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Emissions: Housing

Volume 804: debated on Monday 22 June 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to publish (1) a route map, and (2) a plan of action, to insulate the United Kingdom’s existing housing stock in order to meet the net-zero emissions target by 2050, and if so, when.

Yes, the Government plan to publish a heat and buildings strategy in due course, which will set out the immediate action that we will take to reduce emissions from buildings, including the deployment of energy-efficiency measures and low-carbon heating as part of the ambitious programme of work required to enable the mass transition to low-carbon heat and set us on a path to meeting our net-zero 2050 emissions target.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Can he be more precise on “in due course”? This is an important part of building back better and is absolutely essential to our net-zero target for 2050.

I note the noble Lord’s impatience but cannot go much further, beyond saying that we aim to get the strategy out this year.

My Lords, in its report on energy efficiency last year, the BEIS Select Committee recommended that the winter fuel payment, which costs around £3 billion per year, be refocused and the savings invested in energy-efficiency programmes for fuel-poor households. Before the pandemic, the last Government rejected this, but can the Minister encourage the DWP and the Treasury to have another look at this proposal, which would help to achieve our zero-carbon commitment, tackle fuel poverty and promote a green recovery?

As always, my noble friend asks a very good and pertinent question, but we continue to believe that the winter fuel payment gives reassurance, particularly to poorer pensioners, that they can keep warm during the colder months, so we will continue to pay £200 for households with somebody who has reached state pension age and who is under the age of 80, or £300 for households with somebody aged 80 or over.

Retrofit is a resource-intensive job creator, and therefore a good way to come out of the pandemic in a sustainable way, so what commitment have the Government made to retrofit publicly owned or publicly funded buildings, including all our schools and educational facilities?

We have a number of schemes which public buildings and others can take advantage of. The noble Baroness raises a very good point. We will continue to insulate and upgrade as many of these buildings as possible.

My Lords, can the Minister make it quite clear that there is no such thing as UK housing? In Scotland, housing has been a devolved matter ever since I was first an MP, 41 years ago. Under previous Administrations it was a matter for the Secretary of State for Scotland, and now it is for the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, on the important issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, can the Minister confirm that he has had meetings with his opposite numbers in the devolved Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?

I am happy to agree with the noble Lord that fuel poverty is devolved. I have not personally had meetings with members of the Scottish Government or the Welsh Government, but I am always happy to do so.

Does the Minister agree that in addition to insulating the existing housing stock, we must replace the boilers in these homes if we are to meet our net-zero target? Is he aware that as of today this means replacing over 2,000 boilers every day, 365 days a year every year until 2050—and we have not even started yet? What will the Government do about that?

We do not necessarily need to replace every boiler. There are a number of alternative courses of action. One would be to investigate the use of hydrogen as an alternative. Already we have pilot programmes that will enable boilers to be quickly and easily upgraded to work on hydrogen.

It is obviously important to upgrade existing stock, but some local authorities have set up carbon offsetting schemes which allow carbon-intensive building developments to go ahead with building inadequate housing for the future. Will the Government close this loophole?

I am happy to have further discussions with the noble Baroness to see exactly what that loophole is, but we remain committed to working with local authorities to take this agenda forward.

My Lords, given the likely increase in unemployment, the need to reboot nationally and internationally post the pandemic, and our chance to give a global lead at COP 26 in Glasgow, will my noble friend use his best endeavours to ensure that our Government follow up on this positive idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson?

My noble friend is entirely right. As the holders of the incoming presidency of COP 26, the Government will continue to press for much greater ambition around the world to reduce emissions, build resilience, co-operate and support each and every country.

My Lords, in response to the Minister’s reply to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his encouraging reference to hydrogen, does he agree that the UK Government urgently need a UK-wide hydrogen strategy which includes sustainable domestic heating, transport and energy-intensive industry? Germany is about to confirm such a strategy, and many other countries are doing the same. Will the Government respond positively to the hydrogen industry’s campaign to have this important strategy? Companies are willing to invest £1.5 billion in it if the Government are behind them. Will he talk to key people about their plans?

Of course. I am always willing to have meetings with stakeholders and others about this important area. As I said in response to a previous question, we continue to investigate with other people—for instance, boiler manufacturers—how hydrogen can contribute to our climate goals in the future. It is an important point to make.

I shall follow up the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Given the low cost of creating a job retrofitting loft and wall insulation in our housing stock, can the Minister confirm that this green new deal approach will feature in the Government’s forthcoming economic recovery plan?

I can confirm that we will do that. The noble Lord makes a very good point. We noted with interest the analysis in the Smart Growth America report that a job in home insulation could be created for £59,000, which is less than for comparative jobs, such as road maintenance. The most recent release by the Office for National Statistics shows that in 2018 energy-efficiency products supported the largest number of full-time jobs—about 114,000—of any sector in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Teverson called for a plan of action and asked what the plan of action is. What we have heard from the Minister is an ambition. Will he say what action the Government are going to take? For instance, will there be technical advice on older houses? Will there be different advice for those in older buildings and for buildings with cavity walls? Will there be help with double glazing? I have heard nothing about action; I have heard only about ambition.

We are taking action in a number of areas. We are spending something like £640 million a year under the ECO scheme to support fuel-poor and vulnerable households in precisely the sort of work that the noble Lord mentioned. We want to go further, and that is why we need the strategy to which I referred.

My Lords, in the case of grade 2 and grade 1 listed buildings, will planning authorities be advised to relax their rules to enable insulation work to be carried out?

The noble Earl makes a very good point. We are committed to working with the planning authorities to help us in our aspiration for green growth and in bringing as many homes as possible to reach EPC band C strategy by 2035. As we develop those policies, we will need to consider the interaction with planning restrictions where that is appropriate.