As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
New Clause 1
‘A local planning authority in England may in their development plan document, and a local planning authority in Wales may in their local development plan, include policies imposing reasonable requirements for insulation standards in domestic and commercial developments in their area that exceed the requirements of building regulations.’.—[Mr. Dismore.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on having got so far with his Bill so early in the parliamentary year; he has done a magnificent job. Although I have a few things to say, I assure him that my objective is not to prevent the Bill achieving its Third Reading, although I cannot speak for other hon. Members.
I want to highlight one or two gaps in the Bill. I have read the report of the Committee proceedings, where the original Bill was ditched and a new Bill was introduced with, I assume, the backing of the Government, which resulted in the replacement of the original clause 1. Beyond that, the Bill did not receive a great deal of scrutiny in Committee, which is regrettable because it has a fair wind behind it and has attracted a consensus on its objective. In such cases, people do not want to get bogged down in the detail, and the net result is that things are left out or not put right.
New clause 1 and amendment No. 11 address insulation, which is one of the most important issues relating to energy but which is missing from the Bill. New clause 1 would add an additional permissive power to allow local authorities to impose additional reasonable requirements on insulation in both domestic and commercial developments, which could go beyond existing building regulations.
As one might expect, amendment No. 11 refers to
“national policies relating to insulation”.
Why should we focus on insulation? In 1998, my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) was the Minister with responsibility for construction, and he instituted a comprehensive review of energy-efficient provisions in the building regulations and set out proposed amendments to part L of the regulations, to which new clause 1 and amendment No. 11 relate. The purposes of the amendments to part L were significantly to raise performance standards for insulation in building fabric after two years, to improve supply after six months and to tie those standards more firmly to, for example, the efficiency of boilers.
When my right hon. Friend announced those improvements, the objective was to cut heating bills for homes by one quarter, which would make a substantial contribution to Britain’s aim of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. If we are serious about meeting our Kyoto targets, cutting energy consumption and examining different forms of energy supply, we should consider how much energy we are using in the first place. If we want to introduce a green Bill such as this, it is an omission to consider only half the equation—where the energy comes from, but not how much of it we are using.
The new part L of the building regulations set most builders and building service engineers a challenge. The Government worked closely with the industry, and the view was that new part L would yield substantial benefits for occupiers of dwellings and other buildings through lower heating bills. The saving was up to 25 per cent. in the case of dwellings, and it also resulted in lower air conditioning bills—I do not suppose that many houses have air conditioning, but it certainly improves comfort and productivity in other settings. It has been estimated that in 2010 the measures in part L would contribute 1.4 million tonnes of carbon to the overall 23 per cent. cut in the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions as set out in the climate change programme, as it then was. The guidance in the new improved documents significantly raised the performance standards for building insulation, which is the subject of new clause 1. It is also important to recognise that part L of the regulations addresses summer performance as well as insulation against winter cold.
The provisions were not restricted to new buildings. Around half the carbon benefits mentioned would come from the application of the new requirements to work in existing buildings. For dwellings, for example, the new rules applied whenever windows, glazed doors, boilers and hot water vessels were replaced. For buildings other than dwellings, the same provisions would apply for windows and systems such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, but that was qualified in that reasonable provision depended on the circumstances of the particular case. The sympathetic treatment of historic buildings was also considered to be necessary.
Part L was important, particularly after it was changed again in April 2006, which resulted in even higher standards than those imposed in 2002. When building work is carried out on buildings with a floor area greater than 1,000 sq m, consequential improvements must also be made to the whole building, if they are practical and cost-effective, which includes improvements to increase energy efficiency.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point. We may have to wait for further amendments to the building regulations, which have been significantly improved as time has gone by.
The Bill introduces an important concept, which is to permit local authorities to go beyond the existing national guidance and regulations in the context of, for example, local energy supply. That enables local authorities, which are often more flexible than central Government, to be one step ahead of central Government in a major nationwide reform. My concern is that a similar provision should be introduced for the insulation of buildings.
I thank my hon. Friend for the positive way in which he is approaching this excellent Bill. New clause 1 would introduce a requirement to exceed building regulations—a Merton plus, plus model. In view of the work done by experts such as McBride and Healey, is it not the case that the building regulations will always be exceeded, regardless of what they are?
That is my objective. Clause 1(1) allows local authorities to, for example, develop policies for their area that require compliance with energy efficiency standards that exceed the energy requirements of building regulations. I am not introducing a new concept in the context of this particular Bill, because clause 1 addresses energy from renewable sources, low-carbon energy and energy requirements in general. I want to square the circle by saying that we should consider not only where the energy comes from—progress on energy requirements is part of what I am trying to achieve—but the consumption of energy, which is where insulation becomes relevant.
In my view, the starting point for energy policy must be the reduction of consumption in the first place. The subsequent question is where the energy comes from, and further subordinate questions flow from that. The starting point is getting energy consumption down in the first place before we consider supply. It is important to recognise, as the Bill rightly does, that local authorities can sometimes be ahead of the game. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) has referred to the Merton example to illustrate that point, and other local authorities have conducted similar initiatives elsewhere.
When local authorities promote such initiatives, they often provide what are effectively de facto pilot schemes for the national Government. If it turns out that a local authority such as Merton has developed plans that go beyond the requirements of building regulations or central Government guidance or policy, and that those plans are working well, that can short-circuit the development of national guidelines and building and planning regulations because the pilot will have already been tested in the relevant context. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North has made an important point about one of the significant issues in the Bill. We have seen the importance of insulation from the efforts of the Government so far.
Before I took the two interventions, I was talking about what had been achieved through the April 2006 amendments to part L of the building regulations with regard to insulation. Importantly, those amendments mean that when more than 25 per cent. of the surface area of a controlled element such as a wall elevation is renovated, the energy efficiency of the whole element has to be improved—in other words, there should be insulation. As part of the material change of use, any retained element or fitting whose thermal performance is worse than the defined threshold should be upgraded. That also involves insulation, although not of the building itself: it involves lagging around pipes, boilers and so forth. As part of a material alteration, any element that becomes part of the external envelope should be upgraded if its thermal performance is worse than the defined threshold. That is a significant change in emphasis towards insulation. That is why my amendment is important: it would bring the Bill much more in line with what the Government are trying to achieve overall on energy consumption.
My hon. Friend is making interesting points about the value of insulation in this whole strategy. I note that the third line of new clause 1 refers to
“reasonable requirements for insulation standards”.
Has he considered what is reasonable in respect of cost-effective insulation? A couple of years ago, we used to put in 4 in of insulation; now we put in 6 in—if not 8 or 10 in. However, there is a law of diminishing returns on the amount of thermal retention gained by increasing the number of inches of insulation that we put into lofts, for example. Has my hon. Friend considered how far it is reasonable to go, before we stop getting anything reasonable in return for our investment?
I have done that bit of homework. The Thermal Insulation Manufacturers and Suppliers Association has produced a handy set of notes and guidance on such issues. I was tempted to set some of the detail before the House, but I suspect that that might be going a little too far. I should just mention the association’s comments on issues relating to insulation for heating and hot water pipes: it refers to the outside diameter of the pipe, thermal conductivity and the relevant thickness of insulation. Perhaps I should give my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) that worthy tome so that he can read it himself. If he has any comments or questions about it, I could take them as interventions later.
Given the thickness of the document and paper’s lack of conductivity, that might not be a bad idea. However, the document is interesting, and I hope that it will help my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich to sleep at night.
As part of the review, the Government made it clear that they wanted to work closely with local authorities on compliance with building regulations and how those regulations could be improved. Measures being implemented or under consideration included a simplified single approach to showing compliance and a substantial information and training campaign targeted at building control bodies—the local authorities, of course—and the industry.
That campaign ran into 2006 and included an e-learning pack, in what were the early days of that sort of thing. It also included simplified technical guidance and new approved documents, backed up by reference documents containing technical details. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich is reading those with avid interest. A number of new competent person self-certification schemes were also set up. That was a significant step forward.
In July 2006, the Department now called the Department for Communities and Local Government set out in a press notice some of the measures that it was introducing to make housing more sustainable. One of the key issues was the Warm Front grant scheme. Most Members have constituents who have benefited from that; in my constituency, several hundred households, particularly those of pensioners and people on low incomes, have benefited considerably from the scheme, which has enabled insulation to be installed. The local authority and the Greater London assembly, under the former London Mayor, have provided their own insulation arrangements in conjunction with the energy companies.
I am sure that the whole House would concur with my hon. Friend’s points about the Warm Front scheme. However, as far as I am aware, there is no separate money Bill that delineates the implications of new clause 1. Is my hon. Friend saying that any additional costs resulting from the local government requirements would be met solely by the householder? One of the great advantages of Warm Front is that it involves zero cost to the householder. Although I appreciate that in the long term these measures mean that the householder saves money and the planet may be saved, there would be an interim problem that affected many of my hon. Friend’s constituents and mine. How would that issue be resolved?
My hon. Friend presages some of the points I was going to make on the second group of amendments, and I will not go through them now. I simply say that one thing generally missing from the Bill is a consideration of any costs involved. If my hon. Friend looks ahead, he will see that one of my new clauses in the second group of amendments raises the particular issue of the cost of a variety of matters and their implications for the provision of housing generally.
We know from research that the cost of insulation and energy efficiency measures generally can be disproportionate, given the payback time. Furthermore, the cost of adapting a house or, particularly, constructing a new one to meet energy efficiency standards can be significantly increased. However, I shall not go into those arguments now; I will save their detail until we get to the second group of amendments, assuming that we get that far this morning.
The DCLG also said that it proposed to extend support for energy companies to provide subsidised insulation for 250,000 installations to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes; that relates to the point that I just made. We are extending the landlords energy savings allowance to cover hot water system insulation and draught-proofing, to incentivise landlords in the private sector to improve energy efficiency. That is important, because if we consider the performance as opposed to the policy, we see that although there have been significant improvements, the overall figures show that things are not as rosy as they might be.
In December 2006, my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Ian Pearson), then the Minister with responsibility for these issues, answered a parliamentary question by giving figures on insulation measures carried out, including cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and double glazing. In 2000, 211,000 homes in Great Britain installed cavity wall insulation, 415,000 installed loft insulation and 2,002,000 installed double glazing. In 2005, the figures on cavity wall insulation had gone up to 240,000, but those on loft insulation had gone down to 280,000 and those on double glazing to 1,340,000. There are two explanations for that. The first is that once the work is done, it is done pretty much for ever and, because of the progress in those five years, demand for such work was tailing off. The alternative explanation is that insulation was getting a little less fashionable and people were not doing as much as they should have.
As my hon. Friend also said in his answer, we should consider the general impact on households. Sixteen per cent. of all households in England, and in Britain as a whole, have full insulation, which means that there is 84 per cent. to go. That answers the question that I posed in relation to the 2005 figures. It is therefore an inevitable conclusion that something happened to stop people doing this sort of work, particularly double glazing and loft insulation, between 2000 and 2005.
The figures get more interesting when we look at the nature of tenure. Those for owner-occupiers are marginally better than those for the national average, with 17 per cent. fully insulated. What is very bad, however, is that for privately rented properties, at only 6 per cent. People in private rented accommodation tend to be socially excluded, and potentially from low-income households and at risk of fuel poverty, so they are at a double disadvantage in that they are probably living in less well-maintained accommodation to start with. We know from the figures that their level of insulation is very poor compared with the average overall: it is only 6 per cent., which means that 94 per cent. of that group do not have the necessary insulation. That means that their heating bills will go up even though they are probably on a far lower income than the population as a whole.
The position is slightly better for local authority households, at 10 per cent. It is also encouraging that registered social landlord—housing association—households are on 20 per cent., so they have made significant improvements above the national average as it then was. My new clause would be another incentive, via local authorities setting out requirements in planning regulations, to improve significantly on those woeful statistics.
My hon. Friend underlines in many ways the importance of this Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). However, I am concerned about whether there is a lacuna in the area of education. I think of my constituent, Mr. Simon Davies, who told me about the house built in south Wales by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), which is known as the “Teletubbies house” and is built almost entirely underground and covered with what he calls organic insulation and the rest of us call grass. Given that there is such a change in insulation from the traditional areas of cavity and loft insulation and double glazing, does my hon. Friend think we need an educative process for which the Bill would be the starting pistol?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I suspect that most people would not be able to afford the sort of construction that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) has been able to build for himself in terms of the cost of construction, the land involved and the insulation materials, including the football pitch on the roof.
My hon. Friend is right in his substantive point about the educative process behind my new clause and the Bill in general, although we may be straying into Third Reading territory. The Bill would serve a useful purpose in that respect by providing a system of pilot schemes for local authorities spreading out through local authority consortiums—examples include the Nottingham declaration and Merton, which he mentioned. A local authority that was going to introduce the higher standards required by clause 1 and my new clause—the same principles apply—would have to justify those new standards to its electorate and to those conducting business or developing property in its area. There would inevitably have to be a proper explanation to local people of why it had decided to go down that route.
Does my hon. Friend’s new clause have the potential to encourage not only registered social landlords but private landlords to improve the insulation standards in their conversions? As a fellow London Member, he will know that there are huge problems with thermal and noise insulation in houses belonging to registered social landlords, particularly those converted some time ago when standards were much lower. Those problems are even greater among private landlords who have converted buildings to flats with little regard for insulation standards, so that their tenants reap a harvest of problems.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is exactly what my new clause would achieve. It would enable his local authority, or mine, if it so wished, to get tough with landlords carrying out such flat conversions as regards complying with the regulations. The building regulations as they stand may not be as tough as they should be, and the new clause would enable a local authority to set standards—they would have to be common-sense standards—that went beyond them.
Different areas have different housing needs and demands and different sorts of housing developments. My hon. Friend’s constituency probably has a much greater proportion of flat conversions than we have in outer London, so the problems are slightly different. Under my new clause, his local authority would be able, in relation to such properties, to impose
“requirements for insulation standards in domestic and commercial developments in their area”.
I see no reason why that could not be broken down between different types of domestic development. For insulation against noise, although we are talking particularly about that geared towards energy, there would be different requirements for a detached house from those for a conversion to four flats in a former terrace. A much higher standard of insulation would be required, perhaps as much as for noise as for heat, between the floors and between the development and the properties to either side. My hon. Friend’s local authority could want to impose higher or different standards. That is the beauty of the approach taken by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks in clause 1, and in my new clause 1, which would enable local authorities to tailor the particular demands of their people to the requirements of the regulations that they wished to impose beyond the Government minimum safety net.
Would there be any scope under my hon. Friend’s new clause for higher standards to be imposed at a time when landlords are making renovations? One of the problems that I encounter in my constituency, as I am sure he does in his, concerns people living in Victorian houses that were converted in the 1970s or 1980s, where the conversion consisted merely of putting a new front door on each landing, with no increase in the noise or thermal insulation in the rest of the house. That means that every sound made upstairs can be heard downstairs, and if there is a family living on the first floor with single people living above and below, the lives of everyone in the house are rendered impossible because basic insulation standards were not insisted on at the right time, when the original conversion was made, and they are condemned for ever to living, as it were, as three families in the same house—
I take my hon. Friend’s point. I have had personal experience of that problem. The issue of conversion is the same as that of renovation. It applies not only to flats but to bedsits and to the way that properties are broken down into smaller and smaller units. That may lead us into different arguments about the threshold for the number of flats in social housing and to the consequences of the 50 per cent. rule, but I accept that that is not a debate for today. The building regulations as a whole provide a basic safety net. The bottom line is that the regulations with which every building has to comply would also apply to conversions and, I think, to renovations. People could say to a local authority, “Look here, you’ve got this problem in your area, it’s a general issue, and you can do something about it for the people in your area if you wish.” It has to be done reasonably, and subsequent new clauses that I have tabled would require proper consultation, but my hon. Friend has hit on an important point. We have to do something to improve living standards through insulation, not just in terms of heating and noise, but by dealing with the impact on people’s general well-being. Such problems can be very disturbing. We have all had people in our constituency bring cases of noise problems to us, which can be dealt with by proper insulation, just as heating and energy issues can be. I am sure that we all have half a dozen or more of those cases on the go at any one time. People make complaints about their neighbours that could be dealt with by decent insulation.
My hon. Friend refers principally to thermal insulation, but he is on to something quite important with regard to sound attenuation. On the point about the amount of development in inner-London constituencies, in my area, even where there are cellars—or Kasey Kellers as people call them locally—people have tried to build there. Given his discussions with the Thermal Insulation Manufacturers and Suppliers Association, was he aware of any part of its remit that includes the benign combination of thermal and sound insulation in the same material?
I think that my hon. Friend will find that that organisation simply deals with the question of insulation as a whole, and as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton), a useful by-product of insulating a building properly for heat and, therefore, energy consumption, is a better effect in dealing with noise. Of course, the only effect produced by lagging pipes will be that they will not bang so loudly if there is an airlock, but insulation between floors and in roofs, cavity walls and so forth can have a significant effect if someone is being disturbed by their neighbour’s stereo. Both my hon. Friends made significant points in that regard.
In November 2006, the new planning policy statement 3 on housing was published, which dealt with the particular problems of climate change. It said that
“Developers and planning bodies will have to take account of the need to cut carbon emissions as well as the wider environmental and sustainability considerations when siting or designing new homes.”
That goes to the heart of my new clause. As I said in my opening remarks, we have to try to cut carbon emissions in the first place, which is done not just through the way in which the energy is produced—be it windmills, solar power or whatever—but by using less energy. The PPS3 guidance is important in that respect.
It is important that the planning guidance be integrated with the building regulations. That is what I am trying to put across in new clause 1. Effectively, the local authority has powers under the planning laws; it does not have the power to mess around directly with the building regulations, but it can do so indirectly through the planning laws. That is why integration through the PPS supplement, with the building regulations is the right way to go. The PPS supplement makes it clear that planning for climate change necessitates clear and challenging roles for regional and local spatial strategies, which are expected to help to shape the framework for energy supply in their local authority area.
At the local level, development plan documents—the things that we are looking at to set out the basic planning framework—will set policies on the provision of low-carbon and renewable sources of energy to provide the platform necessary for securing and complementing the increasingly high levels of energy efficiency required by building regulations. Again, we see the symmetry between the need for policies on low-carbon and renewable sources of energy and the need for energy efficiency required by the building regulations. We have a statement that makes it clear that both sides of the equation have to be addressed. Paragraph 30 of the PPS supplement draft document makes it clear that planning authorities should
“be concerned with the environmental performance of new development and with the impact of individual buildings on, and their resilience to, climate change.”
