Developers to take on ‘green crap’?

Government schemes to make buildings more energy efficient have failed dismally; is the onus now on developers to pick up the slack? July 21, 2016 / Isla MacFarlane
Developers to take on ‘green crap’?

Whether he actually said it or not, the infamous ‘cut the green crap’ quote which the The Sun attributed to David Cameron in 2013 left an indelible mark on the Tory party’s environmental credentials. Their failure to deliver on green policies aimed at making buildings more energy efficient may see developers tasked with the job instead.

First, Theresa May binned the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), sparking cries of outrage as improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings was shoved ever-further down the list of government priorities. Then, it was revealed that the DECC’s ‘green deal’ had such an abysmally low take-up that every loan cost the taxpayer £17,000. The scheme, launched in 2013, granted homeowners loans for installation costs which were repaid through their energy bills.

“Three years ago Cameron told his officials to ‘cut the green crap’ and May has taken this further still by dissolving DECC,” said Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB. “This means that there will be no Cabinet-level Minister championing climate change issues at the highest level of Government, which is bound to result in less emphasis and less action. Andrea Leadsom’s appointment as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs provides little solace when you consider that she has regularly voted against measures to tackle climate change in the past. This matters because for May’s newly-formed Government to side-line its green policies, would be to sacrifice their numerous economic benefits.”

A recent report from the Public Accounts Committee concluded that take up for Green Deal loans scheme was “woefully low” because the scheme was not adequately tested. “It is clearly desirable to make homes more energy-efficient but the Green Deal in particular was not fit for purpose,” said Caroline Flint MP, a member of the Committee who led questioning during its inquiry.

“It is deeply alarming that the expectations for take-up put forward by the Government should be so wide of the mark, especially given the serious concerns raised about the scheme’s design and implementation,” she added.

According to HUB, developers now need to take responsibility for making homes energy efficient. The developer of mid-market housing has called on the property industry to take a more proactive stance on building and retrofitting property. Steve Sanham, HUB’s development director, said sustainability commitments must be seen as more than a just box-ticking exercise or CSR strategy.

“As a sector, we’ve got to get real,” Sanham said. “Buildings are responsible for 40% of carbon emissions, with housing being roughly half of that. There’s a lot we can do and as technology evolves, making a difference will get easier.

“Clearly, there are cost constraints in upgrading old buildings. But finding tax efficient ways to encourage change is essential. This could include getting developers to sponsor upgrades to older buildings when new ones are built, or ensuring that landlords play a greater role in maintaining housing stock rented out. While no one would require a ‘one size fits all’ solution, we do need more collective responsibility – rather than simply a top down government-driven approach that simply doesn’t work.”

According to the FMB, a programme to make British buildings more energy efficient would generate £8.7 billion of net benefits. This is comparable to the benefits delivered by the first phase of HS2, Crossrail, smart meter roll out, or investment in new roads. And unlike these large infrastructure projects, work to improve existing buildings is not at the mercy of the lengthy and protracted planning process. “Work could start tomorrow,” said Berry.

PHOTO CREDIT: Alachua County

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