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.