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Housing (Energy Efficiency)

Volume 508: debated on Thursday 8 April 2010

3. What mechanisms he has put in place to increase the level of energy efficiency in rural homes classified as hard-to-treat. (325606)

The carbon emissions reduction target—CERT—obligates energy companies to install a variety of household energy efficiency measures, including those suitable for hard-to-treat homes. CERT is delivered throughout Great Britain including in rural areas.

Additionally, Warm Front fits energy-efficient measures in vulnerable households. Any rural household could be eligible for Warm Front assistance as long as the applicant is the home owner or tenant in the private sector, and is in receipt of a qualifying benefit.

Is the Minister aware that in areas such as Northumberland many of the poorest people live in stone-built properties with no cavity wall, no gas supply, no dual fuel tariff, dependence on bottled gas or solid fuel, and often difficulty in getting access to warm home schemes? Does she recognise that further targeted steps are needed and perhaps an easing of the rules to ensure that some of the people most in fuel poverty in rural areas are helped?

I acknowledge every point that the right hon. Gentleman has made, and we have been working on every aspect of those problems. Ofgem is encouraging connection to the gas grid, where that is possible and economic—with support, of course. In January this year it announced that all four gas networks will be linked in partnerships to enable new connections to be made, and we expect that up to 20,000 new households will be connected to the gas grid under that scheme. In a year’s time we shall have the renewable heat incentive, which will benefit particularly those who wish to switch from liquefied petroleum gas and other expensive fuels. We also have CERT, which is increasingly being incentivised to cope with hard-to-treat homes and solid wall insulation. Over 56,000 homes have already been insulated, so there is some progress.

I once lived in a 17th century stone cottage in a rural area, so I know how difficult it is to take those measures—[Interruption.] Hon. Members seem to be amused by the fact that I lived in a stone cottage. The Government have done such good things in terms of Warm Zone and Warm Front, and the Minister knows of the proud record of Kirklees and Huddersfield. Is it not about time that a useless organisation—the National House-Building Council, which, as every lawyer will tell you, issues certificates that are not worth the paper they are written on—stopped allowing any building that does not conform to a high level of sustainability?

My hon. Friend knows that we have made huge progress in increasing building regulation demands, not only for new build, which will be carbon-neutral by 2016, but for retrofitting of existing homes. There is already a huge Government undertaking on this subject. I shall not comment on the organisation named by my hon. Friend, but I intend to look into it when I return to this job.