It advocates that they engage
“constructively and imaginatively with developers to encourage the delivery of sustainable buildings”
and to support innovation. At the same time it says that they should not be setting their own standards for environmental performance, as national standards are already set out through the building regulations, and for new homes, in the code for sustainable homes. I think that that last part is wrong. Local authorities should be in the forefront of such work.
The document states
“Planning authorities should assess their area’s potential for accommodating renewable and low-carbon technologies, including…micro-renewables”—
for which clause 1 provides—
“in new residential, commercial or industrial development.”
It is also important, however, that they have regard, as the planning guidance document says, to other matters, some of which I shall pick up on later if we get to the second group of new clauses. The document emphasises, in a shopping list of about a dozen issues in paragraph 23, the contribution that can be made to meeting the energy performance requirements for new buildings through the building regulations, and by extension, through new clause 1—moving beyond those into local requirements.
My hon. Friend draws attention in new clause 1 to the role of local planning authorities and their local development plan documents, which are now called local development frameworks. Assuming that new clause 1 is accepted, and the Bill is passed, in a case where a local authority has recently agreed its local development framework, should it take an issue up through supplementary planning guidance to add it back into its local development framework, because it has not been able to take it into account until now?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Any planning document, whether it is the old-fashioned unitary development plan or the new local development framework, needs to be a dynamic document. It cannot be set in stone, which is an inevitable consequence of the Bill, regardless of new clause 1.
There is no doubt that we all experience in our constituencies pressure from our electorate for measures to deal with the problems of climate change. Those measures can be carried out in a variety of ways, such as recycling, which local authorities can deal with directly. However, we know that among the significant generators of carbon emissions are buildings. They are probably the most significant generator after the motor car—I do not have the precise figures. We can bear down on issues relating to motor fuel or aviation fuel—one of the hot topics at the moment when considering the Kyoto goals—but we must not forget the importance of buildings.
Most forward-looking local authorities will want to consider the Bill, assuming it becomes law, and will find it surprising if, when looking at the issue of microgeneration, they do not have similar powers to deal with insulation. That is probably an easier thing to achieve and probably has a better, more cost-effective payback than some of the microgeneration schemes. We know that some of the green energy supplies—to foreshadow an argument that we may have on the second group of new clauses—can be more expensive.
I do not think that there will be many arguments in the House today except on points of detail. My hon. Friend referred to forward-thinking local authorities. I appreciate that we cannot introduce retrospective legislation, or retrofit legislation, and a builder such as Murphys in my constituency will say that it is perfectly happy and comfortable with the requirements for extensions and new build, but is there not a danger that we could end up with a two-tier system where older converted properties are energy-inefficient and the modern ones are efficient? I appreciate that the Government are doing work in this area, but has my hon. Friend given consideration to that in his new clause?
My hon. Friend makes an important point that goes back to the statistics I referred to setting out how few properties are fully insulated. If only 16 per cent. are insulated, there is a reason for that. He is right: when we are building from scratch, it is easier to comply with new requirements. With regard to the building regulations, however, if the Victorian properties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea referred earlier are not modernised, converted or refurbished, all sorts of building regulations will not be complied with.
If one considers, for example, the construction of a staircase, the treads may not be right. That is an inevitable consequence of building before building regulations were introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North asks an important question about how we catch up with the enormous backlog of 84 per cent. The position is probably a bit better now, because those figures are a couple of years out of date.
A carrot and stick approach is needed to catch up with the backlog. The carrot approach includes the warm homes initiative and the various grants that are available for microgeneration. Thought needs to be given to the matter as and when conversions or major works are undertaken. A good example would be that, when one installs a new boiler, it has to meet the new up-to-date standards because that is a requirement of the law. Some improvement is therefore inevitable.
Has my hon. Friend any idea of how long the catch-up process would take under the Bill, with the new clause? Clearly, people who live in older houses understand that they cannot expect the same high standards, but they look forward to a time when standards of insulation in their houses will catch up. I have a Mr. Davies in my constituency who has suffered from persistent problems caused by poor insulation. If I could give him some sort of idea of time scale, it would make his life much easier.
My hon. Friend asks a question that I do not believe anyone can answer. There are times in the life of a building when things happen—for example, replacing a boiler contributes to improving energy efficiency; conversions or refurbishments often mean major work; roofs have to be replaced every 30 years or so—and that is an opportunity to do something about insulation. When a house changes hands, what needs to be done is highlighted. Home information packs can be important in that context—I propose to refer to them later. A range of measures are needed and the Bill—I hope with my new clause—would make an important contribution to the process.
My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made an important point when as Housing Minister she addressed the all-party group on climate change in November 2006. She said that energy savings could be made in existing homes by simple measures such as cavity wall insulation, which does not have to be very expensive. The review of the sustainability of existing buildings showed that the number of homes with more than 150 mm of loft insulation increased by 4 million between 2001 and 2004, but a further 8.5 million could benefit from cavity wall insulation, which typically costs £340 to fit and pays for itself in 2.6 years. In five years, householders will get a 200 per cent. return on their investment. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North spoke about the need to educate the public about such matters. Those figures are simple to convey.
It could take many years to achieve the payback on some of the proposals in the Bill for microgeneration. However, loft insulation and cavity wall insulation have an almost immediate effect. To revert to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, carrot and stick measures include education as well as making grants available to less well-off households, pensioners and so on through the warm homes initiative and various local authority and London-wide measures.
The Bill also has implications for the decent homes standard, which the Government established as a key checklist of fitness for acceptable dwellings. Central Government have made significant grants available to local authorities for improvements to their housing stock. I am pleased to say that, in Barnet, we have £88.5 million from central Government for improving our council housing stock.
Yes. I have long called for a “Barnet formula” to meet our needs, which are special to our area. Just as Scotland has its special needs, so do we. However, I digress.
The £88.5 million can be used to tackle some of the problems that were identified earlier. Only 351,000— 10 per cent.—of local authority properties in Great Britain meet the full insulation standards. How do we tackle that? The decent homes standard and the money that comes with it is part of the solution. Decent homes standards are set separately from building regulations—indeed, their criteria are slightly higher. Performance criteria include providing a reasonable amount of thermal comfort through effective insulation and efficient heating. There is much further detail. The new clause would enable that requirement to be supported by local authorities through their decent homes grant.
Earlier, I mentioned fuel poverty. Fuel-poor households are defined as those that need to spend more than 10 per cent. of their incomes on adequate heat and lighting. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology note on the matter states that some 2 million households are affected by fuel poverty. I suspect that the rising cost of energy means that the position is worsening. Without new clause 1, the Bill might unwittingly contribute to making the position worse. I make the point to presage arguments that I shall present when we consider the next group of new clauses.
Renewable energy, from green sources, is potentially more expensive to the consumer than energy from traditional sources. If we are to start requiring renewable energy in the wider sense as part of new developments in clause 1, the cost of heating homes may increase. We could resolve that through accepting the new clause and requiring better insulation, which counterbalances the potential increase in the cost of green energy. We must do something for the 2 million homes in the UK that are classed are fuel poor. Uptake of cavity wall insulation is low, and the hon. Member for Sevenoaks needs to reflect on the Bill’s potential impact on fuel poverty.
In response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, I mentioned home information packs. From 1 June last year, home owners throughout England and Wales are required to provide a home information pack when marketing their homes. It was a somewhat controversial measure, which is not fully in force. However, one of the requirements is to provide an A to G energy efficiency rating, similar to that given to electrical goods, to give buyers an assessment of a property’s likely running costs before they buy it.
We all know that, if we buy a house and get a normal survey, which states that work, such as rewiring, needs to be done, we negotiate with the vendor a reduction in the price to reflect that. The energy efficiency rating element of the home information pack can have the same effect. If one is buying an expensive house with a low energy efficiency rating, one inevitably goes back to the vendor and says, “Look here, your windows are rattling, there’s no loft insulation, the pipes aren’t properly lagged. I’ve got an estimate of what it’s going to cost to put it right and I want a reduction in the sale price to reflect that.” I therefore believe that the energy efficiency rating is probably the most important element of the home information pack, because it is one of the moments in a building’s life—when it changes hands—when something can be done about the energy requirements, especially through insulation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that an important element in the progress that we make towards insulation standards, and therefore towards dealing with climate change from buildings, is not just the regulations that local authorities can insist on, but the publicity that they can give them? A concomitant of better regulations is publicity that will reach the people—owner-occupiers, in particular—who can benefit from them and take advantage of grants. For a local authority to cut its publicity budget is to take a regressive step, because it is one of the essential weapons in making progress towards better cavity insulation.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The energy efficiency rating for the home information pack will draw the problem to the attention of the purchaser of the property, but it will not go beyond that. It would be interesting if, for instance, on a street of similar houses, the energy efficiency rating could be made more widely available to the owners of all the houses. If people’s houses were built at the same time, they might have the same construction problems.
Although several hundred people have taken up the Warm Front scheme in my constituency, I am still amazed at how few have taken advantage of what is essentially free money—and not just free money to do the improvements, but free money in the long term, through the reduction of heating bills. Although the people who run the scheme in my patch are good at telling me what is going on, I am not entirely sure that they are doing as much as they could to tell the wider community what is available. That could be done through various means, including pensioners groups, outreach work—
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea set me off. The Warm Front scheme ties in with new clause 1, as an example of how a local authority could, under my proposals, say that it wanted to ensure that a scheme applied to a particular building.
Bearing in mind your rigid strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will not give the warm words of praise to that eager partnership that I would have given otherwise. My hon. Friend’s new clause 1 is permissive: he is saying what a local authority may do, not what it shall do, which is implicit in the Bill as drafted. House prices are falling. If one talks to builders such as Mr. Dempsey in my constituency, to whom I talked last week, they will say that in a falling house market, margins are shaved. Even though it goes against the grain of my hon. Friend’s naturally liberal and permissive nature, has he given any thought to whether new clause 1 should be an instruction, rather than a permission?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I hope that we will come to costs in the second group of amendments. At the risk of straying beyond new clause 1, may I explain that I had tabled another group of amendments that would have changed the permissive nature into a mandatory nature, but regrettably Mr. Speaker did not select them for debate. Obviously I would not criticise Mr. Speaker’s selection of amendments, although my hon. Friend may have done so indirectly and unwittingly. A potential problem with my new clause 1, and clause 1, is that if we do not require local authorities to do such things, they might not do them.
I would certainly not question my hon. Friend’s intentions in that respect. He made his intervention unwittingly, perhaps having read today’s selection of amendments, rather than the full list that I tabled earlier in the week. I would not blame him for that, however, because there were quite a few amendments.
I was talking about the importance of home information packs in relation to new clause 1. For the A to G energy efficiency rating,
“Performance is rated in terms of the energy use per square metre of floor area,”
and energy efficiency is
“based on fuel costs and environmental impact”.
The pack will include average costs for heating and lighting, as well as, importantly,
“how to cut costs with energy efficiency measures, such as thicker loft insulation, draft proofing, installation of double glazing, more efficient boilers or even microgeneration”.
That entirely squares with the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea made about information and education.
It will be interesting if a local authority that has decided to go down the new clause 1 route pulls together some samples of home information packs—they are produced by the vendor, so presumably an authority could collect them together from estate agents—to see whether there is a general pattern in its area. That relates to the point that I made to my hon. Friend earlier about different areas having different requirements, because of different types of property configuration. A local authority could go round the estate agents and collect a good sample of HIP energy efficiency ratings, which could then inform the level of the requirement that it would like to impose through new clause 1 for insulation. If one street turned out to have a particular problem, the local authority could do something about it. That would be a good way to proceed.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way a third time. He has said a lot about the implications for domestic dwellings and made some good points about the relevance of the home information packs. However, new clause 1 refers also to commercial developments, for which no similar mechanism exists. Does he feel there should be one, and has he considered the wider implications of new clause 1, in imposing what could be considered an additional burden on business?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The Bill as drafted makes no distinction between forms of property—it just leaves the question open. Clause 1 as drafted talks about planning policies in general terms, but does not refer specifically to domestic or commercial properties, which is something of a lacuna. Without wishing to tread on Mr. Speaker’s selection, I should point out that I tabled amendments to draw out that distinction elsewhere in the Bill. If we are going down the route proposed, it is important to make it clear—as my new clause 1 does, but existing clause 1 does not—that we are talking about both domestic and commercial properties.
There is no way that the home information pack could refer to commercial properties—I suppose that it would have to be called a commercial property information pack or something like that.
Home information packs have been controversial, but their object is to protect the purchaser, to try to reduce the costs of the conveyancing transaction and to speed the process up. The process is different in commercial sales, because people are buying for different reasons and the buildings will be all sorts of different shapes and sizes. With domestic properties, there is Buckingham palace on the one hand and my flat on the other. In between, however, we are talking about a pretty standardised range of properties. A commercial development could mean anything from a shop to a factory or office block. That would make things rather difficult, given the scale of some of those buildings, so I am not sure whether that would be the right route. However, local authorities would be specifically empowered under my new clause 1 to impose insulation requirements on commercial buildings.
I suspect—although I am afraid that I have no evidence for this in the research that I have done for today—that the amount of energy lost through poor insulation in commercial buildings far outweighs that lost in domestic buildings, given their scale and the fact that the workers in them do not necessarily have any incentive to save energy and reduce costs. There may be such incentives for the owners, but not necessarily for those working in the buildings.
It is important that commercial premises should be brought within the ambit of the Bill. When the hon. Member for Sevenoaks responds on new clause 1, perhaps he can say whether clause 1 as drafted is intended to include both commercial and domestic buildings. For the avoidance of doubt, let me explain that I framed my new clause 1 to make it clear that it was so intended.
I am surprised at my hon. Friend’s comments, because I would have thought that for commercial premises there would be a considerable financial incentive for the operators of the process or the owners of the building to reduce energy costs. Again, it would be a benign advantage in that insulation also means cost reduction. As with electricity consumption, where people try to reduce the amount they use, so in this case they would wish to reduce the amount of heat generated. Surely that would provide a commercial imperative.
Probably the latter. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend’s point. The problem is that for huge buildings that may also be old—perhaps dating from the 1930s or 1940s—the cost of insulation, reflecting the scale of the buildings, may be astronomical. My hon. Friend may well be right about making energy savings, but my point related to those working in the building, who have no personal incentive to carry this out. The building owners and the commercial company operating within the building certainly would have an incentive, which is why the new clause gives local authorities the power to make requirements for better insulation in respect of commercial as well as domestic buildings. I wanted to spell it out that I was talking about not only homes but both sides of the equation. That is why I framed new clause 1 as I did—precisely to answer my hon. Friend’s point and to ensure that commercial buildings are covered as well.
When I looked at the website of my own local authority, Barnet council, I found that it was rather thin on this aspect. It says that the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995
“places a duty on local authorities to improve the level of energy efficiency in all of their houses by 30 per cent. over 10 years. Since then, energy action areas have been introduced in Barnet to help improve the energy efficiency in the borough’s housing in line with the Act”.
I suspect that most of that is being provided for through the decent homes grants from the Government. I am afraid that Barnet’s local authority does not have a very good record or reputation for attributing where resources come from.
The most important aspect here is regeneration, which has been attempted in respect of three big housing estates in my constituency. The regeneration has been talked about for seven years, but very little has been done. Even if the work on one estate were to start tomorrow, it would probably take, including those seven years, 25 years to complete, yet these homes are woefully energy-inefficient. Bearing in mind the large number of properties on the estates requiring regeneration, I suspect that Barnet council will not meet this particular target.
The building regulations, which we have already discussed, are relevant, as is the standard assessment procedure for the energy rating of dwellings. In Barnet, the national home energy rating is relevant and a minimum standard of eight will be sought. As regards the standard assessment procedure, a minimum rating of 81 or a B rating will be required for new homes. Why it is a B rating, I do not know. Perhaps it is a matter of Barnet doing a bit of backsliding.
To conclude my remarks on this group of amending provisions, I hope that I have set out why I believe insulation is an important part of the equation when we are thinking about local authorities having new powers to deal with energy issues and climate change. We all want measures to be taken to reduce the impact of climate change. The Bill goes a long way towards achieving that, but I think that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks left half the equation out. I hope that my new clause will find favour with him and with the Government. We can then move forward with an improved Bill that deals with both sides of the coin.
It might help if I set out my view of the amending provisions. I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) for tabling the amendment and new clause and setting out the reasoning so fully that there can be no misapprehension by the House of the strength of the case behind them. Equally, however, I would not want the House to labour on with the apprehension that the amending provisions actually strengthen the Bill in the way that he suggests. I shall explain more fully.
The hon. Gentleman must be right that we need to balance the production side of the legislation in encouraging microgeneration with the energy efficiency side in ensuring that, once generated, energy is used as efficiently as possible. By encouraging more energy efficiency, we should be reducing the amount of energy—micro or macro—that needs to be generated. He is therefore right to ask us to look again at the balance between the production and the efficiency side of the equation.
If we look specifically at amendment No. 11, we find that the insulation standards that the hon. Gentleman wants included in the Bill—it is right that they should be—are already included in it under the energy efficiency standards. The national policies for energy efficiency standards are dealt with under clause 1(7)(c) and the energy efficiency standards with which local authorities can require compliance are dealt with under clause 1(1)(c), so we do not need an additional sub-paragraph (d) to specify insulation standards as a national policy when they are already included in the energy efficiency standards promoted nationally, which must be complied with locally. If insulation standards were not included, I would certainly want to include them, but they are already covered, so the amendment does not strengthen the Bill in the way that he suggests.
On new clause 1, let me first give the hon. Gentleman an assurance on the specific point he raised about the definition of development. It is in the nature of private Members’ Bills that we try to get the drafting as taut as possible so that Bills are limited and restricted in their purpose, but I assure him that the references to “development” throughout clause 1 include all development—domestic and commercial—so we do not need to break it down as he does in new clause 1 and distinguish between the two.
Indeed, I gently suggest that making that distinction might weaken the Bill because some developments are neither residential nor commercial—public facilities, for example. The drafting for domestic and commercial instances would add a further lacuna—a term that the hon. Gentleman used—to the Bill. Let me reiterate my assurance that the Bill covers all development—residential, commercial or whatever.
