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Consequential improvements will benefit industry

Richard Griffiths, campaign and policy consultant for the UK Green Building Council, on why it is backing consequential improvements in the face of a storm.

Over the last week or so, there has been a great deal of ‘hot air’ about the Department of Communities and Local Government’s proposed ‘consequential improvements’ regulations.

Predictably, in these days when the “T” word has become a byword for political mud-slinging, and media trouble-making, the proposals have been described as a “tax on conservatories*”, and “a desperate, last-minute attempt to force people to have the Green Deal by the back-door”.

Organisations that you would expect to be queuing up to support steps to increase the energy efficiency of the UK’s old, cold and expensive to heat homes have, in many cases, been silent, and at worst have been actively riding the wave of negative press.

So here at the UK-GBC we felt it necessary to lay down a marker in support of what we think are very bold and very important proposals from Andrew Stunnell and his colleagues at DCLG.

First of all, it is important to consider the rationale for these proposals. At a basic level, they are something of a quid pro quo, the likes of which are common in building regulations.

When households undertake something like an extension or loft conversion, they are increasing the energy footprint of their properties. These news rules are therefore built around a premise that if you’re doing something fundamental to your house that makes it more power hungry, you should do something that redresses the balance – such as improve their insulation, upgrade an old boiler or add better heating controls.

Now let’s examine the objections in more detail. First of all, is it a tax that is being proposed? No. What is being suggested, is you will have to spend an additional sum (10 per cent), in addition to the value of the main works, on energy efficiency measures.

The government certainly won’t get their hands on this money (other than in the form of VAT on the work etc.). The money will go to local contractors who do the job for you. And will consumers have to dip into their own pockets to fund this work? Again, the answer is no. The Government’s Green Deal scheme will allow people, if they so wish, to have this work done at no up-front cost, recouped via their energy bills – which should, as a result of the improvements, be lower than they otherwise would be.

In fact, measures such as loft and cavity insulation, and upgraded boilers tend to pay for themselves very quickly (in as little as two years), and let’s remember here that the consumer will also ultimately benefit from a house that will be warmer, cosier and more comfortable.

It is also important to note that there is also a test in there of what is “technically and economically feasible” – homeowners will not be required to do anything if doing so can’t reasonably be described as cost effective.

So what about hassle? Well, in these situations, people are already going to have people coming to their house to deliver the main project. The extra burden we’re looking at is a short (and, probably free) energy survey, followed by some largely unobtrusive additional works. In most cases, the qualifying works will be things like extra loft insulation, cavity wall insulation and boiler replacements, which are very straightforward and quick compared to the long and dusty process of having a new extension.

The “marginal hassle factor” here is therefore, in most cases, likely to be tiny – especially when you compare it to the alternative of having these same energy saving measures installed at another time (something which many households would eventually choose to do anyway as their fuel bills skyrocket).

Similarly, there works are often cheaper overall when they can be done at the same time as wider building works – for example if the company converting you loft can also organise your boiler upgrade.

And what about the bigger picture? It’s right to say that this is a policy that is going to be a huge boost the Green Deal, a scheme that – with the help of complementary policies such as this – is set to support tens of thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of investment, while improving our energy security (including a reduced need for building new and unpopular power-generating capacity), and reducing the quarter of all UK emissions that come from the UK’s houses**.

At a time when the building industry is struggling, and there is an overwhelming need to stimulate job creation and investment in UK-plc, this is surely an opportunity too good to miss.

So let’s not let ourselves get carried away with cheap, largely baseless tabloid headlines and political game-playing – particularly since these are proposals that Labour also considered at a time when the Green Deal wasn’t around to pay for them***.

We agree with the suggestion that it’s also important to get the Green Deal right, with appropriate “carrots” to sit alongside the “sticks”, proper access to the scheme for SMEs, and help for the fuel poor.

But those are demands that sit comfortably alongside these proposals, in a package that would go a long way to giving credence to the current Government’s aspirations to be the “greenest ever” and the engineers of our economic recovery.

*It should be noted that the consultation document does not mention conservatories once, and that the proposals would, in fact, not apply to certain types of conservatories, including some of those used in press photos to illustrate the story.

** The Impact Assessment for these proposals estimate a lifetime saving of 130 million tonnes of CO2, a fact that did not escape Adair Turner of the Committee on Climate Change, who has publically recognised their importance.

*** The Impact Assessment alongside their proposals estimated a net benefit of the £760m p.a. to result from the implementation of the regulations, which they ultimately chose not to follow through.

This article was reproduced with permission from the UKGBC.

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