Last week, the government published the long-awaited Heat and Buildings Strategy ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow.
It represents a major step forward, not least because it shows a clear recognition that the built environment will play a crucial role in the next stage of the nation’s decarbonisation drive. What it is not, though, is a national retrofit strategy.
Although there are clearly some gaps, there are many good and welcome things in the document. We’re encouraged that it sets out a clear plan that will see the government support consumers with the switch to low-carbon heating, focusing largely on the need to install heat pumps. This will be an integral part of the UK’s green transition.
But it appears that the funding will still fall significantly short of the PM’s £9.2bn manifesto commitment to decarbonising the built environment.
Some criticism has focused on the fact only 30,000 owner-occupier households stand to benefit from the heat pump grant scheme, but further analysis suggests that when combined with the support for social and fuel-poor housing, much larger numbers will actually be installed as a result of the strategy.
Hopefully this will be enough to give the heat pump market the drive needed to bring down costs.
Privately owned homes are the least energy-efficient part of the UK housing stock, and it’s therefore disappointing not to see a wider replacement for the Green Homes Grant. Organisations including the Construction Leadership Council have been calling for a national retrofit strategy that would focus on fabric upgrades, but this was not in last week’s strategy.
Although there are gaps, there are welcome things in the Heat and Buildings Strategy
The Budget might go some way to address these gaps, and we would like to see the chancellor announce fiscal incentives through council tax or VAT to encourage decarbonisation.
These incentives, along with changes to business rates, will be equally vital for small businesses, which will also need support to transition to net zero.
Local authorities are also going to play a vital role.
Whether it’s in identifying the households eligible for schemes such as ECO and the Homes Upgrade Grant or providing tailored advice to owner-occupiers, they will be at the forefront of this next stage.
I hope we will soon see a more detailed plan on how to train (or retrain) the many workers the UK’s green transition will require. Hundreds of thousands of workers will be required to retrofit and futureproof the UK’s housing stock – the creation of these jobs can play a key role in the government’s commitment to levelling up. We await more details in response to the Green Jobs Taskforce recommendations.
As the first country to introduce a legal net zero commitment, the UK rightly aspires to being a world leader on combatting the effects of climate change. Many more measures will be needed, but the Heat and Buildings Strategy and Net Zero Strategy are a good start. There is clearly a long road ahead, and as an industry we have a responsibility to share our expertise and knowledge, foster a sense of urgency and continue to advocate for the measures we know will make a difference.
Gillian Charlesworth is chief executive of the BRE