That same point occurred to me as I wondered where football stadiums would fit into the Bill. Would the hon. Gentleman consider making his clause 1 even more explicit, perhaps by including a term such as “all”, or is he entirely comfortable with the current drafting? It worries me that some people, often ex-employees of local authorities, spend an enormous amount of time finding their way around planning regulations and planning policy statements, so would it not be worth being more specific?
I have made it clear throughout the Bill’s passage—the current drafting reflects this—that I am prepared to consider any suggestion to improve it, but I am advised that using the phrase “development” covers all development. Public facilities are a very good example. With a new swimming pool, for example, we would want to be careful to ensure that a proportion of the energy should be generated locally, if possible, particularly in view of the amount of energy that such a facility uses. A local library is another example. I am sure that we could think of a number of developments that were neither residential nor strictly commercial. Let me reassure the House that the current drafting, using the broad term “development”, covers all development, whether domestic or commercial.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on, does he agree that the new clause, in distinguishing between domestic and commercial, has interesting implications for the new breed of construction, which I call mixed-use development or the live/workspace type of development. Sometimes it is viewed as domestic, other times commercial, because people can live and work in the same space. That would potentially fall outside either of the individual classifications suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), and would require yet another classification. Is it not ironic that one of the best examples of such projects is BedZED—the Beddington zero energy development—in Merton, a borough that has been referred to several times already?
Yes, I think that is the danger of introducing more categories into the Bill—and that danger would be amplified when matters come to appeal, for example through the planning process. The more categories we devise, the more developers can find ways around them when their schemes do not satisfy the planners at the initial stage.
The hon. Member for Hendon is right to ask about the inclusion of insulation standards, and he is entitled to probe the distinction between domestic and commercial. I want to reassure him on both counts, and I hope that, on reflection, he will agree that neither amendment No. 11 nor new clause 1 strengthens the measures, and that it is therefore unnecessary to add either of them to the Bill.
I congratulate all hon. Members who have so far contributed to the debate: my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), for Battersea (Martin Linton) and for Ipswich (Chris Mole), and particularly the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). He has just made a point on development that I entirely agree with: the terms “domestic” and “commercial” as used in the new clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon would not—to answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North—cover Craven Cottage football ground, whereas the generic term of “development” is far more likely to do so.
It is important at the outset to thank the hon. Member for Sevenoaks for the work he has done to bring the Bill to this stage, and we believe that his amendments that were agreed in Committee have turned it into a workable piece of potential legislation without compromising its original aims. The Bill is coherent and clear in its application, and it deserves to be supported as it currently stands.
On Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright), who has responsibility for housing, said we were not initially convinced that the Bill was necessary. I want to make it clear that we are happy to support the Bill as amended. We recognise the positives that can be taken from placing such a power in primary legislation. The technical amendments debated and agreed in Committee were necessary to ensure that the Bill achieves its intended purpose.
The Bill will sit within the wider package of initiatives that we are taking to tackle the impact of climate change. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing said in Committee, we are introducing a raft of measures that reinforce our commitment to cut carbon emissions.
The Climate Change Bill, the Energy Bill and the Planning Bill all take steps to help us to meet our objectives. The Planning Bill—I was fortunate enough to serve on the Committee—will take action on climate change in the preparation of local plans. Local planning authorities will need to include in their development plans documents and policies designed to ensure that development and use of land in their area contributes to mitigating, and adapting to, climate change. That duty was welcomed by all Committee members.
Our Climate Change Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament, sets out our plans to tackle climate change over not only the next few years, but the next 50 years. It demonstrates to the world that we are determined to grasp the challenge of climate change.
I am very happy to do that. I was about to come on to new clause 1, but before I do so I would like to respond to some of the comments made in the debate so far.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon talked in some depth about the importance of insulation, and he congratulated the Warm Front grants campaign, which has been very effective in many constituencies throughout the land, including my own. I should also thank the Eaga Partnership Charitable Trust for the work it has done, and mention the good progress made—my hon. Friend mentioned this—in respect of registered social landlords.
The Minister’s reference to the Warm Front scheme tempts me to rise to my feet. In many rural constituencies that are off the gas grid, that is not just free money, because people are asked to make a significant supplementary payment to ensure that they can have energy-efficient measures installed. It is more difficult for such people to see some of the benefits that the hon. Gentleman and the Minister describe.
I thank the hon. Lady for making her point, although I do not think she is making a commitment now in the Chamber for additional subsidy. I think that Members of all parties agree that the Warm Front grants scheme is effective and good, and that we all welcome it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for introducing new clause 1 and consequential amendment No. 11 as it has given us an opportunity to flesh out some of the issues behind those amendments. He wants to introduce absolute clarity that local policies can cover insulation standards in buildings as opposed to other aspects of energy efficiency, such as the efficiency of appliances. I can also see that the new clause and amendment No. 11 logically fit within the structure of the Bill, but, as the hon. Member for Sevenoaks said, they are unnecessary. The existing clause 1(1)(c) does what my hon. Friend wants, because energy efficiency standards would cover insulation standards as well. It is common sense that any energy efficiency standard in relation to development would be taken to include standards of insulation. Clause 1(1)(c) as currently drafted makes it clear that energy efficiency standards may
“exceed the energy requirements of building regulations.”
The energy requirements of building regulations are defined in clause 1(2), which states that they encompass both “energy performance” and the
“conservation of fuel and power.”
The relevant section of the building regulations which deal with the conservation of fuel and power—part L—covers insulation by imposing requirements to make reasonable provision to limit heat losses and gains through thermal elements and other parts of the building fabric. Technical details of what would constitute reasonable provision to limit heat losses is given in approved document L. Approved documents are guidance given by the Secretary of State as to how the requirements of the building regulations can be complied with. The approved document includes references to design standards and relevant technical parameters that relate to thermal efficiency and, hence, insulation. Similarly, section 1 of the code for sustainable homes, again supported by the technical guidance, sets out that one of the parameters for achieving the energy performance standards relates to limiting heat loss.
Clearly, the highest level of energy efficiency standards and insulation standards are vital to ensuring that we reduce carbon emissions from homes. We have taken substantial steps on that over recent years. We most recently set out the energy performance standards—measured in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide from the use of the building—in the 2006 buildings regulations. The level set in the 2006 regulations is about 40 per cent. higher than the standard set before April 2002. As part of our policy to achieve zero-carbon new homes from 2016, we have announced that we will progressively tighten the energy efficiency standards in the building regulations over time. We will set a standard in 2010 that will represent a 25 per cent. improvement over 2006, which is the equivalent of the level 3 standard in the code for sustainable homes, and a standard in 2013 that will represent a 44 per cent. improvement, which is the equivalent of the code’s level 4.
The achievement of those energy-efficiency standards is not purely about insulation; other aspects need to be tackled, such as lighting, and builders can also use renewable and low-carbon technologies to help achieve the standards. Clearly, however, effective insulation to prevent heat loss is crucial. The Department is working closely with industry stakeholders on the preparation of a consultation document on the detail of the 2010 changes—we plan to publish it for consultation early next year—including changes to the relevant technical standards that define thermal insulation.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon that we are driving forward a strong policy on improving the relevant standards. There is unfortunate ambiguity in the drafting of new clause 1, because by referring only to “domestic and commercial developments”, it could be construed that it does not cover other types of development—I presume that that is not his intention. That is why the Bill uses the general term “development” instead. For those reasons, we urge him to withdraw the motion and not to press the subsequent amendment No. 11 to a Division.
I am cheered to hear the Minister delineate the Government’s support for this undoubtedly excellent Bill. I entirely concur, and associate myself, with his comment that the work done—one might call it the polishing—in the Public Bill Committee has produced a better Bill.
A couple of points about the wording slightly concern me.
This point comes back to one that I made at the start of my remarks. The problem with the Public Bill Committee was that it only removed the original clause 1 and inserted a new clause 1—no scrutiny was provided beyond that. Despite what my hon. Friend has just said, my concern is that, in fact, no detailed scrutiny was given beyond simply switching one clause for another.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. Few Members of this House have delved deeper into the interstices of its procedures than he has, and I entirely take his point. I was not just being polite when I made those comments, because I think the Bill was improved in Committee. It could have been improved even more, but we are all capable of greater improvement.
Certain aspects of the Bill slightly confuse, and possibly concern, me. One is the issue of the permissive versus the mandatory. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) has deliberately included words such as “may” and “reasonable”. People whose will is good will react to those words in a positive way and will seek to match the requirements and aims of the Bill. In the same way, the Mayor of London wishes to have a no-alcohol policy on the tube that will be self-policing. One can rely on the good nature of human beings, but what concerns me is that there are people who will always seek ways around such measures.
I have mentioned former local government planning officers, who seem to work as consultants nowadays. Many of them will be as busy as Jimmy Bullard, as we say in west London, trying to find their way around words such as “reasonable” and around the permissive nature of “may”. I can understand that the hon. Gentleman is on the side of the angels. Nobody will ever argue for energy-inefficient buildings or against energy-efficient and locally-sourced materials—I sincerely hope that they would not do so. However, in a commercial world, there will always be people who seek to respond to the squeezing of margins by a reduction in standards. I am concerned that when an expression such as a “reasonable” standard is used, one opens the door to an unreasonable action by a commercial builder who understandably seeks to maximise profit. I see a terrible vision ahead; I see people in the Planning Inspectorate in Bristol sitting there day after day trying to analyse, much as medieval theologians calculated the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, exactly how reasonable is “reasonable”.
Being, if I may say so, a reasonable person myself, I have looked beyond that point and tried to see how the provision could be more tightly detailed. The hon. Gentleman said that one cannot have a completely comprehensive list. That is where new clause 1 comes in, because it details the insulation implications and consequences. Amendment No. 11 implies that the insulation standards would be delineated, and if those provisions were accepted, the Bill would be considerably toughened up. If, by our accepting them, the Bill was not jerry-builder-proofed, we would have gone some way towards reducing any amount of conflict later.
The key point in new clause 1 is its emphasis on insulation. Making provision for energy use and energy efficiency in local plans is obviously the first step, and it is one that will be supported by the hon. Gentleman and the Government, and, I hope, by all men and women of good will. However, that is only half the battle, because even if there is energy-efficient construction, there will still be a need for insulation, and perhaps for additional insulation in areas that we have not even gone into before. Perhaps new materials will soon become available that will provide an even greater degree of energy efficiency through insulation, so we need to include the insulation component. Until recently, the fibres used in loft insulation were not only non-biodegradable, but appallingly sourced and of high energy cost. They may have saved heat loss, but they did so at an enormous cost in the production side of the equation.
My hon. Friend has hit on an important point, because not so long ago asbestos was the main form of insulation and, as we know, it has proved to be extremely dangerous to those installing it, many of whom suffer from mesothelioma and asbestos-related injuries, and to any householder who accidentally damaged it.
My hon. Friend is right to see this in the historical context. There was a time when asbestos was seen as the wonder material. I still recall wearing asbestos gloves as a young man in uniform. They were issued to members of the armed forces. We even had asbestos hoods to wear when firing naval weaponry. Some in this House may remember asbestos filters in what were known as flash hoods—things do move on.
I am not implying for a moment that any of the modern insulation materials will have anything like the lethal consequences of some of the shades of asbestos; there were white, brown and blue forms of asbestos. My point is that materials do change. Siân Berry, the Green party candidate to be Mayor of London, spent a great deal of time trying to give away insulation material on the streets of London just a few weeks ago, and she was constantly asked where it came from, whether it came from renewable sources and whether it was created in a low-energy environment.
That is why the point about insulation in new clause 1 is crucial, and I genuinely do not think it detracts from the Bill’s substance, thrust or ethos. That is why I support my hon. Friend in introducing this aspect, because it rounds out the process. More importantly, it allows us, by incorporating the expression
“exceed the requirements of building regulations”
to realise that it makes provision in respect of exceeding not only the requirements of today’s building regulations, but all building regulations. Therefore, if building regulations are tightened, widened, improved and deepened in time to come, his new clause 1 will enable us always to be ahead of the curve. That is why it is an important new clause.
Far be it from me to disagree with my hon. Friend, but he has just discussed some of the technological changes in the construction industry, particularly in insulation. Technological developments move apace, and a feature of future construction could be composite materials that have insulating qualities. Is not there a risk in creating an artificial divide between insulation and other construction materials that might have insulating properties? There are probably already some construction materials with insulating properties—some timber constructions could be considered to have insulation built in.
I do not know whether the Thermal Insulation Manufacturers and Suppliers Association employs a parliamentary agent, but I am sure that if it ever needs a voice in the House, my hon. Friend will step up to the plate, as he knows a great deal about such issues. His substantive point is absolutely right. I originally lagged my loft with old Labour party leaflets that I had no further use for, as I had an enormous number of them lying around the house. Whether they were produced from renewable sources in an energy efficient way, I do not know—they were not particularly politically effective at the time—but they certainly kept my loft warm and, I hope, retained heat in my house. Nowadays, the Liberal Democrats provide that service for us; I have several tonnes of Liberal Democrat material.
On new clause 1, we should not miss the importance of having a measure on insulation as an add-on to or component of the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) referred to the materials used in construction, particularly timber. In my constituency, there have been arguments about whether timber-framed buildings should be used. An enormous timber-framed block of flats—I forget how many storeys—was going up opposite the Metropolitan police training college, but it caught fire and rapidly burned to the ground, threatening the training college and the nearby local police station. It was spectacular, but is now being rebuilt in concrete. I suspect that any contribution that it made to energy efficiency was offset by the amount of carbon that was released by that timber disappearing into the atmosphere.
There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night in fear that I am in a dreadful Friday morning loop in which we come up with increasingly bizarre possibilities. As I stand in this glorious Chamber that is made almost entirely of wood, I have to ask myself whether I am in any danger. I do not think that I am.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) made an extremely important point. Construction material is significant, in relation to energy use and efficiency; I hope that no one would argue with that. The massive increases and changes in concrete technology give us a whole range of new options, but I hope that we will continue to use wood for a great many years. When we think about insulating a building, we still think about traditional loft insulation, double glazing, lagging and insulation within the structure of the building, but the structure itself can be a component of insulation.
When an hon. Member introduces a Bill, even one as well regarded, respected and well thought out as the one before us, people will always seek to add to it. There is a constant conflict between measures being over-specific or far too general. By and large, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks has struck a good balance, because he has set a target and, by presenting the Bill, he has sought to give local authorities the power to include and incorporate that target in their plans. The way in which he has done that allows a structure to exist without it being over-detailed. However, new clause 1 and amendment No. 11 would add to it. They would not limit or handcuff the free spirit that is inherent in the Bill, but would aim and direct it a little more.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a new clause allowing local authorities to exceed the insulation guidelines would be of great benefit to owner-occupiers? My constituent, Mr. Healey, has raised this issue with me. He feels that the value of the insulation that he has installed in his house is more likely to be realised, when he sells his house, if he can point to insulation standards that he has met that have been set by his local authority. The very act of setting higher insulation standards as technology improves would allow people who have wisely installed insulation to those standards to be sure that they could recover the value when they sold their houses.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which is relevant to home information packs, although I do not wish to rehash the whole argument that we had on those. His point chimes with mine, in that, by and large, we tend to seek examples of good practice that have commercial benefit. I remember visiting a property in a place called Hangeland, in Norway, where they use a commercially driven system of heat insulation, not just because that is environmentally correct, but because it is an advantage to do so in that part of the world, where there is a huge fiscal advantage. That advantage will inevitably roll on when such properties are sold.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said in his well-received contribution, we must consider, in the drafting of new clause 1, those who are not owner-occupiers. I understand the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) made, but a huge number of people would not be affected—those in the rented sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, many of them, although they might not be in the poorest categories, might have a propensity to find themselves in fuel poverty and in poverty generally. By making the Bill more specific and mandatory, new clause 1 would widen its remit and assist such people. We know that the Bill is for good people. If one is building a new home, one would see the advantage of this idea. Even some of the most antediluvian councils in the land—there might be one or two left that instinctively oppose such measures—would see an advantage, if not for the planet in the medium to long term, but for the pocket in the short term.
I am concerned about the people who are excluded, and new clause 1 and amendment No. 11 go some way towards extending the remit and benefits of the Bill. I was going to say that they extend the sunshine of the Bill to such people, but I should say that they extend the energy-efficient sunshine of it. The measures are therefore worthy of consideration. I am cheered, as I always am, by the words of my hon. Friend the Minister, who has studied the Bill with great effort and has made some extremely supportive comments. It would not be entirely inappropriate for us to extend the remit of the Bill and tighten, focus and direct it by accepting new clause 1 and amendment No. 11.
We have had an interesting discussion. The objections to new clause 1 seem to be about whether energy efficiency standards, as provided for in the existing clause 1, would encompass insulation, and about whether the new clause would somehow weaken the Bill by referring specifically to domestic and commercial development. On the first point, energy efficiency standards go way beyond just insulation, and it is sometimes better to spell these things out in legislation, rather than allow them to be inferred or implied. The Bill is somewhat general in its expression of these matters. I have seen, through my work on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, how important it is to spell out what is meant in legislation. There is nothing in my new clause that would take anything away from clause 1(1)(c). It would supplement it; it would not take away from it.
It has been suggested that my new clause would weaken the Bill by ensuring that it referred in terms to domestic and commercial development. I certainly take the point made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) that commercial and domestic development would not include the construction of a new football stadium or other public buildings. I take the point that I might have been a little too narrow in that regard, but the new clause would not weaken the Bill because it would add to it rather than take anything away. Clause 1 would stay as it is, leaving open the question of what kind of development we are talking about—personally, I would prefer to see that spelled out in the Bill—but new clause 1 would provide an additional requirement that focused specifically on commercial and domestic developments. If the Bill were to go to another place, and if my new clause found favour, that particular problem could be put right.
However, I have listened to what people have said, and we have had a useful debate on this issue. If the Bill goes to another place, some of my comments might be taken into account there and a more tightly worded amendment could be tabled at that stage. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Question put and negatived.
New Clause 3
‘When exercising its discretion under section 1, a local planning authority shall consider the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in its area.’.—[Mr. Dismore.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 7—Local supply—
‘When setting the proportions of energy from renewable sources and low carbon sources under section 1, a local planning authority shall take into account the availability of local supplies of such energy.’.
