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Is the message getting through?

I warmed both hands before the fire of life;

Sometimes if you bang on about something enough times, people start to listen to you. Listening and acting upon that information are two very different things however as this industry has discovered over the years.

The construction industry knows that not enough insulation is being installed in UK homes to meet required standards. And now it’s told Parliament that too. Again.

According to the Green Building Council’s report – ‘Building Places That Work for Everyone’ – released to Parliament today (February 28)  four out of five homes that will be occupied in 2050 have already been built. That means 25 million homes need refurbishing to the highest standards by 2050 – at a rate of 1.4 homes every minute.


The report sets out a number of key policy principles that it would like to see the Government sticking to:

  • Setting staged targets for refurbishing buildings
  • Reintroducing the “zero-carbon” standard for buildings from 2020
  • Recognising energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority
  • Setting long-term trajectories for ratcheting up home energy standards
  • Obliging commercial buildings to display the amount of energy they use.

It would also like to see the Government allowing industry the flexibility to identify the best approaches to delivery, avoiding unnecessary red tape

This last bit is interesting, I think. Basically, let people who understand the markets they operate in and who know what they are doing, decide how best to bring their products and solutions to the wider market. Don’t make them get bogged down in bureaucracy.

We’ve seen so many ways that governments have tried to find a solution to the problem of our ageing housing stock and its inability to keep us warm efficiently or cost effectively.

The CERT scheme under Labour had its benefits if you were in the market for smaller-than-normal rolls of insulation for a quid but was subject to the whims of the energy companies themselves. If they wanted to divert funds into issuing every household with those horrible energy efficient lightbulbs (cheap to run but, ultimately a bit crap) then that’s what they would do. And to hell with helping improve the fabric of the building.

CERT was, of course, replaced with the Green Deal and ECO schemes, neither of which really did what they were supposed to do in terms of saving energy and moving us away from our dependence on fossil fuels.

More words than you might think humanly possible have been written about where the Green Deal went wrong (many of them in this very blog) and yes, it wasn’t particularly well executed but there is another issue.

Refurbishing even a fraction of the 25million homes is going to be hassle and it will cost. Yes it will save money in the long term, but initially, somebody has to pay for it to be done. We know there’s not much appetite from the Treasury to fund something that might have a positive effect on house prices; neither does there seem to be much recognition from householders that spending on increasing energy efficiency is a worthwhile investment in their home. Landlords, housing associations and local authorities (those that still have council houses) might see the bigger picture but they still have to find the funding from their increasingly depleted coffers.

This stuff matters, surely, this time, there must be the political will to get it started on the right track.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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