Going off track

As protestors caused chaos in Westminster, Committee on Climate Change witnesses claimed we were way behind with our energy-efficiency policies to meet current carbon dioxide emissions targets. Hywel Davies explain

distinguished group of witnesses gathered in late March to give evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee on energy efficiency. First up was Lord Deben, former Environment Secretary, now chair of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), accompanied by Jenny Hill, of the committee staff.

Drew Hendry MP asked whether the government was on track with its policies to meet its own Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) targets, as well as the recommendations in the 2018 progress report by the CCC.1

Last June, the CCC identified the need for ‘concrete policies [on energy efficiency in existing buildings] to deliver the ambition on commercial and public buildings’, and to ‘deliver the government’s ambition on retrofit (EPC band C by 2035)’.

Hill said the UK government is ‘currently not on track’. Progress has slipped in relation to the EPC C target for homes, and we are still waiting for the 2018 action plan and a package of incentives targeting owner‑occupier homes, which are two-thirds of the total residential market.

She noted that, in spite of recent requirements not to let properties with an F- or G-rated EPC, we are also behind in setting trajectories for private-rented sector standards to rise to grade C – or better – by 2030, and in targets for the social-rented sector.

Lord Deben was less restrained, saying: ‘It is way behind. There is no policy to solve these problems and to meet these issues. We have just passed what was a very disappointing piece on rented accommodation with a ceiling of £3,500 [the maximum landlords have to spend on energy improvements under The Energy Efficiency Regulations 2018] which is less in reality than what they promised to do about six years ago…

It seems the government will have to change this fundamentally if they are to have any chance whatsoever of doing this or of meeting their fourth and fifth carbon budget.’

Lord Deben is calling for the government to just get on and do something about energy efficiency”

Hill noted that current insulation rates are only 5% of peak market delivery in 2012. In a later session, Philip Graham, chief executive at the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), had a lively exchange with Antoinette Sandbach MP about the rate of installation of improvement measures.

The NIC, in its recent report calling for energy efficiency to be a national priority, had made an assumption that 9,000 measures are being installed per week, but Sandbach claimed there was an average rate of only 2,400 insulations a week in 2017 and an average of 3,500 in 2018. What they did not disagree about was the need for 21,000 installations a week, or a million a year – a huge increase on current levels of activity.

Hendry asked how soon housing emissions might start to fall. Lord Deben highlighted the fact that the government still has not raised the standards for new buildings. ‘At the moment, we are building more trouble every year. Until they change that, it will be another way in which housing emissions will not reduce.

I do not think there is a date on it, except that it is way, way beyond the point at which they have to meet the fourth carbon budget, which is a statutory requirement.’ He called for ‘zero-emitting houses’, saying ‘it is true that new houses are, in general, better than old houses, although they still emit much more than they ought to.

Until we get towards zero‑emitting houses, we are making the problem worse all the time.’

Hill argued that a range of actions were needed. ‘The ones we have highlighted in the latest progress report and our recent housing report,2 include tackling the performance gap, overhauling compliance and enforcement, skills and finance.’

After noting the delay between adopting new standards for energy-efficient homes and their practical implementation on a building site near you, Lord Deben said ‘local authorities have less and less ability to check whether houses are built to that standard’.

He added: ‘I would like to see more resources for local authorities to do the checking. If housebuilders knew they were going to be checked – and there were serious results if they did not build to the standards – there would be a change. I would also like… certain obvious things that every local authority had to have signed off before the houses were passed.’

A theme is emerging about enforcement and the handover of information on completion: Lord Deben is echoing the concerns of Dame Judith Hackitt, and calling for the government to do something about energy efficiency in existing buildings. A very interesting backdrop to the current review of Part L of the Building Regulations.


1 Reducing UK emissions 2018 Progress Report

2 Back to the future, CIBSE Journal