New clause 8—Costs of renewable energy—
‘When exercising its discretion under section 1, a local planning authority shall take into account—
(a) the cost of energy from renewable sources,
(b) the cost of energy from low carbon sources,
(c) the cost of energy generation,
(d) the cost of compliance with its proposed energy efficiency standards,
(e) the impact on the provision of affordable housing in the local authority area.’.
New clause 9—Consultation—
‘When exercising its discretion under section 1, a local planning authority shall consult local businesses, house builders, residents’ organisations and social housing providers before settings the requirements permitted by section 1.’.
A range of subjects are grouped together here incorporating a series of new ideas that the promoter of the Bill ought to consider. One of the problems with clause 1, as it is presently framed, is that it refers to
“energy from renewable sources in the locality of the development”.
Nowhere does it set out what the renewable sources are meant to be or, more importantly, what is meant by “locality”. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of clause 1(1) refer to “locality”, while paragraph (c) says “in their area”, which could cause complications when considering renewable sources, and in considering where energy comes from and what the cost will be. The new clauses try to fill some of the gaps in the Bill.
New clause 3 deals with the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in a local authority’s area. I refer here to “area” rather than to “locality”, because “locality” is such a vague word. It could mean a place within the boundaries of a local authority, within a neighbouring local authority or within a region. The Bill needs to be more specific.
Following on from that, we need to look at the question of microgeneration. The Government have done a great deal to encourage microgeneration. There are two phases to the microgeneration support scheme. Householders can apply for grants of up to £2,500 under phase 1 and, from April this year, under phase 2, commercial bodies and those in the voluntary sector are able to apply for 50 per cent. of the cost of installing microgeneration technology.
If we look at the website of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, we see that the Department is running the microgeneration scheme and that it wants to see significant improvements, as we all do. The microgeneration strategy was launched in 2006 with the objective of creating the conditions in which microgeneration becomes a realistic alternative or supplementary energy generation source for the householder. Phase 1 of the scheme allowed householders to apply for grants of up to £2,500 per property towards the cost of having a certified product installed by a certified installer. It is managed by the Energy Saving Trust.
Phase 2 of the low-carbon buildings programme allows organisations to apply for the 50 per cent. grants. Those organisations can include schools, hospitals, housing associations and local authorities, as well as charitable bodies. There is always a question of whether enough money is being set aside for these projects, but it is expected that funds are already committed through to mid-2009.
A lot of information is available about the scheme. It was reported that, by early 2007, the domestic scheme, as it then was, was oversubscribed on the first day of each month. I was therefore pleased when the Chancellor increased the amount available for the householder scheme to £18 million in last year’s Budget. The reforms to the scheme that came into force at that time were important. They spread the money a little more thinly across individual grants, but that meant that many more people could qualify for them.
Wind systems could qualify for up to £2,500, while solar water heating systems attracted a grant of £400. Ground source heat pumps were eligible for a £1,200 grant. So quite a lot of money is available from central Government to encourage microgeneration. What we are looking at here is the desirability of encouraging microgeneration through a local authority in its own area. A key issue is planning consent, which is what the Bill is all about. We need to determine what a local authority can do to encourage the provision of renewable energy and, in the context of the new clause, of microgeneration.
Last year, the Government published a consultation containing detailed proposals for permitted development of domestic microgeneration within properly considered, pre-defined limits. I am sure that all of us have known cases of constituents who have wanted to put a windmill on their roof but have been refused planning permission by the council.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it explains why I have phrased new clause 3 as I have. In our debate on the previous group of amendments, we talked about permissive powers for local authorities. New clause 3 contains a mixture of the permissive and the mandatory. It states:
“When exercising its discretion under section 1”,
which is permissive,
“a local planning authority shall consider the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in its area.”
I have tried to square the circle by saying that, if a local authority is going down this route, it must take into account the need to increase microgeneration in its area.
Microgeneration is not a complete panacea for the problems that we are talking about in the context of the Bill. There is always a problem, for example, about the noise created by wind turbines, and they can also be pretty unsightly and rather big. We therefore have to ensure that conservation area status is protected, while at the same time trying to strike the right balance. The original consultation by the Government suggested that local authorities would retain the right to restrict planning permission in cases where the benefit of the technology was questionable.
Is my hon. Friend aware that some local authorities have been prejudiced against wind turbines, even when there is no noise problem and even when they are in the middle of the North sea? Those authorities have taken an almost dogmatic attitude against the use of wind turbines, although the purpose of my hon. Friend’s new clause—and, indeed, the Bill—is to encourage them.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The giant wind turbines on the offshore wind farms are entirely different from what we are describing in the Bill, but he is right; I know from my own case load of a couple of cases that have arisen in the past few months in which people have applied for permission to install a wind turbine on their roof and been turned down by Barnet council. I have not seen the full details, or the rationale for the decision; the applications have simply been turned down.
There is an argument that domestic wind turbines are not particularly cost-effective, unlike slightly bigger turbines. For example, St. James’s school in my constituency has put up its own wind turbine, which has proved very effective in providing energy for the school. The school also sells back to the grid some of the energy that it does not need. It has been able to make that turbine an effective item. There is a question about whether domestic wind turbines will ever achieve the payback that is claimed for them. Of course, other forms of microgeneration go beyond that and we need to see what local authorities can do to encourage microgeneration in their areas.
Let me move on to new clause 7. Clause 1 permits a local authority to set requirements for a proportion of energy to be provided from
“renewable sources in the locality of the development.”
It is not clear to me whether
“the locality of the development”
refers to where the electricity is coming from or where it is being used. That is an ambiguity that needs to be resolved. I have assumed for the purposes of new clause 7 that the intention is that the renewable source itself should come from somewhere in the locality of where the development occurs.
This is a serious problem. I can understand why the word “local” is used in this context, because a development on a local authority boundary could want energy supplies from the neighbouring council’s area, just over the frontier. If one referred to a “local authority area” in that context, that might not achieve the intended objective. On the other hand, the problem with defining the word “local” is that it is the same as asking, “How long is a piece of string?” It makes things difficult. I have used the words “local supplies” in new clause 7 to mirror the construction of clause 1. The definition is vague and ought to be considered when the Bill goes elsewhere, assuming that it does. My hon. Friend the Minister might be aware that I tabled amendments to try to flush out the problem by deleting those words, but they were unfortunately not selected for debate, so I am a little constrained in how far I can argue that particular point. He has highlighted a problem with the Bill, but as those amendments were not selected we will not be able to debate it at length today.
What do we mean by local supplies? In general, if we are talking about renewable energy across the board, all council areas have access to renewable energy if they agree to sign up to a green tariff with an energy company and are prepared to pay for it. It is not cheap, although that obviously depends on the supplier. If a local authority wanted to go into microgeneration and supply its own energy, it could build a small microgenerating power station, for example for a housing estate. I have already mentioned the tiny one that has been built by a school in my constituency. Such a development could provide heat and light for homes in the local area. Indeed, any excess could be sold back to the energy companies or the national grid. There are examples of good practice where that has happened.
The real problem with the Bill is that we do not know what local means in this context. The Government have set a target of generating 10 per cent. of all electricity from renewable sources by 2010, mainly by requiring the electricity companies to provide for green energy generation. As we know, progress has been slow compared with what we would all like to see.
Some local authorities have been doing the work themselves, and a trawl through the internet has produced some interesting examples. Woking council—I am not making a party political point—proclaims itself as the market leader in this respect. Its website talks about local sustainable energy systems, and its approach is
“to supply customers on private wire combined heat and power (CHP) networks as well as implementing energy and environmental services in both the public and private sectors”,
“partnership with the private sector”.
The council claims to be the first UK authority to have adopted a comprehensive climate change strategy. I am sure that many others would argue the toss about that. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding.
The Nottingham declaration involved a number of local authorities that came together in partnership to decide how best to support one another in taking action to adapt to the impact of climate change and reduce carbon emissions. Some 200 local authorities signed the Nottingham declaration, but signing a declaration is not the same as doing something, which is why new clause 7 is important. It would achieve something.
In London, through the London Development Agency, we have seen progress through the setting up of the London Climate Change Agency, which is a municipal company owned by the LDA. Until the last election, it was chaired by the Mayor. Whether the new Mayor will decide to chair the agency along with the Metropolitan Police Authority, alongside all the other things he intends to do, remains to be seen. Obviously, that will be a test of his commitment to these issues—but I digress.
The LCCA has set up a joint venture energy services company or ESCO to develop decentralised energy schemes for London. It designs, finances, builds, owns and operates local decentralised energy systems for new and existing development. It was established as a private limited company. The LCCA has a 19 per cent. shareholding while EDF, the commercial partner, owns 81 per cent. That is a way in which a local authority can do something about the need to improve on renewables and to look at the local production of energy. The fact remains that when we talk about green electricity, so long as the premium is paid there should be no limit for domestic use. The fact is that it is more expensive. The data on installations in social housing put the costs of solar water heaters, for example, at £600 per dwelling. It can be quite an expensive operation.
In new clause 7, I am questioning the meaning of clause 1. In practice, green energy will come from the power companies through the grid. It is unlikely to be produced locally except through microgeneration schemes. Whether a microgeneration scheme will produce enough electricity beyond the immediate requirements of the people who have installed it is another matter altogether.
Is my hon. Friend aware that by encouraging local authorities to take part in microgeneration and in generating electricity locally, he is reverting to something that happened in London more than 100 years ago? Battersea borough council pioneered the setting up of local power stations long before power was taken over by such huge things as Battersea power station, which supplied huge areas very inefficiently. Returning to the original idea of locally generated power is seen as a very progressive move.
My hon. Friend makes that remark, but one can hardly criticise the municipal fathers of 100-odd years ago for not having foresight about what might happen through climate change because of the use of coal-fired power stations. Unfortunately, we now know what the consequences were. My hon. Friend is right. We need to think about whether local authorities can take the initiative in building their own microgenerating power stations, whether they use wind turbines or some other method.
New clause 7 tries to square the circle with clause 1, because it is open to question whether somebody who has already set up a microgeneration system would be able to provide enough power to fuel another construction. I have some problems with the way in which clause 1 is framed, and new clause 7 is an attempt to resolve those problems.
New clause 8 is probably the most important in the group. It tries to get to the bottom of what we are talking about. It addresses the costs of what the Bill will expect people to do. The issue is not the cost to the local authority, but the cost that a local authority will impose on new developments in its area. If new developments are to be required to use renewable or low-carbon sources, or to generate their own electricity, a price tag will be attached. Likewise, if they have to comply with energy efficiency standards, on insulation or anything else, that also has a price tag attached. Especially in the context of domestic developments, that price could have an impact on the provision of affordable housing in a local authority area.
If we require developers to do x, y or z, over and above the ordinary building regulations or planning requirements, they may say that they will not include the 50 per cent. of affordable homes required under other planning policies, because that would no longer be cost-effective and they could not make sufficient profit. Or developers might argue for a relaxation of the threshold for the number of properties before the 50 per cent. rule kicked in. That assumes that we will still have the 50 per cent. rule in London, as the newly elected Mayor has made a commitment to abolish it.
My concern underlying new clause 8 is the impact of the Bill on housing supply, locally and city-wide, and on Government targets. If we make development too expensive, developers will not build new houses. Solar power, for example, can cost at least 10 times as much as power from conventional sources and is relatively inefficient, as has been found even in Australia, the land of sunshine. More generally, renewable power costs are two to three times those of conventional sources, which can put them beyond economic viability. The cost of an energy-efficient home can be between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. more. It may be cheaper in the long run, but a £7,800 heat pump will take 15 years to pay for itself, and solar panels that cost £4,500 will take 37 years. Built from scratch, a zero-carbon home can cost some £30,000 more than a normal house, based on current technology prices.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is in the long-term interest both of the developer and of the prospective householder that a long-term attitude is taken from the start? Has he not studied the pioneering work that has been done in Sweden on imposing high standards of sustainability on house builders? Such work may take 30 to 40 years to pay off, but it is in the interests of everybody in the long run.
I have not studied Sweden, and I know that it is one of my hon. Friend’s special subjects, so he is far more informed on it than I am. I wonder, however, whether Sweden has a chronic housing shortage like ours, and how long people there have to wait for a new home. I take his argument that we have to spend more on building new houses as an investment in the long-term future, but if the result is to make the cost of building a new home prohibitive for first-time buyers or social landlords, so we do not build the homes that we need, people will be in desperate housing need for longer. If Sweden has the same housing shortage as we do in London, I will accept his point. If, however, Sweden does not have a problem with housing supply, I can understand why it takes the approach that it does. If it had the same housing problems that we do, it might have adopted a different approach.
Sweden does not have the same housing shortage as we do, although it does have a housing need, and that is a result of Government policies over the decades that have ensured that the housing supply remains in touch with demand. If we have not done that in this country and, in the process, have raised the price of existing houses, the lesson is that we should have more Government action to ensure the supply of housing at whatever level would overcome our problems.
I agree with my hon. Friend, but it is a case of the chicken and the egg. The problem is that we have a housing shortage. Should we make that harder to resolve through these measures or not? In an ideal world, we would deal with both issues, but we do not live in an ideal world, so I am concerned about the potential impact of the Bill. In many ways, Sweden is a much better society than ours, buts its population is smaller and more cohesive for a variety of reasons.
New clause 8(a) and (b) mention
“the cost of energy from renewable sources”
“from low carbon sources”.
It is therefore important to tell the House what the price differentials for customers can be. They vary from company to company and from region to region. British Gas has three tariffs, and the additional costs for a typical consumer vary from between £20 and £84 a year. Scottish and Southern Energy told me that a typical consumer would pay some £19.50 a year more, E.ON said it would be some £17 and EDF Energy said that it would be £14 more on one tariff and £44 on the other. One wonders why anybody would want to be on the second tariff, but presumably there is a reason. In any event, there are cost consequences for the homeowner from the requirements of the Bill. That information was provided by Energywatch.
The costs of generation are also greater. Average generation costs will give the House some idea. Onshore and offshore wind generation costs between 1.2p and 4p per kWh above conventional generation costs. That includes the emission trading scheme. Offshore wind alone can cost between 30 per cent. and 90 per cent. more. So when it comes to the cost of microgeneration, whether in a local authority scheme as we discussed earlier, or to the consumer, the Bill has a price tag attached. We have to consider on Third Reading whether the country is prepared to pay that price, insofar as the Bill affects new developments.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am sure that the rest of the House is, too.
New clause 8 would require a local authority to take into account the cost of energy from renewable and low-carbon sources. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) referring specifically to the costs incurred by a local authority or, perhaps, to the on costs for those letting a property?
New clause 8 deals with a series of costs. I referred to the cost of energy generation, whether that is microgeneration or related to the wider question of generation. There will be costs to the consumer living in the house, which could be up to £84 a year for green energy, but will probably be more like £20 a year. Costs will be involved in providing insulation, or whatever.
The costs to local authorities would be those involved in policing the mechanism. I suspect that those costs would be significant and additional to the normal cost of building control. More importantly, however, if local authorities adopt the policy themselves and say, “Don’t just do what we say; we’re going to do it ourselves,” they will face additional costs when they buy, renovate or develop buildings for their own purposes. If we consider social housing, which is now more likely to be the direct responsibility of a social landlord than of a local authority, the costs could be very significant. An indirect cost could then come back to the local authority owing to the cost of homelessness and overcrowding, and all the social consequences that flow from that.
The most direct costs are those to the consumer and constructor of the new building and those incurred through the generation itself—the costs of the mechanisms. However, there are also wider costs, which are pulled together by subsection (e) of the new clause as
“the impact on the provision of affordable housing”.
A range of costs would flow from the Bill.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I object to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that I am engaged in some sort of filibuster—I am not. The Bill received minimal scrutiny in Committee, so it is important for it to be properly scrutinised and discussed now. There was no consideration whatsoever in Committee of the costs involved in bringing the Bill into effect. I am not saying that society as a whole should not meet those costs, but if the House is going to pass the Bill, it should be aware of what the costs are, so it is appropriate that I take a little time to set them out. If I was out of order and filibustering, you would be the first to stop me, Madam Deputy Speaker, because that would be against the rules of the House, of which I am well aware, although the hon. Gentleman is not.
My point about the costs of construction flows from the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton). On the basis of information that I have received from the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, it appears that the additional building costs for a zero-carbon home, compared with a typical house, would be in the region of £35,000 to £55,000. The source of that figure is a December 2006 article on thisismoney.co.uk. A report for the Renewables Advisory Board estimates that the additional costs for a new development in 2016 would be an average of £6,000 a dwelling in a new development, with the figure ranging from £1,000 a dwelling for flats in a large-scale rural development—the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) will be glad to know that we are not going to forget rural developments—to £13,000 for houses in small developments. The process would thus be quite expensive.
The BBC recently reported that the first zero-emissions home had been unveiled. The house, which was produced by a company called Kingspan, was the first that had been designed to achieve level 6 on the code for sustainable homes. It was trumpeted that the house’s annual energy bill would be only £31, compared with £500 for a standard new home of that size. So there is a saving, through smart metering and so forth. However, the company had to admit that the building cost was 40 per cent. greater than that for standard homes.
If we are to impose those standards on developers through clause 1, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) needs to be aware of what the impact on development will be. If it will mean that every new home will cost 40 per cent. more, I suspect that there will be 40 per cent. fewer new houses as a consequences—well, the maths does not quite work out, but he gets the point. I have dealt with the issue of the Renewables Advisory Board, which gave an estimate of up to £13,000.
My hon. Friend touches on an extremely important point that was alluded to earlier. Does he agree that although the home owner may well be prepared to accept a green premium, as it would add to the value and the resale potential of the property, people who provide affordable housing through registered social landlords or informal mechanisms would be disincentivised by the measures? Does he feel that there is a role for central or local government support, and that some additional fiscal mechanism could be brought into play to prevent the problem from occurring? It would be disastrous if a good Bill ended up not helping people to get the homes that they want and deserve.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Amendment No. 12, which we will discuss after this group of new clauses, suggests that we be a little more flexible about the commencement date so that we can take account of such matters, and can consider whether we are ready to introduce the mechanisms straight away, or whether they would have the unintended consequence of reducing housing supply. That is an important consideration.
