?
The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has launched a new inquiry: ‘Local government and the path to net zero’, into the government’s plans for decarbonising housing and the wider role of local government in achieving net zero by 2050.

A significant part of this will be assessing the housing element of the government’s Ten point plan for a green industrial revolution and its proposal to make all new homes ‘zero carbon ready’ from 2025, through the introduction of the Future Homes Standard. We will also assess the role of local government in distributing the funding provided by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to decarbonise the existing housing stock, including the Green Homes Grant, the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund and the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.

The inquiry will also look at the role local authorities will play in cutting carbon in the range of services they oversee. This will include how they plan to decarbonise their own social housing stock, promote greener travel, improve recycling and support more sustainable power systems. A large number of local authorities have declared climate emergencies and have been proactive in developing climate change action plans. It will be important to see how these can complement national policy.

Where do you believe the government has done well in decarbonising housing?
The government was right to make housing a key part of its ten point plan and to recognise the need to decarbonise existing homes as well as new building, to drive the level of change needed to achieve the net zero target. In talking about building standards, retrofitting, non-residential buildings and the private rental sector, the plan aims to address the broad scope of issues where action is needed.

It is difficult, however, to make any judgement beyond this without the detail of these aims being fleshed out and we await further announcements with interest. The government’s policy development in this area is still at an early stage and much more work needs to be done.

What do you see as the greatest challenge for decarbonising housing on the path to net zero?
The biggest challenge will be delivering change at the pace and scale needed. Roughly 15 per cent of current greenhouse gas emissions come from the residential sector. Given only one per cent of new build homes achieved the highest energy standard as recently as 2018, it is not just old buildings that will require improvements; building standards will also have to improve. The government must ensure that the Future Homes Standard provides quality housing that will not require costly retrofitting work in the future.

One of the clearest elements of the government’s strategy is the target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028. They have also indicated hydrogen boilers may be used to replace gas boilers. We will have to assess whether this approach is practical or achievable. It also remains to be seen how effective these new technologies are and if they can provide the transformational change  needed.

All this is likely to come at a cost and it will be vital that the government develops solutions that are achievable and affordable for the homeowner and taxpayer alike.

One comment

  • Even at 600,000 heat pumps a year, this means a lot of people will be waiting a very long term for their heat pump. (20,000,000+ homes with gas boilers. so decades even)

    Will they be banned from selling their house, whilst waiting their turn?
    Will they be fined, if allowed to sell their house with a gas boiler?
    Will a family be allowed to let/relet a house, with a gas boiler
    Will banks withdraw mortgages on houses that don’t meat the EPC standard of C

    Will there be sufficient extra electricity generation (cold dark winters) for the additional demand, switching form gas to electricity, for 80% + of uk homes that are now on gas. gas demand is many times more than electricity demand nationally.

    Will they have to pay extra tax on domestic gas for domestic central heating and hot water, whilst they are waiting their turn?
    [The Green Alliance are lobbying to raise tax 300% on gas 5%-20% VAT]
    Will the government be prepared for the public backlash…

    Imagine Labour opportunistic soundbites – ‘Evil Tory warm home and hot shower tax”

    The public will not understand the NOT taxing something as much as you could is actually a “subsidy”, in lobby speak, they will just think this is orwellian use of language?

    Let alone, who is going to pay, or be willing to accept the upfront costs (or be prepare to get a large loan )many more times that of a gas boiler, for a air heat pump, and if as expected more insulation, internal/extrean retrofit, bigger radiators, glazing and making good, (especially older houses) all required to make an air heat pump to work properly.

    A parliament audit committee disputed CCC figures for costs involved. And gave figures of real world examples of ~£17,000-£23,000 per house (more potentially with millions of older housing stock, if deeper retrofit insulation, etc required)

    BUT, it will get cheaper say the proponents, and lobbyists, as technology improves, and scale of delivery brings down costs?

    Human nature suggests then, everyone will just wait until it is cheaper.
    What then for the 600,000 air heat pumps installed per year target, if everyone waits for the air heat pump and other costs to get cheaper?

    Human nature suggests only the very keen (and wealthy early adopters) will not want to wait longer.

    As replacing a heating system, is a distress (and large) financial purchase for most people in their own homes, very few people will willingly replace a working central heating and hot water system, at their own large personal cost, many more times the cost if their boiler breaks?

    They will wait until the old gas boiler breaks down (or will they be coerced into it, by punitive taxes, or bans, or fines?)

    Will they be banned from replacing a boiler, if mid winter a boiler breaks?
    How many pensioners will be left in the cold? A gas boiler can be replaced in a day.

    Wil spare parts be banned for gas boilers, or people be banned from fitting them?
    As If you can every/any ‘spare’ part, you can effectively get a ‘new’ boiler?
    Will the government seek to close that loop hole?

    What of listed buildings, that are totally unsuitable due to the nature of their listing, will they still be allowed to have a combi boiler [vested interested, I own a 3rd story flat in a grade 2* listed building, it is impossible to make the changes]

    When will domestic gas supply be banned?

    Will the government tax,, beyond proposed VAT rise) domestic gas? people pay 65% plus on petrol, yet still have petrol cars.. This could be deeply regressive tax on the poorest, pushing millions into fuel poverty? Which politician will support a carbon tax policy, to ‘encourage (coerce) people to switch to an electric heating policy policy?

    All the above problems and issues the government, lobbyists and politicians need to solve to get public buy in?

    I just don’t think all these problems issues can be solved, especially given the timescales..

    …expect a massive public backlash?

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