UK business chiefs call for retrofit scheme to hit home emissions target

UK business & economy updates

Leaders from across the energy, construction, financial services and housing industries are pressing the government to “urgently” develop a strategy to deal with the UK’s inefficient, leaky homes or “risk missing” its 2050 net zero emissions target.

Fourteen executives from major companies and organisations including British Gas, Eon, Nationwide and The Federation of Master Builders are demanding a national retrofit strategy to slash emissions from Britain’s 29m homes, which were last year responsible for more than a fifth of the UK’s carbon dioxide releases.

The UK’s slow progress on upgrading its building stock, which is among the most inefficient in Europe, has long been a source of frustration for environmentalists, including the government’s official climate advisers who have warned that policy in this area “continues to lag behind what is needed”.

Ministers provoked outrage among climate experts earlier this year when they scrapped a flagship £1.5bn scheme aimed at upgrading homes in England with better insulation and low carbon heating following problems with its design and administration.

The government is yet to publish a key Heat and Buildings Strategy that was expected last year and campaigners fear prime minister Boris Johnson will shy away from much-need measures, such as a 2035 ban on natural gas boilers, amid pressure from some ministers and MPs who are concerned over the costs of delivering the net zero target.

Claire Tracey, chief strategy and sustainability officer at Nationwide Building Society, said “making our 29m homes greener is one of the most pressing issues of our time”.

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She called on ministers to “create a national retrofitting strategy that ensures the UK’s Paris Agreement commitments can be met. Anything less and we risk not only missing our climate targets, but also missing an opportunity to achieve higher-quality housing, lower energy bills, and new green jobs for the whole of the UK.”

The 14 organisations, which also include Legal & General’s modular homes business and Midas Group, the construction company, said a new national retrofit programme must be properly regulated so consumers have confidence in the quality of the work carried out. Crucially, it must also be “fairly financed”, they said.

“Government could encourage consumers via a long-term commitment, including supplementary grant funding as a stimulus, and, critically, should help those who simply cannot afford to pay,” they said in a joint statement on Thursday.

Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association, who has long tracked the UK government’s policies on retrofits, said that “over the last decade . . . government schemes for energy-efficiency improvements on the housing stock have either been heavily revised, cancelled or significantly narrowed in coverage”.

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He pointed out that another big energy efficiency scheme launched by the coalition government in 2010 was also scrapped prematurely.

Future programmes must be allowed time to “build up momentum so that households have faith in the scheme and see the benefits of it” and also to allow companies in the supply chain “to make major investments in new capacity”, Francis added.

One of the criticisms of the £1.5bn Green Homes Grant voucher scheme that was pulled by ministers earlier this year was it was hastily introduced and only envisaged as a short-term stimulus to help create “green jobs” following the first nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

The UK business department insisted that “the UK has a strong record in improving the energy performance of its homes.” It pointed out that 40 per cent are now rated “B and C” on the energy performance certificates that are needed when homes are sold, rented or built, “up from just 9 per cent in 2008,” referring to the third-best ranking on the 7-tier energy efficiency scale.

Additional reporting by George Hammond in London