There is no doubt that new construction offers the opportunity to pump-prime new on-site technologies and develop cost-effective systems, particularly in urban areas, where we will potentially be developing at much higher densities. In Mill Hill in my constituency, we are considering a major development of about 2,500 homes, according to the latest tally, on the former Ministry of Defence site at Inglis barracks. My hon. Friend may be familiar with the site, as the British Forces Post Office has just moved from there to a site in the general direction of his constituency or a little bit beyond it, near Northolt. The point is that as part of the overall plan for the area, we were trying to see what could be done to make the development much more energy-efficient. That is the right way to go, because it is much easier to ensure energy efficiency in major, large-scale new developments than in small-scale developments.
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology told me that in general terms the cost of building an energy-efficient home is £1,500 per sq m; for a normal, or non-energy-efficient, home, the figure is £1,000 per sq m. The best example of what can be achieved is the result of the challenge set by the former Deputy Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull—I forget what bit of Hull he represents—
I thank my hon. Friend; I am talking about my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott). He set companies the challenge of building a £60,000 house that would meet eco-standards. A German company was able to do it by making all the parts of the house in a factory and putting them together on site. Apparently, that is called an MMU. I do not know what MMU stands for. [Interruption.] I think the first letter stands for “modular” and the last for “unit”.
Of course, the suggestion is that prices will drop as demand increases. As we have mentioned, an energy-efficient house works out rather cheaper in the long term. The Government are now encouraging that modern method of construction, or MMC—an MMU must be a “modern method unit”—which they think can achieve a step-change in the construction industry. That method involves prefabricating houses in factories. The potential benefits are faster construction, fewer defects and reductions in energy use and waste—or so it is claimed. Hon. Members may be aware of the old prefabs that were put up after the second world war to meet the housing crisis; they were far from doing any of those desirable things.
A business in my constituency used to engage in the off-site fabrication of housing components, which could have high specifications for thermal insulation, acoustic insulation and all the other desirable features to which my hon. Friend has referred. It lacked the drive from the registered social landlord sector to get the business that it needed to sustain its activity on a long-term basis, and it has unfortunately had to consolidate its activities into the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine).
My hon. Friend has made an important point, and clause 1 can provide the answer. If we can get the right scale of development in the first place, the cost will come down and the proposition will become more attractive. Clause 1 addresses the requirements set by local authorities. If a local authority were to say to a registered social landlord, “We want you to build these new houses in a mixed development working with a commercial house builder,” which is the trend these days, the volume of orders to the company mentioned by my hon. Friend would increase and the price would decrease. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has pointed out that as the technology and the ability to produce such things develop, so costs will come down and the proposition will become more appealing.
I was initially reluctant to intervene on my hon. Friend because, following an earlier intervention, I have received a number of messages pointing out that the anti-flash hoods worn by young matelots in the Royal Navy did not contain asbestos—they contained some other foul chemical that was incredibly scratchy and very unpleasant, but it was not asbestos. Is my hon. Friend seriously suggesting that off-site fabrication is the solution to energy inefficiency? We have been here before, and we have had industrial building systems methods and a range of off-site fabrication methods, but unless we consider the totality of construction and energy efficiency at the production, construction and occupation phases, we will not address the issues raised by global warming, climate change and energy inefficiency.
My hon. Friend is right. As I have said, one must be sceptical about prefabrication—it may have a new name, such as MMU or MMC, but ultimately it is prefabrication. The question is whether it will produce quality homes. I have mentioned the prefabs that were erected immediately after the second world war. As a young boy, I had a friend who lived in one, and they were not nice houses or substantial constructions. Many of the blocks erected in the 1960s were built from prefabricated units, and we currently face the problem of knocking them down and starting again.
The question is whether standards of prefabrication have significantly improved to enable such houses to be built effectively. I did not see the £60,000 house that the German company put together, so I do not know whether it had lasting qualities, but some new houses that are built on site—we all have such private sector developments in our constituencies—have all sorts of construction problems. I have received all kinds of complaints about houses that were built by companies that are household names. In those cases, even though the quality of the construction is covered by the house builders’ guarantee, the construction is not as good as it should be. There is a general question about standards—ultimately, you pays your money and you takes your choice. If we can use that mechanism to produce affordable, energy-efficient, high-quality houses, it must be welcome. However, that is a big if, and my hon. Friend was right to raise that point.
While MMC is less expensive than traditional methods, some house builders have suggested that the costs are 7 to 10 per cent. higher. Such construction methods may well enable properties to be built more quickly than would otherwise be the case through standardisation, and if we are going to try significantly to increase housing supply, they may provide one of the answers. The building regulations set minimum performance standards, which may well be a way of resolving the issue.
I warn my hon. Friend that the residents of Inverness road in my constituency would caution him against a general criticism of post-war prefabricated buildings, because they are very fond of their homes. My point in raising the work of the business formerly in my constituency was that the kind of standards to which it was working—particularly given its use of computer-aided design and manufacture—deliver exactly the gains in production quality and speed that he is speaking about.
I willingly drag my hon. Friend back from east Yorkshire, although some in the House may wish that he was heading in the opposite direction. In the context of my hon. Friend’s comments on new clause 8, is there not a fundamental dichotomy at the heart of the Bill? It is almost a case of, “Make me good, but not yet.” There is no point whatever in having energy-efficient homes if people do not want to live in them or if they cost too much. Prefabs are very popular; Baird avenue in my constituency was built before the war and it is very popular.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has made a good point. Most people would like to live in an energy-efficient house; I would be surprised if anybody did not want to, as fuel bills would ultimately be cheaper, year by year. The problem is the capital cost: people would like the revenue savings, but not the initial capital cost. New clause 8 is getting at whether we can somehow square the circle; subsection (e) is about
“the impact on the provision of affordable housing”,
which is ultimately the acid test. If the consequences of the Bill are that we cannot provide the same level of affordable housing, that would be serious.
To follow on from that point, I should say that I am becoming more attracted to the original wording. I drive a car that is propelled by liquefied petroleum gas, but I had to pay a couple of thousand pounds extra for that. I was able to do that, but people who cannot will not get the benefits involved. Is not the more permissive nature of the original wording a method of addressing that problem?
It is not an either/or situation. The fact is that the original wording will stay; new clause 8 is a supplement, not an alternative, to clause 1. Clause 1 sets out what a local authority may require developers to do; new clause 8 says that the local authority, in using its discretion to set the new requirement, ought to bear in mind the costs—to the consumer, the house builder and the wider society through the impact of a possible reduction in affordable homes—of doing so. We can have both wordings. All I am saying is that local authorities should set the requirement with its eyes open, and in such a way that local people are aware of the consequences. That would ensure democratic accountability.
Earlier, I mentioned the problems of fuel poverty. I will not go through the costs of energy for the consumer in detail again; I simply remind the House that 2 million UK households are in fuel poverty. If the consequence of this policy is that their fuel bills will increase by £20 a week—potentially by more, given increasing energy costs—that will do nothing to alleviate fuel poverty. It will simply make it worse. We have to take that factor into account. By imposing these new requirements, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks could reduce the cost of energy to people in fuel poverty, so that is an argument in his favour.
Ultimately, however, we have to consider the impact on housing supply. In my constituency, we have some 13,800 families in desperate need on our waiting list—the fourth highest figure in London. That includes nearly 2,500 families in temporary accommodation looking for transfer. Last year, Barnet, to its shame, provided only 666 new homes, of which only 58 were for rent and eight for intermediate sale—only 10 per cent., the worst record in the whole of London except the City, which is a special case.
I try to treat interventions as seriously as I can, Madam Deputy Speaker, so thank you for protecting me from any more that are not relevant to the issue.
Last year, only 10 per cent. of new homes in my constituency were affordable—the worst record in London. If we include properties that were brought back into use, which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea talked about earlier, the figure reduces to only 8 per cent. If the costs of housing development go up dramatically—say by 40 per cent., as some have suggested—that could have a significant impact on the ability of the London borough of Barnet to deliver the affordable homes that it has so far shown itself to be unable and/or unwilling to deliver.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks does not want a reduction in affordable housing to be a potential consequence of his Bill. Perhaps he could indicate how much impact he thinks the additional costs on a local authority that would flow from new clause 1 would have on affordable housing. We are trying to achieve two desirable objects—reducing energy consumption or using energy from green sources and, at the same time, doing something about the housing shortage in my constituency, in London, and more generally across the country. He needs to consider the price tag of his Bill for a local authority considering whether to impose requirements that go beyond the national requirements. It is good to do green things, and his Bill is a good thing—we all agree on that, I hope—but we must look at the other side of the equation. Local authorities would be given these powers and told that they could impose better standards—a good and desirable thing—but they could get carried away by the great achievement of greening their borough and not think what the longer-term consequences might be.
New clause 9 suggests that when a local authority decides to exercise its discretion there should be maximum consultation. I hope that the hon. Member for Sevenoaks will not object to new clause 9 when he responds. If we are in the era of consultative government, it is essential that people who will be affected by decisions are consulted about the consequences of those decisions. First, we need to consult local businesses and house builders, because they will be directly affected if they are expected to meet higher standards. Residents associations and social housing providers also ought to be consulted, for the reasons we have already discussed. Residents associations should be consulted if a new development is to go ahead, so that we can get the consumers’ point of view on whether they are prepared to pay an extra £20 a year to have their energy provided from green sources.
Social housing providers should be consulted because of the impact not only on their tenants but on their ability to meet housing needs, so before any decisions are made to exercise discretion, it is essential that the hon. Gentleman accept that, at the very least, appropriate consultation should take place. There is no need to go beyond the list that I have set out, and I am prepared to consider other suggestions. I do think, however, that new clause 9 provides for the minimum that should be required of a local authority in setting out its policies.
I hope that when the hon. Gentleman comes to reply in what has been a short but, I hope, illuminating debate, he will reflect on some of what I have said, such as the need to consider the extent of microgeneration in the local authority area—we had a difficult discussion about locality and what it means—and take into account the availability of local supplies of such energy. There are also difficulties about the definition of locality in clause 1, the costs involved, the impact on housing, and the essential fact that people must be consulted if additional obligations are to be imposed on them.
The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) asked me to reflect on various points. I am doing that and will continue to do so.
We are talking about a group of new clauses, and it might be useful if I addressed the issue of cost. The hon. Gentleman is quite right: costs are an important part of the move towards alternative energies, and high costs are one of the reasons why that move has been so slow. I want to say several things about costs. First, as the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) reminded us, the Bill is permissive. It does not instruct any council to do anything, so a council concerned that the costs, for example, of requiring microgeneration in its area are too expensive because of the features of that area does not have to use the scope of the Bill. It is permissive, and does not impose costs on a local authority that does not want such costs imposed on it.
Secondly, I took care to consult the London borough of Merton, which pioneered the Merton-style rule, and I received assurances as to what the impact was. I would not be promoting the Bill if I thought that it discouraged the amount of affordable housing provided borough by borough or district by district. Merton reassured me about that, and indeed, it has gone further. It has found no developer in the past four years who had any difficulty in complying with the requirements. I hope that that reassures the hon. Member for Hendon on the issue of cost.
Just as the hon. Gentleman has asked me to reflect on cost, I ask him to reflect on another cost matter. Many alternative technologies—wind turbines, solar panels and so on—are relatively expensive. All new homes have to be zero carbon by 2016—only eight years away. Unless we get going and do more locally as well as centrally, the supply chain—the micro-industry—will not be able to gear up and reduce the costs that derive from greater economies of scale. I hope that he will reflect on the fact that passing such a Bill will reduce overall costs because more councils will follow Merton’s lead and the Government’s PPS, and eventually the industry will tool up and costs will come down.
New clause 8 deals with viability. The Bill provides that whatever a local authority does, it must be consistent with national policies. I am sure that the Minister will confirm that it is Government policy and part of the climate change planning policy statement that local authorities must consider viability. That is therefore one of the national policies to which they must have regard under the measure.
I am slightly worried by the phrasing,
“shall take into account”
in new clause 8 because it could weaken the Bill. A developer who appealed against a micro-energy requirement that a council was trying to impose on him because he wanted to bring in all the energy from pylons could argue that it had not taken the cost sufficiently into account.
Let me deal with new clause 3. Local authorities must already have regard to several statutory requirements on microgeneration. The Climate Change and Sustainability Act 2006 requires councils to have regard to the energy measures report, which the Government produce and revise from time to time. The new clause would therefore simply add an overlapping statutory requirement, which we do not need.
New clause 7 would require local authorities to take account of the availability of microgeneration in their area. The climate change planning policy statement already requires that. Councils have to understand local feasibility and the potential for renewables and low-carbon technologies in their developments. Again, the wording,
“shall take into account”
slightly waters down the Bill’s point. I want to permit local authorities to impose a requirement of up to 10 per cent. of energy—or whatever ceiling they have set. New clause 7 would not strengthen the Bill.
New clause 9 deals with the duty of consultation. We should be concerned about consultation and ensure that it is as full as possible. The Town and Country Planning (Local Development) (England) Regulations 2004 already impose a requirement on local authorities to consult widely when drawing up their local planning frameworks. New clause 9 is not inclusive. It mentions local businesses, house builders, residents organisations and social housing providers, but does not include energy providers or commercial developers, who may have a view on viability. I would therefore prefer the consultation duty to remain as it is under the general town and country planning regulations.
We are considering important issues, and cost is especially important, but I hope that my points will reassure the hon. Member for Hendon.
My natural instinct is obviously to support my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). However, reading new clause 9, as compared with the elegant phraseology originally propounded by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), I am rather more inclined to support his view than that of my hon. Friend. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the list in new clause 9 is not entirely inclusive and might be counter-productive. He mentioned some organisations that could be added to the list—personally, I would like to see tenants associations as well as residents associations. There are also no references to health authorities, primary care trusts or any other health provider. However, an essential component of the Bill and everything that we are discussing is the health of the tenant, the resident, the country and the world.
It is crucial that we consider the wider issues, particularly as, after a week of balmy, sunny weather, the weather forecasts predict a weekend of hail, gales, storms and tempests. Our world is clearly changing rapidly; therefore, we need to make progress. The hon. Gentleman rightly reminded us of the requirement for all homes to be zero carbon by 2016. It is important to realise that we are in a process. What we need to discuss is what best aids us in that process.
I have an instinctive antipathy towards ever-widening processes of consultation. In my many years of experience as a councillor, I found that people always pray in aid consultation when they do not get the result that they want. It is always said that consultation did not spread widely enough, but that usually just means that someone’s view did not prevail. The existing legislation on statutory consultation is tried and tested. We already have a process. For instance, the consultation process for Captain Morgan’s, a pub that has just opened in my constituency—it is not named after Simon Morgan, the former captain of Fulham, but is the generic name for a group of pubs—involved a wide variety of stakeholders and local residents. However, people who did not want the pub to open still said that they wanted wider consultation. The difficulty with new clause 9 is that if it becomes a statutory requirement that
“a local planning authority shall consult”,
that will provide a green light for people who wish to expand the process ever more widely.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the problem is that we have an eight-year time frame. We are already in the process and we need to move forward. I deeply regret to say that were new clause 9 to become part of the Bill, it would slow the entire process down. That is not to say that we need to parachute in new building systems or create new methods of house construction. However, we need to accept that there is an urgency on the one hand and a need for sustainability and energy efficiency on the other. It is not impossible for us to marry those two. The new clause is widely drawn, including house builders in one category—an enormous range of people could see themselves as coming under that umbrella—but, equally, excluding other people, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
The test of utility that should always be applied when considering a new clause—I do not remotely intend to recast “Erskine May” or to influence you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—is whether it adds to the substance of the Bill. Does the new clause make it a better, more workable or more viable Bill? My concern is that if new clause 9 were accepted, it would not pass that test.
We are talking about the Bill operating in the context of existing town and country planning law. A number of references have been made to the local development framework. Part of existing planning law requires local authorities to set out a statement on the consultation process that will be undertaken on the local development framework. I think that my hon. Friend is saying that new clause 9 over-eggs the pudding.
Not, of course, when my hon. Friend is speaking; he makes a very important point.
Something that bedevils local government in its planning activities is the ever-widening process of consultation. When I read new clause 9, it reminded me immediately of when the London Eye was being built. At that time, my proud, glorious and noble borough of Ealing, which is right on the other side of London, had to be statutorily consulted because someone who stood at the top of a hill with a telescope could see the London Eye! I appreciate that many developments that we are dealing with will not be as high as that, but another good example is Ronan Point, one of the largest buildings ever constructed in London. It had a disastrous life, with a quarter of it collapsing. My main point is that the process of consultation is widening. I am not saying that energy-efficient buildings will necessarily be higher, but that the widening of consultation might completely slow the process down. It is like sand in the gearbox, slowing down the process so much.
I understand the motivation of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon in tabling new clause 9. In presenting the new clause, he acts as he does in all things—in the interests of his constituency and in the wider interests of the people of our city and our country. As a good and proud democrat, who has a great history in that respect, he wants to see wider involvement. What he actually wants to see—if I may try to interpret the words of the new clause—is an element of ownership of the process: a wider ownership beyond the person who builds, the authority that permits and the resident who occupies. He really wants to see wider and further involvement. That is entirely laudable, but I believe that that laudable element is already met by existing planning law, and that if the new clause were implemented, it would slow the process down. Slowing it down is not a bad thing in itself—there is no problem with that—as long as it adds substantively to the original intent behind the Bill, but I am not entirely convinced that it does.
The points in new clause 8, however, are pertinent and important. That is particularly true of new clause 8(e), as
“the impact on the provision of affordable housing in the local authority area”
should and must be considered because that impact could be positive or negative. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks has gone a considerable way towards answering the concerns that many of us expressed about the cost element and whether it might prove to be a disincentive to the overarching ambition of us all to provide decent, safe and energy-efficient housing. The impact on affordable housing provision, particularly over the next few years when the statutory provision of social housing components within all new residential developments will become increasingly contentious, will be very important.
There is much in new clause 8 that deserves to win the House’s approbation, but I feel that new clause 9 would take us into a wider area without substantially adding to the overall impact of the Bill. Reluctantly, I have to say that I am more attracted by what I referred to as the original Bill’s elegant, terse, sparse—the hon. Gentleman himself used the word “taut”—wording than by the wording of new clause 9. May I, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon that it is nothing personal; it is simply due to the process of education and self-education that is occasionally a feature of Friday mornings in this place.
