energy politics sustainability

What do we do about Britain’s housing stock?

Last week I wrote about Insulate Britain and the state of Britain’s homes – potentially the oldest housing stock in the world, and hardly fit for a low carbon future. It is widely recognised that they need to be upgraded and insulated, but government schemes to improve housing have been unsuccessful.

The New Economics Foundation have been working on this problem, and recently launched the Great Homes Upgrade campaign. It targets the 19 million homes in the country that score C or below on their efficiency ratings, with a package of funding and policies to improve them.

First of all, the scheme needs funding. They estimate £11.7 billion over the remainder of the parliament. This would be a big increase on the £1.2 billion commited (though not spent) so far by this government. Billions more would come from landlords and social housing groups.

Nef offer some ideas for raising funds and incentivising invesment in housing. One is stamp duty rebates on homes, so that buyers would get a rebate if they improved the efficiency of the house. Lots of new buyers have work done on a new home, and a rebate would incentivise a green retrofit as part of that. Lower VAT for renovations would make that more affordable, and green mortgage schemes could help to price in the improvements.

If the country were to commit to upgrading our housing stock, one of the first problems we’d encounter is a skills shortage. Nef estimate that 20,000 retrofit coordinators would need to be trained. The lack of skills to retrofit buildings is something that comes up all the time locally. I was talking to a friend about it this morning, and in a council meeting last week. There are discussions ongoing about a local training school for retrofitting, but a national scheme would be really helpful. It would have the added benefits of creating jobs for young people, raising standards across the construction industry, and bringing down the cost of retrofits.

While there are different ways to configure the exact policy package that would deliver a great homes upgrade, it’s a ‘no regrets’ ambition. It would create an estimated 190,000 jobs between now and 2030. Better homes would reduce bills at a time when many households are feeling the pinch of rising energy costs. Homes would be more comfortable, and we would reduce excess winter deaths from cold. Carbon emissions would come down, and we would be a step closer to our climate change targets. Really, why wouldn’t we do this?

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