Given how often I have stressed the urgent need to clean up our inadequate housing stock, it won’t surprise you to discover that I’ve given Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement the thumbs up. The tendency to keep on making the same repeated mistakes with our buildings has long been a cause of frustration so it’s a breath of fresh air to see that something might finally be done. I had indeed been optimistic that the statement would address the much-needed transition away from high carbon heating systems paving the way for low-carbon technology instead. Of course, this was a profound recommendation within the NIBE policy paper subsequently backed by the Committee on Climate Change in their Housing report last month. Yes, this has been a long time coming. Yes, it has its shortcomings. But it is a step in the right direction all the same.
The road towards a more sustainable economy has long been tainted by missed opportunities and repeated mistakes, resulting in leaky homes that are dependent on fossil fuels causing high emissions, energy bills, fuel poverty and ill health. Scorned by these previous disappointments, my enthusiasm is paired with a sense of uneasiness following years of inaction and the cancellation of policies such as Zero Carbon Homes. Even so, I am still hopeful that we will see real progress here providing we get the groundwork right. Through the uptake of heat pumps which are already leading the way in terms of energy efficiency, we can reduce carbon in our new homes and drive down energy bills, protecting the pockets of consumers and the environment for years to come.
With the government raising the housing supply by approximately 300,000 a year, adding more inefficient homes to the already inadequate housing stock would have been – no pun intended - adding fuel to a burning fire. Unveiling a New Future Homes Standard as part of the Spring Statement, the Chancellor has done well to acknowledge this, mandating the end of fossil fuel heating systems in new builds at the end of 2025, requiring new homes to have low carbon heating systems and ‘world leading’ levels of efficiency in place. Considering the hefty price tag attached to retrofitting homes once built, you don’t need to be a genius to conclude that this is the place to start.
The barriers associated with the transition to low carbon heat are significantly reduced in new homes. There is little disruption, the homes are built to accommodate the technology from the outset and thus perform more efficiently, and if the benefits of low carbon, efficient homes are recognised in property valuations we will see increased demand for these higher performing homes. Targeting new homes sets the groundwork for the existing housing market by upskilling the supply chain, increasing awareness and acceptance of low carbon technologies, and achieving economies of scale.
Of course, it then goes without saying that the pace of change is not fast enough. Given that the NIBE policy paper called for a concrete end date for high carbon fossil fuels in new homes in the early 2020s, the Chancellor's Spring Statement projections are already running late. To think that we’re required to build around 275,000 this year alone without the policy in place to ensure that these homes are up to scratch, we can’t afford to add more inefficient homes to the UK housing market at such an unprecedented rate. Considering the premise for focusing first on new homes first is to avoid expensive retrofits down the line, it would be contradictory to add a total of 1.5 million new homes to the problem before the new standard is eventually introduced. Putting it frankly, it would be a costly mistake for everyone - impacting the environment, government and consumers as a direct result.
Whilst specifications of the standard are yet to be consulted on, I’m eager to encourage the Government to not only recognise the positive impact the New Homes Standard can have on the housing stock but to also acknowledge that the sooner it is implemented, the better. Proven heat pump technology is readily available as a viable alternative to high carbon fossil fuel in new build homes and we simply can’t afford to wait.