I should say to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) that I am instinctively attracted to new clause 3. Its principle is the promotion of microgeneration, and in my previous incarnation as an Education Minister I did all I could to get more microgeneration into our schools through the sustainable schools programme. As a consequence, we have seen real changes, which local authorities are working with: there are now better standards, and that ties in with the thinking behind new clause 3. Our schools have moved towards being BREEAM—Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method—very good, and some of them are moving towards BREEAM excellent. There are also exciting developments in terms of carbon-neutral schools, as well as solar panels and other forms of microgeneration. Our children are learning from these developments in schools, too. Therefore, this is making a difference in terms not only of energy generation, but of education. However, although I am attracted to what my hon. Friend proposes, as I shall explain, the new clause as phrased is not a good idea.
My hon. Friend talked a great deal about microgeneration, but much less about community schemes such as those involving combined heat and power and biomass, and we must remember that all of these are also important elements of the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). My hon. Friend also talked about the costs. I asked whether that was the cost to local authorities or to consumers, and he spoke in some detail on that point. I shall refer to it, too, because the implications in terms of housing are relevant and pertinent to the debate.
New clause 3 would require a local planning authority to consider the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in its area. New clause 7 would require local planning authorities, when setting the proportion of energy from renewable and low-carbon sources, to consider whether supplies are available locally. I asked my hon. Friend about the term “local”. That was discussed in depth in Committee. For instance, the Committee debated whether “locality” referred to on-site, near-site or off-site. It is my understanding that the Committee agreed that both on-site and near-site are a part of what is termed as “locality”. It is important that such progress was made in the Committee, and I am grateful to its members for putting in that work and for providing such clarity.
New clause 8 would require local planning authorities to consider the costs relating to the policies they are proposing; we had a good discussion about that. New clause 9 would require local planning authorities to consult various organisations and groups when drawing up policies—my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) has just let us know his views on that.
I understand the intention behind the new clauses. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon wants local planning authorities, when drawing up their development plan document—DPD—policies on such matters as local energy supply and energy efficiency, to think about local opportunities and the costs involved. He also wants them to consult those whom they should consult, and, in doing all that, to bear in mind the desirability of increasing microgeneration. These are all worthy goals, and he should be congratulated on promoting them.
My hon. Friend will not be surprised to learn that these are just the sort of concerns that we would expect local planning authorities to consider, and I hope it reassures him to know that I believe that his proposals are not needed to make that happen. I hope that I can convince him in the coming moments that they are unnecessary. In explaining why, I shall touch on each of them briefly.
As for new clause 3, our planning policies already promote more use of both renewable and low-carbon energy. For example, our renewable energy planning policy statement requires local authorities specifically to encourage small-scale renewables through positively expressed policies in their local development documents. The climate change planning policy statement, which was published just before Christmas, has taken this further, and gives a big boost to supplying new development with local energy, including energy from microgeneration.
Perhaps I should explain to my hon. Friend the point that is involved here, because I think he is examining new clause 3 in isolation from the Bill as a whole. New clause 3 effectively refers back to clause 1, which says that if a local authority wants to go beyond the national guidelines, in general terms it can do so. He is setting out what the national guidelines are, but I am saying that if a local authority wants to go beyond them, it should take certain factors into account. He has yet to answer the particular point about what happens when people want to go beyond the safety net that he is explaining.
That is precisely the point, because through new clause 3, I am attempting to say, “If a local authority is going to do this, it should take into account these factors and all the other factors in the other provisions too.” My hon. Friend is simply saying, “The Bill will allow local authorities to do more.” That is fine, because we all agree with that, but my new clauses are an attempt to be more specific about what they should do.
I accept that, but it is not necessary to include in the Bill the things that my hon. Friend is proposing, and I shall try to explain why that is the case.
I am unclear what extra would be achieved by introducing the requirement for a local authority to consider the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in its area. We must put this in the context of not only the Bill, which has been discussed in Committee, but the planning policy statement to which I referred. Microgeneration technologies, such as solar panels and small wind turbines, will undoubtedly be among the range of green energy solutions used in the delivery of the policies enabled by this Bill and expected in our planning policies.
If the argument is that we would have the provision in statute, may I remind my hon. Friend that section 3 of the Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Act 2006 already requires local authorities to have regard to the energy measures report? The report provides information on the steps that local authorities can take to increase microgeneration and other low-carbon technologies. New clause 3 is therefore unnecessary.
That is exactly the same point; what my hon. Friend has done is set out one of the national requirements, as he has done on several occasions in his speech. The point is that the existing provisions in the Bill would enable local authorities to go beyond those national requirements, but if they are to do so, we should include my new clauses, which are an attempt to explain in a little more detail what they should be doing as part of that process. If he is only going to repeat what the national standards are and say that they are what the Bill provides, the Bill ultimately provides no added value at all.
One issue that was discussed in Committee was the fact that planning policy statements can change, but that when the Bill goes through Parliament—I am sure that it will go through Report and Third Reading in the coming hours—these matters will be on the statute book. That is fundamentally different from having only PPS guidance. That is why the Bill is important and why we have been commending the hon. Member for Sevenoaks.
I worry that new clause 3 would create ambiguity about the Bill’s intentions. It prompts one to ask why there are not other clauses requiring planning authorities to consider the desirability of community schemes that serve more than one building. Examples include combined heat and power schemes in Southampton and Woking, medium-sized wind turbines, and imaginative strategies for using a community’s waste to generate heat and power for that community. Focusing on one desirable, whatever its merits—I agree that microgeneration has real merits—risks relegating other desirables. I know that that is not the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, but helpful as his new clause has been in stimulating debate, I think that he will agree that it is imperfect as it is currently drafted.
I think that my hon. Friend has overlooked new clause 7, which is sufficiently broad to take into account ideas such as combined heat and power and other forms of energy generation. Again, we must ask what the added value of the Bill will be if we do not go beyond the national standards. If we are to go beyond them, how will we do that if we do not set out targets, criteria and ideas for local authorities to follow?
Targets, ideas and criteria are better placed in guidance than in detailed legislation. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees. Perhaps I have not made this point clear enough, but we are supporting the Bill because it is about going beyond targets, and about local authorities encouraging ambition and innovation.
My hon. Friend mentions new clause 7. Our planning policy statement on climate change requires local planning authorities to have an evidence-based understanding of the local feasibility of and potential for renewable and low-carbon technologies, such as microgeneration, supplying new developments in their areas. They are required to pay particular attention to opportunities to utilise existing decentralised and renewable or low-carbon energy supplies, and to fostering the development of new opportunities to supply proposed and existing developments.
I worry that the clause would bring ambiguity, as it could be seen to water down the Bill’s focus on local energy. Local planning authorities would be expected only to
“take into account the availability of local supplies”
of renewable and low-carbon energy when setting their requirements for energy supply to new developments. We want them to do more than simply take local energy into account; we want them to be more ambitious. As I have said, we want them to push hard on local energy if there is potential for it to supply new developments in their areas. We want them to be ambitious, but we want their ambition to be evidence-based, as their targets must be feasible and viable.
I turn now to new clause 8. My hon. Friend spoke in some depth about the possible implications for housing in the Bill. The House will be aware that the Government have made their commitments quite clear: we want to develop 3 million new homes by 2020. Earlier, I mentioned our ambitions on zero-carbon homes. From 2016, we are expecting 240,000 new homes to be built to zero-carbon standards. That is a challenging target, which equates to level 6 of the code for sustainable homes. Immediate steps will be taken in 2010, when we will set building regulations at a standard equivalent to level 3 of the code. We will set level 4 standards in the building regulations in 2013.
This is an unprecedented scale of ambition, and we welcome the support that we have received from industry, house builders, the supply chain, local authorities and non-governmental organisations. The Callcutt review, which reported last year, confirmed that the programme was achievable. As has been highlighted in the debate, however, this is a huge ask. The proposals will require industry to get its supply chains into shape to provide zero-carbon products. They will require research into those products and exemplar programmes to show what works and what does not. They will also require a huge marketing effort so that home owners can understand what they will be buying, and they will need investments in skills and processes. Above all, we will need a co-ordinated programme to minimise duplication and to avoid wasted effort. We need to maximise learning and co-operative working, and that will all require a stable framework to provide certainty for investment over the next eight years.
We have spoken before about the legitimate concern raised in the Callcutt report that house builders have to deal with a plethora of different standards and that, however well intentioned the provisions might be, they could get in the way of a co-ordinated programme. We need to avoid a situation in which different building standards apply all over the country. It is in no one’s interest to fragment building standards. We recognise, however, that some house builders and local authorities will want to go further and faster than the national timetable, and there will be circumstances in which it is justified to do exactly that. That will be important for the exemplar projects, for example. Some householders have said that they are going to move ahead as a matter of policy, without waiting for new building regulations. In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Housing Minister noted the example set by Berkeley, which has said that all its new homes will be built to code level 3 from here on in. I hope that hon. Members will be aware that we have put in place our own exemplar programmes, through the carbon challenge being run by English Partnerships, and our eco-towns programme.
In our “Building a Greener Future” policy statement last July, we said that we welcomed house builders and local authorities working together on exemplar developments, and that local authorities could bring forward policies to encourage and mandate such developments when the circumstances could justify that. The planning policy statement on climate change sets out the policy in more detail. Those who are particularly interested can find the details in paragraphs 30 to 33.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend’s concern about taking costs into account. This is one of the reasons why the Government have welcomed the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks. The Bill, as amended in Committee, will require local planning authorities to have regard to national policy when drawing up policies under the terms of the Bill. That will be the effect of clause 4. In England, that will include our planning policy statement on climate change. The Welsh Assembly Government are working on their own planning policy on climate change. Our climate change PPS sets out clear steps for testing local requirements to ensure that they are reasonable. They cover the type of concern that my hon. Friend had in mind when tabling his new clause.
As I have said, the tests in the PPS are not intended to tie councils down. Quite simply, if targets for using local energy and on energy efficiency requirements are to make a serious cut in carbon emissions, they must be achievable and compatible with delivering the affordable homes, jobs and regeneration that are needed in our local communities. If we were unable to deliver all that, we would be making a mistake in supporting the Bill. We believe that we can achieve that aim through a combination of the PPS and the Bill. That is why targets should be set, and tested, through the preparation of development plan documents. Helping communities to grow and high environmental standards are not alternatives but should go hand in hand.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon will not be surprised that I am worried that new clause 8 will bring ambiguity to the Bill. It might intend to place a requirement on local planning authorities to consider the viability of their proposed policies, but on the other hand it might intend to ask local authorities to consider the energy costs to the end user. By “end user”, I mean the individual who buys or rents a development once it has been completed. The clause could of course be asking for both intentions to be considered, but the drafting does not make that clear—hence my question to my hon. Friend earlier. Local planning authorities should not have to second-guess what a piece of legislation requires. I call on him to withdraw new clause 8 because of the way in which it is drafted.
Finally, on new clause 9, requirements for consultation on drawing up development plan documents are already set out in the Town and Country Planning (Local Development) (England) Regulations 2004. The Government have consulted on the simplification of the regulations in the interests of devolving such matters to local authorities, which we consider to be best placed to make those decisions. We intend to make the simplified regulations that result from the consultation later this month and the new procedures will take effect from late June. It is unclear how the new clause would fit in with either the existing arrangements or the streamlined proposals, which have received substantial support. I am sure that my hon. Friend is sympathetic to the notion that such matters are best run by local authorities.
The new clause also covers many interests, including those of local businesses, house builders and other groups. Energy providers or commercial developers would be high on our list of those who would have an interest, as well as many others mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North. The new clause could make many of those organisations think they had been excluded from the consultation expected in the preparation of a DPD. I do not think that that is in any way the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, but it is the unintended consequence of the new clause’s wording.
I hope that I have persuaded my hon. Friend that the new clauses are unnecessary. The intentions behind them are noble, but are covered elsewhere. I hope I have also shown that their drafting means they are not risk free and could undermine the Bill’s intentions. At the same time, the whole House is grateful to him for the work that he has done in allowing this level of scrutiny. As he said, the Bill was considered in Committee, but many issues have been aired in such detail for the first time today.
We have had an interesting debate on a wide range of subjects related to these new clauses. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) was right when he said that this is a permissive Bill, and I would not want to take anything away from that. My main concern with the new clauses was to say that if a local authority goes down such a route, it ought to think about certain matters when it does so. My view was that it was better to put those matters in the Bill.
I am pleased to hear that the hon. Gentleman has consulted Merton borough council and that no developer has been in difficulty with the requests that it has put forward. Of course, there is a risk that a local authority might go beyond what Merton suggests. Ultimately, it comes down to the question of price. A developer will build whatever someone wants if he is given the money to do it. One issue that has arisen is whether the developers would charge more to do the sort of things that boroughs are asking about.
I agree that alternative technology is expensive, although the more people buy it, the cheaper it will become, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) in reply to his intervention. We need to encourage that to happen, and I hope that the Bill will do that.
My main concern in this debate is the source of the value added. If we are saying that we will reinforce national policy—my hon. Friend the Minister reminded us of that—the Bill would not seem to increase the value added very much. My hon. Friend points out that we have the planning policy statement, but the point of the Bill is that it would allow local authorities to go beyond the PPS. My hon. Friend says that the PPS can change, but the point that I made earlier is that that could happen in response to a pilot scheme operated by a local authority in accordance with this Bill. So we return to the issue of where the value added can be found. To my mind, it must come from the provisions that I would wish to add to the Bill in new clause 3 in particular.
I take the point about the wording “shall take into account” in new clause 7, but it would not water down the Bill, because it is an addition to the Bill not a removal or substitution. We do need to consider how we will emphasise the value added if we do not go beyond the national guidelines.
On the issue of costs, my hon. Friend asked whether my concern was about the viability of the policy or the ultimate energy costs to the end user. Of course, I am concerned about both. If my hon. Friend thinks that new clause 8 is not worded sufficiently tightly, that is a fair criticism. If the Bill goes to the other place, perhaps that issue can be addressed there.
New clause 9 is about consultation, and I take the point that my shopping list may not be as long as it should be when it comes to energy suppliers. One could argue that they would come within the definition of local business, but if there is sufficient consultation within the existing framework, I would not want to try to suborn that through the new clause. However, it is important that the obligation to consult be put on the face of any legislation that will impose new obligations that would cost someone else at the end of the chain. I accept that the wording may not be appropriate, and perhaps an amendment could be tabled in the other place to impose a general duty to consult.
I have listened to the debate and we have had a useful airing of the issues. I do not intend to press the matters to a vote and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Short title and extent
I beg to move amendment No. 12, page 2, line 26, at end add—
‘(3) This Act shall come into force on such date as the Secretary of State shall appoint.’.
This amendment is an attempt to plug a gap in the Bill, which contains no commencement provision other than the general implication that it would come into effect. If we are to give local authorities these new discretions and powers, as I hope we will, we need to allow some gearing up time so that they can get ready to exercise them. Some local authorities may be advanced in the preparation of their local plans, but it would be wrong simply to leave the matter in the air.
It is not uncommon for Bills to have commencement clauses that give discretion to the Secretary of State to decide when they should come into force through the normal process of subordinate legislation, and that would be appropriate in this case. I have drawn new clause 12 as tightly as possible in that respect by referring to
“such date as the Secretary of State shall appoint”.
That means that the Secretary of State must appoint a date at some stage. We have discussed such clauses before on other Bills, and there is House of Lords authority on the difference between “shall appoint” and “may appoint”. I know that, because I was involved in the case that decided it before I became a Member of Parliament. If the provision included the word “may”, the Bill could remain on the shelf indefinitely. However, if it says “shall”, the Secretary of State will have to do something and keep the matter under active review until the Bill is brought into effect.
Nevertheless, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the amendment would allow considerable delay in the Bill’s implementation? It would be a great pity if developers brought forward their development plans as early as possible to avoid the provisions of the Bill, so that the energy standards that councils might wish to introduce would not be in place.
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. However, the lead-in time for such developments is often many months, if not a year or two. Given what my hon. Friend the Minister has said, and the fact that the Government support the Bill and have the intention that it will come into effect, we would not be talking about an inordinate delay. However, unless there is some discretion, the Bill might come into force before anyone is ready to implement it, which would be a worse evil.
My hon. Friend will be as aware as I—and the whole House, I am sure—that the Easter bank holiday legislation that was passed 80 years ago has never been implemented. It could be commenced at any stage, but no Secretary of State since the 1920s has felt inclined to do so. Does he not think that it would be appropriate to fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State slightly by giving at least some indication of an implementation time in the Bill?
It is a little while since I read the Easter Act 1928. However, if my hon. Friend were to read it, I think that he would see that the phrasing of its commencement provisions is rather different from that of amendment No. 12. The amendment would give the Secretary of State the mandatory duty of keeping the matter under review and acting to bring the Bill into effect.
My hon. Friend the Minister has said that the Government are sympathetic to the Bill. It is important for the Secretary of State to have discretion because if we are to give these powers to local authorities, they will need to be ready to use them when the Bill comes into force. There is nothing worse than the House passing legislation that is not taken up, but that could well happen if there was a flurry of publicity surrounding the Bill becoming law, but everyone then forgot about it because local authorities were not ready to implement it. Things would then simply fall back to the national standards to which my hon. Friend referred. We need discretion to ensure that the Bill may be brought into force in an orderly manner, given the additional discretions that local authorities will have under it.
I hope that I have not been unsympathetic to the various points raised by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) throughout the sitting. He has asked the House to reflect on matters such as costs, which we did not have time to consider in Committee.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about commencement, and I was not persuaded by him. He said that he wanted to delay the start of the Bill because local authorities might not be able to implement the measures on the day of Royal Assent. However, the Bill is permissive. It does not tell all local authorities that they must do something straight away. It allows those local authorities that want to get on with the process to do so.
The hon. Gentleman might not be aware that many local authorities want to get on with this. More than 100 local authorities—behind Merton and those councils that have adopted Merton-style policies—are at various stages in respect of their desire to incorporate such policies in their local planning framework. It is not the case that Merton has started and everyone else is wondering whether to follow. Many local authorities are already in the queue behind Merton and want to get on with things.
The point is that there is uncertainty. There was uncertainty while the planning policy statement was being prepared and went through various drafts. People waited for the final text, which was fine, and now they are waiting for the detailed guidance on it. There is still some uncertainty about what local authorities can do if they want to, so I see no reason for delay.
