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Homes: Climate Standards

Volume 704: debated on Monday 29 November 2021

I welcome the hon. Members’ attention to this important issue. Homes are among our biggest sources of emissions, and we are committed to reducing the carbon they generate. The recently published heat and buildings strategy sets out the steps required to improve the energy performance of our homes, and through the future homes standard, from 2025 we will deliver a 75% reduction in CO2 emissions compared with homes built to the current standard. However, we are not waiting until 2025 to take action: as a carbon-saving step along the way, we will introduce an interim uplift to the current standard before the end of this year—and there is not a lot of time left, as you will have spotted, Mr Speaker.

The cost of living crisis is hitting families in Luton South and across the UK hard, and it is set to get worse this winter. With rising energy bills, taxes and food costs, we have never needed a retrofit programme more than now, but the Government’s heat and buildings strategy is inadequate and unambitious. In advance of Fuel Poverty Awareness Day on Friday, will the Minister commit to Labour’s 10-year plan to invest £6 billion a year in home insulation and zero-carbon heating, which will improve our energy security, create jobs and reduce carbon emissions, while also helping to cut bills by £400 a year?

Mr Speaker, I do not know about you, but I spent the weekend reading “My climate action plan: Becoming a carbon neutral borough by 2040”, by the hon. Lady’s local council, and I understand the effort the local council is putting into ensuring that all homes are going to be net zero. Obviously, the Government are committed to that. I am disappointed to hear her say we are unambitious given that we have committed £3.9 billion to the social housing decarbonisation fund and a further £450 million to the boiler upgrade scheme to ensure that people can claim £5,000 per property to replace their boilers with carbon-efficient alternatives.

There is a significant funding gap to meet the housing investment requirements of the Government’s energy performance targets. I am informed that housing organisations will be expected to fund the majority of this investment over a 10-year period. In my constituency of Jarrow and across the UK, local authorities have had more than half their funding cut over the last 10 years. How are local authorities expected to meet this required investment despite the obvious financial challenges that they are currently facing?

I would say that many local authorities are already making considerable progress along these lines. I am delighted to see that the hon. Lady’s local council has joined the ambitious UK100 network—a network of councils committed to achieving net zero as soon as possible—and I understand that it has committed to being carbon neutral by 2030, so it feels to me as though councils are getting the funding that they need.

There is very clear evidence that people who commission their own houses do so to much higher environmental standards, thus doing their own bit to protect against climate change. What plans do Ministers have to make it easier for ordinary people on normal incomes to get a serviced plot of land so that they can commission their own, much greener houses?

My hon. Friend is a frequent champion of his cause in this Chamber, and I think the simple answer to his question is the funding that we are providing through the help to build scheme, but I look forward to further conversations with him in the future to see what else we can do to assist him.

Stroud residents are pleased and relieved about the potential reforms in place to build new net-zero homes and protect rural areas from overdevelopment, but we have a local plan going through now and there is a lot of unrest about the consultation process, net-zero homes not being built and mass development in places such as Sharpness. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss the areas where local plans are going through now to see how we may benefit from some of the fantastic work going on for the future?

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion off all issues environmental and net zero. I am not sure I am the correct Minister to meet her, but if I am, I will, and if I am not, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing to do so instead.

With energy costs rising exponentially and the Government having scrapped Labour’s zero carbon homes policy months before it was due to come in, abandoned the green homes grant and delayed the future homes standard, is it not the case that families and taxpayers pay the cost for the Government’s failures to make our homes more sustainable? This is an obvious case of false economy, with all of us paying more in the long run for higher bills and future retrofitting costs. The Minister has already been asked this question, but will he answer it this time: will he adopt Labour’s plans for a national mission to retrofit every home that needs it and bring forward all aspects of the future homes standard without delay?

The simple answer is that this Government already have a pretty good plan, so we do not need to look to others and adopt their plans instead. It is unfortunate that the hon. Lady wrote her questions in advance of my previous answers, in which I mentioned, for instance, the £450 million that we have committed to the boiler upgrade. So there is significant investment in this area, we have a strong and sound plan, and progress is moving at pace.

Has my hon. Friend examined the advantages of ground and air heat pumps? I know it is difficult in smaller buildings to have ground pumps because of the large infrastructure required, but air pumps are a little more possible, so what encouragement can the Government give to retrofit such pumps to existing homes?

In the summer I was fortunate to visit the Grey Mare Lane estate in Beswick and see the work going on through the social housing decarbonisation fund demonstrator. Heat pumps are being fitted, and we will have the opportunity very soon to see how people benefit from the experience of having those measures introduced.