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We must make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority

Today sees the launch of a report setting out the case for “making home energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority” and a campaign calling on all political parties to commit to retrofit 1m homes a year by 2020.

The campaign is backed by a major new coalition of 20 organisations from the construction, housing and environment sectors.

The report, developed by Keepmoat, the UK Green Building Council, a number of its members and the supporting organisations, argues that the government should invest £3-4bn a year to fund a significant programme of energy efficiency to transform the UK’s aging housing stock.

The investment is needed to address market failures, leverage substantial additional private investment and is expected to give a net financial benefit to the public purse.

The Treasury’s current National Infrastructure Plan already points out that domestic energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve the government’s three strategic priorities for energy infrastructure: controlling energy bills, tackling climate change and unlocking investment to support economic growth.

It is clear that no other investment can achieve so much for individual householders and constituencies across Britain, as well as UK plc.

The economic case for improving home energy efficiency includes:

  • Generating significant economic growth and doubling the number of jobs in the energy efficiency sector to 260,000.
  • Improving energy security and reducing the UK’s reliance on imported gas.
  • Reducing carbon emissions to meet carbon targets and combat climate change.
  • Permanently reducing energy bills by £300 and lifting nine out of 10 homes out of fuel poverty.
  • Improving health and wellbeing, reducing excess winter deaths and lowering NHS and social care costs.

The present situation is dire. Although the UK has some of the lowest unit costs for gas and electricity, we have the second-highest levels of fuel poverty in Europe.

There are more than 9m people in the UK who now need to spend more than 10 per cent of their household income to adequately heat their homes, meaning that most cannot afford to heat their homes.

Yet, we live in a time when we have the technology to build new homes and transform existing homes so that they barely need any heating at all to stay warm and comfortable.

A cold winter this year would put this policy front and centre in the general election campaign given there are 7 million voters living in fuel poverty, which we hope will help drive these manifesto pledges.

Over the past 10 years Keepmoat has made 350,000 homes warmer through insulation and energy efficiency measures, saving households across Britain more than £160m on energy bills. However, our progress has been hampered in recent years because of the frequent changes to energy efficiency programmes.

We believe that improving the energy efficiency of Britain’s housing stock should become a key national infrastructure priority for the Government in order to secure the growth of green construction jobs, cut carbon emissions, reduce fuel poverty and improve the health of millions of people.

Nigel Banks is sustainability director at Keepmoat

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