Finally, as I said earlier, all new homes have to be zero-carbon by 2016. That is only eight years away, so we really have to get on with it. Unless the hon. Member for Hendon or his colleagues can think of any other arguments, I cannot see any substantive reason why there should be any delay in putting the Bill into force, if it is fortunate enough to receive Royal Assent.
It is not the Government’s intention to delay the Bill in any way. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) eloquently argued why it would be good to get on with it. As hon. Members have said, the amendment would enable the Secretary of State to decide when the Bill should come into force. It is intended that the Bill will come into force immediately. The amendment would delay the Bill, and we feel that there is no reason for that.
There is no commencement provision in the Bill to delay it, and that is quite deliberate. The Government were in agreement that there was no need to delay commencement, and our views on the matter remain unchanged. The Bill does not affect the continuing exercise of rights by individuals or their legitimate expectations. There are no specific measures that require local authorities or developers to gear up for a change of policy, either. Unless the Bill is amended to such an extent that a reason for delaying commencement is introduced, we see no reason to delay it. As the hon. Member for Sevenoaks says, this is a permissive Bill. It encourages local authorities to do things that they may well wish to get on with. I therefore urge my hon. Friend to consider withdrawing the amendment.
I listened to what the hon. Member for Sevenoaks said. It is certainly not my intention to delay the implementation of the Bill inordinately, and I heard what he said about local authorities wanting to get on with things. My main aim in tabling the amendment was to ensure that the Bill was brought into force in an orderly fashion, but if my hon. Friend the Minister thinks that the amendment is not necessary—he says that the Government want to bring the Bill into force straight away—I will certainly not argue. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Order for Third Reading read.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I will not delay the House long, because I am anxious for the Bill to proceed today and to come into effect, but I want to put on record my gratitude to colleagues across the House for the support that I have had. I include in that those who spoke today and who raised points that we were not able to consider in Committee.
This is a short but, I venture to suggest, important Bill. It enfranchises local authorities and puts their ability to adopt Merton-style policies on a statutory basis for the first time. To refer to a point that the Minister made, the Bill also means that those who want to move faster than the Government originally intended can now do so with certainty, provided that they do so in a way that is consistent with Government policies. That means that local authorities will no longer have to wait for a revision to the planning policy statement, for more detailed guidance, or for a change of Minister or—who knows?—of Government. They can now get on with implementing Merton-style policies with whatever speed they wish. That is important. If we are to engage our communities in facing the challenge of climate change, we cannot simply leave things to central Government. We have to get local communities involved, and that means putting local councils in the driving seat. That is the aim of the Bill, and I am most grateful to colleagues who supported it.
We have had an interesting debate about the purpose of the Bill, and I am pleased to reiterate our support for the Bill, as amended in Committee.
Again, I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on promoting the Bill and on taking it along the sometimes difficult path for private Members’ Bills through the House; he has done very well. Earlier, he told me that he could measure his progress by the number of the officials involved in meetings. Towards the end of the process, quite a few officials were involved, and he should be pleased that the Bill has reached Third Reading today.
Both Government and Opposition Members helped to shape the Bill in Committee, and I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Ipswich (Chris Mole), for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound), for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) and for Battersea (Martin Linton). Liberal Democrat Front Benchers have also contributed, albeit briefly. I also thank the hon. Member for Sevenoaks for his contributions today.
As I have said, I am pleased that the Bill aligns itself with the approach set out in the planning policy statement on climate change. It was important for hon. Members patiently to wait for the PPS. I know that the Bill has had a difficult birth, because of the waiting before Christmas, but the PPS is there now, and we are the better for it. The publication of the new PPS on climate change was an important milestone in terms of local government’s role in tackling climate change.
It is worth spending some time reminding ourselves what the new PPS does, what difference it will make and how it dovetails with the Bill. The PPS confirms the central role of planning in helping to achieve zero-carbon homes from 2016. No one, I hope, doubts the need to achieve significant carbon emission reductions from homes, which generate around one quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions. The homes that we build today will be with us for 100 years or more. In the long run, it is far cheaper to build them to have low carbon emissions in the first place than it is to retrofit them in the future. That is why the Government have set a progressive timetable towards zero-carbon homes by 2016, which, as hon. Members have said, is just eight years from now.
I want to remind the House about the scale of that ambition. That unprecedented target is unmatched anywhere in the world, and we have set it in the context of our equally ambitious plans for house building— 3 million new homes by 2020. I want to remind hon. Members about some of the steps that we are taking to drive forward that policy. I have mentioned the steps that we will take to enshrine the standards in the building regulations, and we will consult early in the new year on the first of those steps.
The changes to the building regulations are scheduled for 2010. We are working with the industry on the detailed changes to the assessment methodology that underpins those regulations. We announced in the Budget that in order to give the industry the certainty that it requires to prepare for delivering the ambition, the Government will set out the definition of zero carbon for the purpose of the 2016 ambition by the end of this year, after consultation, which will take place this summer. An important aspect of that will be the contribution made by renewable energy.
In the Budget, we also undertook to provide pump-priming funding for a new 2016 delivery unit to guide, monitor and co-ordinate the zero-carbon programme. We are discussing the final details with the industry and other key stakeholders. As of this month, we have introduced a mandatory rating for new homes in respect of the code for sustainable homes. The first of those homes are starting to be rated against the higher levels of that code.
From April, we are introducing energy performance certificates for new homes. We have similar ambitions for new non-domestic buildings; the Budget announced our ambition for all new non-domestic buildings to be zero-carbon from 2019. This year, the Government will consult on the time line for and feasibility of that ambition, and they will review progress in 2013. Achieving the goal will establish Britain among the world leaders in the field and make a significant contribution towards mitigating climate change by saving approximately 75 million tonnes of CO2 in the next 30 years.
The Government are taking action to reduce the CO2 impact of public sector buildings; I mentioned the example of schools. It is already the Government’s ambition that all new schools should be zero-carbon from 2016. A task force is being set up to advise on how to achieve zero-carbon schools, on whether the time scale is realistic and on how to reduce carbon emissions in the intervening period.
We have also moved a long way on the Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method, or BREEAM, requirements. As I said, many schools are getting “very good”; many are moving ahead to “excellent” BREEAM status as well. The Budget also announced an ambition for all new public sector buildings to be zero-carbon from 2018. Key barriers will have to be overcome in the coming months and years to deliver on that. There may be areas in respect of which achieving zero carbon presents particular and nuanced challenges. The Government will therefore establish a task force to advise on the time line, on how to reduce carbon emissions in the intervening period and on the particular challenges faced in places such as hospitals, prisons and our defence establishments.
The planning policy statement will help speed up the shift to renewable and low-carbon energy by challenging councils to do much more to support the delivery of local renewable or low-carbon energy, including through setting percentages of energy for new development to be generated from local renewables or low-carbon sources such as microgeneration or community schemes. It also expects councils to think about the potential for local low-carbon energy generation and about cutting carbon emissions when identifying the best sites for development.
That is in the context of the challenges of the renewable energy targets proposed under the European Union renewable energy proposals. The European Commission has published a draft directive that provides the framework for achieving the EU’s agreed target of securing 20 per cent. of all its energy from renewable sources by 2020. In particular, it proposes contributions from the UK and other member states towards that goal. As part of the target of 20 per cent. renewable energy, each member state is required to achieve a 10 per cent. share of renewable energy in road transport fuels as long as sustainability conditions can be met. The Government welcome the Commission’s proposals as a good starting point for discussion in the Council. The Commission has proposed that 15 per cent. of all the UK’s energy, covering the electricity, heat and transport sectors, should come from renewables by 2020.
I am trying to get across to the House—I am sure that you will correct me if I digress, Mr. Deputy Speaker—the fact that this important private Member’s Bill was held up in its previous stages and could not be concluded until we had the PPS in place before Christmas, as well as explaining the overlap and why these two pieces of work have to mesh closely together. I will endeavour to do that without going away from the principles of the Bill and why it is so important.
The Government welcome the proposals that I outlined as a good starting point. We have been set very challenging targets by the EU, as our existing share is less than 2 per cent.—lower than that of most other member states. However, I believe that the Bill will help us in our journey to get closer to these targets. The UK is completely committed to meeting our share, which will be decided along with other member states’ shares in negotiations over the coming months.
Absolutely. Probably the most pertinent comment with regard to the Bill’s linkage with this was made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks when he talked about local authorities having the flexibility to go further and faster and to do more, learning from the experiences of Merton and others.
It is important to set out the framework, the targets and the contexts. We are already putting in place measures to increase renewable energy supplies, which I hope will support and help local authorities as they deliver targets and work on the opportunities that are available to them through the Bill. Further measures will be necessary—there are no two ways about that—so the Government plan a consultation in the summer on the options for meeting our share of the EU 2020 renewable energy target. We will publish our renewable energy strategy in the spring of next year once the EU directive is passed and the UK’s contribution is decided. In evaluating these contributions, we need to consider the role of every individual local authority. That is why the Bill is so important.
Before my hon. Friend moves away from the read-across to Europe, which is extremely important, is he aware that organisations such as BRE and others who specialise in the area are in consultation with their brother and sister agencies in Europe to see whether there are lessons that we can learn from one another in addressing a problem that is being addressed locally but is also a major facet of a global problem?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Perhaps not everybody in the Chamber at the moment is a Europhile, but there are a great number of things that we can learn about recycling, how we use our energy and energy efficiency. Stakeholders such as the one that he mentioned are getting out there and learning the lessons in Brussels and elsewhere across the European Union.
My third point about the linkage with the PPS concerns the stimulus to action by local authorities. As we have learned in the course of the debate, local government has a vital role in ensuring that local communities and infrastructure are able to cope with the impact of climate change—not only the effects that are felt today but those that can be anticipated in future. The PPS, therefore, reflects the central role of planning in shaping places that are resilient to climate change and habitats that sustain biodiversity.
Planning is not the only area where local authorities can play a key role in that agenda. Many local authorities are taking innovative action to tackle climate change already, which is what the Bill hopes to explore and support. Local authorities have demonstrated their commitment through initiatives, such as signing up to the Nottingham declaration, and through saying that they want to include climate change indicators in their local area agreements. The climate change PPS sets out how we expect planning to help us to prepare for low-carbon living. New jobs, homes and infrastructure need to be planned in ways that cut carbon emissions. Planning has to help places to adjust to expected changes in our climate.
Planning’s big contribution is what it does best—shaping new development and places. How much development, what sort of development and where are all factors that will be considered with more focus in the context of the Bill. Planning helps to get infrastructure in place in the first place, including the energy required to feed such developments. Planning has a big role in helping to deliver our world-leading standard on zero carbon, and planning the right development for the right location, alongside more sustainable transport, means that we will not need to travel as much, and when we do, less carbon will be emitted.
Tackling climate change is firmly at the centre of what is expected of good planning. The PPS supplement, PPS1, in which we set out what we want from planning is backed in our Planning Bill with a new duty on local planners to take action on climate change. That will not just be a bolt-on, but a key integrating theme in plans for planning decisions. Planning can support our ambition for low-carbon lifestyles through direct influence on energy use and emissions; by bringing together and encouraging action by others, we want to capture local enthusiasm, and give planners and local communities opportunities to take action at a local level. We expect planning strategies to be tested on their carbon ambition, which means securing the fullest possible use of sustainable transport and making the most of existing and planned opportunities for local energy.
Planning is a key partner in the promotion of technological innovation and in supporting our national framework to cut carbon emissions from new buildings. Where there are local opportunities to accelerate our national timetable, the PPS says that councils can plan for that. That chimes with the Bill, which would allow local authorities to go at their own pace. Those that want to go more quickly should be encouraged to do so. Local renewable and low-carbon energy is given a big role in the PPS because emissions are generated from heat and electricity use, which means that we need to exploit local energy, rather than offsetting carbon emissions by providing low-carbon energy elsewhere or by planting trees. That is why the PPS requires councils to have a policy setting a percentage of local energy to be used in new development.
I shall bring my remarks to a close to allow other Members to have their say, but I hope that we have got across to the House the importance of the Bill, and of how it can, within the framework of Government policies, including the PPS, make a real difference to communities. It will provide local authorities with the ammunition they want to develop in a more sustainable way for the future, and to make a real difference in tackling climate change.
Like the Minister, I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), who has skilfully and dextrously steered the Bill to this point, carrying the Government and hon. Members of all parties with him. I have not been a Member of Parliament for long, but I know that one has to put in an awful lot of hard work and have much parliamentary skill to achieve that. I know from my hon. Friend’s comments on Second Reading that, to some extent, the voice in his head was that of the late Eric Forth. He was able to point out that the Bill is permissive and does not require compulsion. It enables local authorities to do what many of them want to do.
I pay tribute to hon. Members who have contributed to the debate and who took part in Committee, and to Ministers, who have liaised with my hon. Friend and worked through the difficulties to reach the point whereby a good Bill stands a chance of getting on the statute book.
I am happy to support that tribute.
I am grateful for the chance to speak on behalf of the official Opposition in support of the Bill. The backdrop is the work of the intergovernmental panel on climate change and that of such eminent people as Lord Stern. We must act at all levels of government and play our part. In this Parliament, the Climate Change Bill will be an important part of that process, and the Bill that we are considering will allow local government to play its part.
As a sponsor of the Sustainable Communities Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd) promoted, I firmly nailed my colours to the localist mast. In Committee, it was interesting to watch the Government tentatively probing localist ideas, which some Labour as well as Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members proposed. It is good that there is joint working on that agenda. I hope that that welcome development continues.
When, in 2003, Merton council took the bold step of setting a 10 per cent. target for on-site renewable generation, it helped spark unprecedented investment in the microgeneration sector. Investors believed that frameworks such as that in Merton could provide a long-term marketplace for the developers and manufacturers of small-scale, low-carbon technologies.
On the path towards the zero-carbon homes target in 2016, which so many hon. Members, including the Minister, mentioned, there are stepped increases in minimum standards for public housing sector projects. In 2013, the standards jump to a 44 per cent. efficiency improvement on today’s standards—or level 4 in the code for sustainable homes.
There is genuine anxiety in the microgeneration sector, voiced by industry groups such as the Micropower Council, that that large increase will result in hugely increased demand for microgeneration. Previous minimum standards could be met through energy efficiency measures alone, whereas the microgeneration sector believes that the 44 per cent. target will demand on-site renewables in almost all cases. It argues that, at its current level, it could not supply that demand, and that that failure could seriously upset the 2016 zero-carbon homes target.
Merton rules provide longer-term security for investment in the microgeneration sector, and will allow it to match demand as standards are ratcheted up. By enshrining councils’ rights to set progressive targets, the Bill will enable councils that believe their areas to be appropriate, and with a mind to be ambitious and engage with lowering their carbon pollution, to raise the standards for new buildings.
It is important that, while building standards improve the performance of underachieving councils, those with the vision to perceive the benefits and leadership of moving ahead of the pack have a mechanism whereby they can drive progress. Some authorities may allow developers to account for some of their targets through efficiency measures and others may set independent targets for microgen and efficiency. The rule—and therefore the Bill—also gives a welcome chance to smaller, local property developers to serve local markets that larger developers, with more unwieldy mass-produced product to adapt, might not tap into as easily.
If we are really serious about tackling climate change, every aspect of government must be prepared for dynamic change and to challenge the status quo. We must foster excellence, innovation and new technology, and invest in and develop burgeoning green technologies. We must look ahead and be ambitious in deployment.
Rather than having technological winners picked centrally or dictated by Whitehall planning guidance, which is uncertain in the long term and unsuitably broad-brush for the needs of localism, the new rules allow those communities that are most able and willing—often where land values are higher—to blaze a trail for others to follow. The rules allow the right solutions to reach the endlessly varied regions of our country and give us at least a fighting chance of reaching our 2016 zero-carbon homes target.
I do not intend to go into the details of the many issues that the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised, which have been given more than enough coverage. I therefore conclude by again paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks for his hard work and success thus far. Empowering local people to find local solutions is at the heart of my party’s message. It gives me great pleasure to recommend to the House a Bill that has that belief at its core, while addressing an agenda that has a global scale and a profound significance.
The Minister said that some contributions to the debate were briefer than others. The length of my remarks will be inversely proportional to how much I support the Bill, so I will aim to keep them very short indeed.
I join others in congratulating the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on getting so far so quickly—even though it might not have felt like it at times in the debate on the amendments—and on persuading the Government to respond to the issues raised. To echo the comments of the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon), that experience stands in stark contrast to the experience of the Committee that considered the Sustainable Communities Act 2007, which faced difficulties in moving the issue forward. In developing in this Bill some of the principles that were laid out in that Act, we have all learned how to work with one another to progress such matters. The process has developed what is contained in the 2007 Act.
Many hon. Members present deserve congratulations on their work, as do those hon. Members who are not in the Chamber, but who helped the hon. Member for Sevenoaks to work and rework the wording of the Bill. It is important that we should pay tribute to those without whom the Bill would not have been possible, namely the local councils. They have been driving the agenda forward since 2003 and have demonstrated genuine ambition in what they thought could be achieved in the development of their areas. They include not just Merton council, but other councils that have been blazing the trail and the more than 100 others that are at various stages of trying to push the issue forward. If those councils had not shown what can be achieved and what they want to achieve, we would not be debating the Bill now.
Fundamentally, the Bill is about ensuring that what councils want to achieve is not just enshrined in planning policy statements or the guidance that accompanies them, but put on a statutory footing, so that it becomes less open to the debate and reinterpretation that can make the planning process so destabilising. Many councils have found it difficult to do anything other than conform to the lowest common denominator set by the Government.
The Bill is not about imposing standards on councils, but about allowing those that want to go further in energy efficiency and energy use to do so. Some councils have, up to now, been experiencing difficulties. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) raised the issue on Second Reading. He highlighted the experience of Cambridge city council, which wants to achieve higher standards, but has been turned down on appeal because of a conservative interpretation of the existing planning policy guidance.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the difficulties and frustrations that Cambridge council faced in trying to get higher energy standards through the national system. That is indeed one of the origins of the Bill. It will be a matter of great relief in Cambridge when it is passed. Will she join me in urging the Government to do whatever they can to get the Bill through the other place as quickly as possible? Some developments—in Cambridge and elsewhere—have had to be dealt with under the old rules, which they should not have been. Until the Bill is finally passed, however, such developments will still have to be dealt with in the unsatisfactory way of the past. Speed really is of the essence.
I could not agree more. My hon. Friend’s comments contrast with the scenario painted by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) when he presented some of his amending provisions. The hon. Gentleman said that some councils might struggle to fit into a faster time scale; in fact, plenty of councils are champing at the bit to move this issue forward as quickly as possible. Indeed, they often want to impose parity of standards between social and private housing and to extend the provisions to all other developments.
Issues of energy efficiency in the home have been raised, but we are talking about new developments. In social housing, Housing Corporation funding is dependent on higher energy efficiency standards that do not read across to private sector development. The Bill will allow councils to ensure that such read-across and parity of treatment is achieved. They can go beyond minimum standards and impose “standard” levels and requirements for all new buildings in local authority areas.
I am not sure that I have understood the hon. Lady’s last point. Presumably, private sector builders would meet higher standards anyway because of the pressures of the housing market. The real problem has always been with social housing, which has been seen as some sort of second-class construction—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) can intervene if he wants to when I have finished my intervention; he cannot intervene on my intervention. As I was saying, social housing has always been the Cinderella and has seldom reached the high standards that we would expect. I agree that we need to level up standards across the board, but the hon. Lady may be drawing a false distinction in her comments.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is getting confused. What he said may be the case with existing housing stock, but I am trying to praise the Government—his Government—for the higher standards that are coming from Housing Corporation funding, particularly the higher standards that are required for new build social housing. We need to be very careful to distinguish between problems in respect of existing housing stock, whether it be owner-occupied, privately rented or available for social rent, and the new stock. Nowadays it is easier to impose higher standards for social housing because money is involved and the requirements can follow the funding.
The problem for many councils—it will apply until the Bill becomes law—has been the attitude towards risk. More risk-averse councils—those fearful of the cost of losing an appeal—are wary of doing anything other than meet the minimum standards. Some councils have been blazing a trail, but for others it is a risk that they do not want to take. The Bill will minimise the risk, which is why it is so welcome.
The Bill will make a real and tangible change to the approach to climate change, particularly in respect of development. It will allow local authorities to be freer to seek higher standards. I am optimistic that it will act as a catalyst in the race to the top in terms of performance on energy efficiency and energy use. It will contrast with the current system of targets, as it will help to create a lowest common denominator, ensuring that the people at the bottom do not drag their feet, without hindering those who want to race forward to achieve as much as they can. It will give real power to communities, showing what they can achieve in a way that is appropriate to their local circumstances.
The Bill is very specific—that is one of its benefits—and we need to realise that. Massive issues—issues that contribute massively to carbon emissions—remain to be addressed in respect of our existing housing stock, and they have not been tackled by the Bill. We must remember that there are issues that need to be addressed. The Bill’s text speaks for itself, as does the degree of support that has been won for it, and I ask the Minister to do everything possible to get it on to the statute book as soon as possible, so that we can see real leadership at local level and allow solutions to local needs to be properly championed by local authorities.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) on achieving, I believe, the Third Reading of his Bill today; we have about half an hour to go, but I think he will comfortably achieve his target. To get a private Member’s Bill through this House is a remarkable achievement, and very few Members succeed in it. He should be congratulated not only on his success in delivering his Bill through the House today, but on the good-humoured way in which he has set about his work. He has listened to what people have said to him, he has been prepared to amend the Bill to reflect the views expressed, particularly by the Government, and as a result he has produced a Bill that is worthy of support and that should be able to progress further today.
When the hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill on Second Reading, he said:
“This is not a big Bill, but it does one important thing: it will enshrine in law, I hope, the so-called Merton rule”.—[Official Report, 25 January 2008; Vol. 470, c. 1733.]
The Merton rule is that 10 per cent. of the new energy required for a development must come from renewable or low-carbon sources on or near that development. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has quite been able to achieve the objective of enshrining that rule in law, because the 10 per cent. figure is not there, but I actually think he has achieved something more useful. The problem with the Merton rule is that it is potentially inflexible for local authorities that might have difficulties with it. How he has proceeded may be akin to going at the pace of the slowest ship in the convoy, but it means that there will be progress across the piece, because most local authorities will take on board his proposals.
The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) has identified one of the key problems both with the Bill and also more generally: the lack of impact on existing housing stock. We debated that today in relation to some of my new clauses—particularly in response to interventions from my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton), who raised the point. It will be very difficult to interpret the Bill as it now stands as giving local authorities powers to intervene in relation to existing developments. The extent of that problem becomes clear when we consider the figures I mentioned earlier, such as that a low percentage of houses in the country comply with the insulation requirements, never mind some of the other desirable factors that lead to a reduction in energy consumption.
That is a lacuna in the Bill, but it is not the hon. Gentleman’s fault. It would be very difficult to devise a Bill that dealt with existing properties and would not be draconian to the householders concerned and potentially leave them facing enormous bills. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) said, however, if we start with newbuild we can begin to get economies of scale—through modern prefabrication methods and better use of technology, for example—and start to make some real progress towards achieving these targets. It is important that we do not forget the older properties; we will have to find a way of dealing with them, but that will have to be a Bill for another day, if anyone can devise one that will achieve that.
We need to look at the reasons why the hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill, and why the House should approve it today. The UK has to satisfy two sets of renewables targets, both of which will be extremely challenging. The first is our own domestic target of 10 per cent. of electricity generation to be met from renewable sources by 2010, and an aspiration of 20 per cent. by 2020. The second, as the Minister mentioned, is the EU’s binding target, to which the previous Prime Minister signed up at the spring European Council meeting of March 2007, that 20 per cent. of the overall European energy mix be generated from renewables by 2020.
The EU’s target, which encompasses all forms of energy, will clearly be much more difficult to meet than the UK’s simple electricity target. Electricity accounted for only 18.5 per cent. of the energy used in the UK in 2006, the latest year for which figures are available. Nuclear power—the elephant in the room when anyone talks about energy policy—as a low-carbon source, is to count towards the EU target, and there is to be some burden sharing, but there is no doubt that the proposal will be very difficult to achieve.
As has also been mentioned, this is not the first attempt to introduce a Bill along these lines; my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) attempted to do so previously. An Opposition Member has been able to get further than one of my hon. Friends in achieving the same objective, which might be a reflection of how the different Bills were phrased, but it might also reflect the growing awareness in the House of the importance of taking action to deal with the serious problem that this Bill seeks to address. As time goes by, we are becoming increasingly aware of the problems of climate change—the latest figures show that CO2 emissions have risen consistently over the past four years—and energy efficiency, as promulgated by the Bill, is the simplest and most cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions.
As we have heard, the planning system does not make sufficient provision for energy efficiency. The Liberal Democrats have told us about the problems that Cambridge city council has faced. It was required to water down its planning policy, which required large developers to
“provide evidence of how they have minimized energy consumption, maximized energy efficiency and considered the feasibility of using CHP systems”.
The Government inspector said that the policy was
“unreasonable to the extent that it imposes more onerous requirements than the Building Regulations”.
What happened in Cambridge—the man from Bristol interfering in the way that he did—brings into sharp focus the essential nature of the Bill, because it will entirely plug that gap in the law, assuming that the requirements that a local authority intends to impose are reasonable; we do not want unreasonable requirements to be imposed. That is why when we started on the trail of this Bill to talk about percentages and the original Merton rule, we could have created problems, because imposing particular fixed percentages could have created difficulties for some local authorities, although not for others.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has launched two consultations on the planning issues. The first is on the proposed planning policy statement on planning and climate change, and the second is on the Government’s plans for moving towards zero carbon development by 2016. Both are underpinned by the new voluntary code for sustainable homes, on whose progress the Minister brought us a little more up to date.
We must ask how the Bill will change the current position; any assessment of the Bill must be based on that question. In responding to my second group of proposals, the Minister would have been aware that I had pushed him very hard on this matter, because there is no point in the House passing legislation if it will not achieve anything or if no value added flows from it. One of my main concerns about how he replied to the debate was his saying, “Well we have these national standards.” He seemed to be slightly blinkered in not reflecting on what the Bill will do, which is move beyond those national standards. Ultimately, the Planning Inspectorate, which is answerable to the Minister’s boss, the Secretary of State, will also have to reflect on that and on what it will mean. It will mean being prepared to go beyond the national standards. They may well be the safety net and the bottom rung of the ladder—the Minister expanded on those very effectively—but we must go beyond them.
Showing how the Bill will change the current position might not be as easy as it seems. As we have heard today, the Government have introduced policies to encourage on-site energy generation, renewables and energy conservation. In particular, the 2004 planning policy statement on renewable energy and the 2007 planning policy statement on climate change include guidance for local authorities that encourages such action, including on-site generation.
The Bill will provide a statutory basis for including targets in local development frameworks and development plans, but will not specify particular targets. Local authorities will therefore have to think hard and fast about how to do that. Local planning authority policies on environmental standards for new homes vary in their scope, specific requirements and degree of prescription, but there is also variation in how and when local planning authorities seek to apply such policies. Some have identified policies on environmental standards in their adopted development plans, or have proposed them in their draft plans.
Changes to the planning system will mean that all councils will be expected to provide for on-site renewable energy and local community energy schemes to help to cut carbon emissions in new developments. The planning rules will mean that councils and developers should consider using items such as solar panels, wind turbines and heat pumps that can generate energy from a site of new development. The word “locality” has caused some difficulty in that regard. The plans that will come through the system will build on the Merton rule, but will not be as prescriptive.
Moving towards a low-carbon economy is a huge challenge that requires a revolution in the way in which we design, heat and power our buildings, as well as a concerted effort from a huge number of organisations, including local authorities, developers, environmental groups and local communities. A simple analysis of the existing position regarding our homes shows the scale of the challenge. The percentage of homes with cavity wall insulation has increased from 20 per cent. of our housing stock in 1996 to 36 per cent. now, but a further 8.5 million homes could benefit from it. That would save a significant amount of energy each year—and it is not an expensive thing to do. That brings us back to our debate about the educational function of the Bill. Its aim has to be encourage local authorities to require more local renewable energy generation and systems such as combined heat and power in new developments.
The Bill provides a mechanism by which local authorities may be allowed to go further and faster than central Government, which will always be the lumbering supertanker coming up behind—if one can use the analogy of an oil tanker in a debate on renewable energy. The Bill gives local authorities the opportunity to forge ahead, speedboat style, and pilot the supertanker by developing new policies that could, if they work, be adopted by the Government as central policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound)—a former matelot—is squinting at my nautical analogies. I am probably getting a bit carried away with mixed metaphors.
The hon. Gentleman has made his little intervention. I certainly do not think that we can talk about the Titanic in relation to this Government; it is much more apt to talk about Queen Mary 2, the magnificent new construction that graces our seas. I see that you, too, are squinting at me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall move on.
It is at the moment; one never can tell with flood risk, as we saw on that TV programme the other day. I should also point out that we have the Welsh Harp reservoir in my constituency, and I did grow up by the seaside. Perhaps that is why I am stuck in this nautical phase.
It is important to reflect on the fact that local authorities are major commissioners of building, as is central Government, and it is important that local authorities, when setting these new rules, should reflect on the fact that they will have to comply with them. That could be seen as both a carrot and a stick, in the sense that having to comply with them might involve imposing onerous obligations on a local authority. At the same time, however, they will enable local authorities to set a good example to developers, whether of school buildings, office blocks or other projects. Similarly, central Government will have to reflect on the fact that when they apply for planning consent for central Government buildings such as prisons, which were mentioned earlier, they will have to comply with the higher standards imposed by the local authority, which could go beyond the national requirements.
An important feature of the Bill is the fact that it refers to “reasonable requirements”. As a lawyer, when I see the word “reasonable”, I always wonder where on earth the argument will end up. Inevitably, litigation will be brought by developers who are not very keen on a local authority imposing the new rules, to decide what the word means. However, I believe that “reasonable” is a common-sense word in this context. It is far better than the percentages that we saw before.
When the Bill goes to another place, we must hope that the meaning of the word “locality” will be scrutinised in a little more detail. It is vague and imprecise, and it will be a recipe for difficulty in interpreting the Bill. We fenced around this issue in our earlier debates, and I understand the problem that the hon. Gentleman had when he phrased the Bill. Reference to a local authority area could be over-prescriptive for developments on the boundaries. Perhaps the Bill intends to deal with an area that is more narrow than a local authority boundary—a local estate, for example, or a new development that might contain only a few dozen houses. So I hope that we can come up with some better wording in due course.
At the risk of offering another word of such imprecision as to make lawyers salivate and their bank managers grin, I should like to point out that the Government negotiated with the hon. Member for Sevenoaks, and it is made clear that the expression “in the locality” refers to near-site and on-site renewable and low-carbon energy sources. I think that that is explicit within the Bill.
Well, of course, but if one was going to go as far as Timbuktu, Brighton would be quite near. However, if one was going only as far as Ealing, Hammersmith would be near. And if one was going only as far as Victoria, the gardens next to the House would be considered near. That is why I think that those terms are rather imprecise. I think that we shall have to work on them.
I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s contribution, and I really respect what he says, and the way in which he says it. However, I think that we can sometimes over-elaborate individual words. The public might prefer it if we just allowed words to have their normal meaning. Rather than trying to define the term “locality” in terms of certain distances and places, let us just allow “locality” to mean “locality”. The word has some kind of resonance for most people.
The real problem is that the Minister might think that he knows what “locality” means, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North and I think that we know what it means, but we might all have a slightly different idea. The real problem is that, if the language is imprecise, the lawyers will inevitably get hold of it and argue about it to the nth degree in the courts. That is one of the problems associated with my former profession.
I was very pleased that when the hon. Member for Sevenoaks and I discussed my amendments he assured me that all the things that I advocated would be included under the wording of the Bill. He will recall that the first group of amendments that we discussed concerned insulation, and he reassured me that insulation would be brought within the requirements of clause 1(1)(c), which covers the question of energy efficiency standards. That squares an important circle, because when we are considering energy policy the driving force has to be to do what we can to reduce consumption in the first place.
The hon. Gentleman was also able to reassure me that microgeneration, which is not specifically referred to in the Bill, will be brought in. He took me to task as he thought my wording was a little too lax in that respect. I am happy to concede that point.
We had a problem with what local supplies meant in this context. It seemed to me from looking at the available research materials that the difficulty was identifying what local supplies might be when considering energy generated in the locality of a development. If we are talking about microgeneration, that is not a problem. I suppose we are talking about energy generated in one place being transferred to a nearby site. I was pleased that the hon. Gentleman was able to reassure me about the impact on housing policy. If the net result is that we end up with fewer houses for people in desperate need, that will mean that we will have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
I was also pleased that the Minister was able to reassure me on the question of consultation. When one is going to produce a policy that is likely to have such a wide impact as we all hope that this policy will, it is important that those who are affected by it are consulted. I am pleased that that has been brought into the Bill through the cross-references to various national policies.
I am not, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I was about to draw my remarks to a close. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman wants to get on to his Bill. I suspect that he will block himself if he starts to intervene on me or on anyone else who wants to contribute to the debate.
I was simply going to say that I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister emphasised the importance of what the Government are doing centrally in parallel with the Bill, including the change to the building regulations in 2010 and the definition of zero-carbon for new homes that will come into force in 2018. I was pleased, too, with what he had to say about renewable energy.
A trite phrase used when we consider environmental matters is that we should think global and act local. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks has achieved that in the way in which he has introduced the Bill. The Bill has a global thought behind it and provides for the local action that is necessary to achieve that objective.
Normally, when the House speaks with a single voice there is reason for the nation to tremble. When right hon. and hon. Members refer to an interesting, wide-ranging and comprehensive debate, they usually mean precisely the opposite. However, the rare occasions when the House unites in the praise of an individual Member for promoting a Bill are so unusual that that praise is almost always utterly sincere. On this occasion, the sincerity evident in the tributes paid to the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) speaks for itself.
The hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on the way in which he has promoted the Bill. He has not used some of the more flashy and apocalyptic images. He has been more of a Barrington than a Dexter, more of a Gooch than a Gower and more of an Erik Nevland than a Diomansy Kamara. His taut, sparse, precise, elegant Bill has been all the better for that.
This is the right Bill at the right time. It chimes well with the planning policy statement on climate change, and it comes at a time when there is not only increasing concern about the global consequences of warming and climate change but an unprecedented period of house building—we need only look at the new developments in the Thames Gateway. The Bill will put a strong lock that cannot be ignored on all developments in the future.
The issue of cost has been mentioned, and everybody knows the principle of BATNEEC—best available technology not entailing excessive cost. In this case, the costs are so huge that they are beyond the mere monetary, and people are beginning to accept the reality of that. Some of the new developments in the Thames Gateway, and some of the work that was done by Taylor Woodrow around what used to be called the millennium dome, and is now called the O2 something or other, have used renewable sources, from the bricks to the structure to the entire energy package. That was emerging technology, and the Bill will give us a statutory—
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any protection that the Chair can give to future business, such as my Bill on statistics relating to foreign nationals? It is clear that there is a filibuster going on. Some £100 billion of taxpayers’ money is being affected by misleading statistics—
The Bill will establish guidance—a framework, a signpost and a marker—that chimes well with what the Government are doing, what the nation seeks to achieve and what many local authorities and councils are keen to do. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) eloquently expressed that when she said that this is a permissive Bill. As we have heard, it will permit authorities such as that in Cambridge to do what they want to do.
One of the crucial points is that if a local authority did not wish to implement the Bill after it becomes an Act—as I profoundly hope it will—local people would have the democratic strength to demand that it become part of that local council’s policy. The Bill will empower and give freedom to people locally, whereas at present their elected representatives are constrained. That is an intensely important point. The Bill will allow the continuum of ownership to flow in the right direction—towards the people—instead of being constrained by the voice from Bristol.
Traditionally in local government housing provision, the policy was predict and provide. In this case, we do not need to predict the consequences of global warming, because we can see them all around us. Only the most purblind person in full denial would attempt to justify anything other than recognition of the sickening consequences of global warming. The Bill will not only help us to provide homes fit for purpose, but will make the world a better, safer and cleaner place. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks has done the House an extraordinary service today, and he has also done the nation and the world a service.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.