Policy update from CE National – September 8th 2023
Claire Coutinho replaces Grant Shapps as Energy Secretary
Today, the Government confirmed that Claire Coutinho is to take up the post of Secretary of State at the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), replacing Grant Shapps who was named as the new Defence Secretary. Claire Coutinho has previously served as Minister for Disabled People and Minister for Children in the Department for Education, and is currently the Conservative MP for East Surrey having been elected in December 2019.
Parliament returns from summer recess
Both Houses of Parliament return from summer recess on Monday and will sit until conference recess begins on the 23rd September. Parliament will then resume on the 11th October.
Hydrogen levy on household energy bills axed
The Government confirmed earlier this week that a proposed £120 annual levy on household energy bills to cover the cost of producing hydrogen is to be axed. The tax would have taken effect in 2025 as part of plans to replace fossil fuels. The Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, Grant Shapps, tabled an amendment to the Energy Bill on Tuesday (29 August) that would stop the levy being paid for via energy suppliers and their customers. Instead, companies that buy and transport gas will shoulder the burden of hydrogen’s extra cost. Labour called the move was a “humiliating U-turn”. The Government says hydrogen could play a “critical role” in meeting net zero, and has been legislating via the energy bill to support development of low-carbon ways of producing hydrogen, including electrolysis and renewable energy.
Government announces new steps to accelerate Sizewell C preparations
On Tuesday (29 August), the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero issued a press release announcing that £341 million worth of investment would be made available to speed up preparations to make the site at Sizewell C in Suffolk “shovel-ready”. The extra money will help prepare the site for construction, procuring key components from the project’s supply chain, and expanding its workforce. The additional funding is part of the Government’s plans to expand nuclear energy in the UK, with the aim of nuclear powering up to a quarter of UK electricity demands by 2050.
Government announces plans to scrap housebuilder water pollution rules, claiming move will enable 100,000 more homes to be built
On Tuesday (29 August), the Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove announced plans that mean developers will no longer have to offset the nutrient pollution caused by sewage from new homes. Through an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Government will scrap a “defective” legacy EU law on net nutrient neutrality rules. The rules were first put in place in 2017 when the UK was still a member of the European Union and recommended that in dozens of protected areas across England, local authorities should not give the go-ahead to any new development that is projected to add to river nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates, either through wastewater from new homes or run-off from building sites.
Gove claims that “doing away with this red tap” will allow for the delivery of more than 100,000 new homes. In an attempt to quell the concerns of environmentalists, the Government has said it will double Natural England’s wetland funding to £280m in order to show it is trying to meet the requirements of its legally binding Environment Act. However, The Guardian reports the extra £140 million will come from the public purse. When asked by The Guardian whether this meant the taxpayer was now picking up the bill for pollution caused by developers, a Government official responded “yes”, adding that while “the polluter pays principle is very important”, it was having too many adverse impacts on small- and medium-sized housebuilders.
IN THE NEWS
Schools with dangerous concrete race to replan start of term – BBC News
BBC News reports that more than 100 schools in England are scrambling to make arrangements after being told to shut buildings with a type of concrete prone to collapse. Schools found with buildings containing reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) have been told they must introduce safety measures, which could include propping up ceilings. A “minority” will need to “either fully or partially relocate” to alternative accommodation while those measures are installed, the Department for Education (DfE) has said. A few publications have referenced BRE’s 1996 report on RAAC in their write-ups of the news, which advised the Government to inspect buildings with this material.
More than a million face £720 ‘leaky home surcharge’ on energy bills – The Telegraph
The Telegraph reports on new research from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) which warns that more than a million people living in older houses will pay £720 more for heating this winter. It comes as the energy regulator Ofgem announced last Friday a reduction in the energy price cap from £2,074 to £1,923 from October, as a result of falling gas and oil prices. Those in older properties face paying even more due to their properties being less energy efficient. The fuel poverty charity National Energy Action said the cost for the least efficient homes would be even higher, putting it at around £900, while estimating there around 1.5 million such homes in Britain. Jess Ralston, an analyst at the ECIU, said the Government’s “Great British Insulation Scheme”, which was formerly known as ECO+, has “flatlined”. The energy efficiency project aims to spend £1bn on properly insulating 300,000 homes, saving consumers up to £400 a year on their energy bills.
Regulator to recruit 100 new staff to deal with extra powers – Inside Housing
Inside Housing reports that the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) is aiming to boost its workforce by nearly 50% with 100 new staff members as it gears up to take on extra powers. The public body, which currently has 226 employees, has launched a recruitment drive after being handed new powers under the Social Housing (Regulation) Act. The RSH is currently advertising for up to four assistant directors of regulatory engagement, an assistant director of assessment and tenant engagement, and a tenant engagement manager. Under the new legislation, passed last month, the RSH will have the power to carry out regular inspections of social landlords and issue unlimited fines. New consumer standards to protect tenants will also be enforced by the regulator, with the regime due to go live next April.
Millions of UK homes urgently need energy efficiency improvements – Time we “Help to Fix” says construction sector – Politics Home
The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) has written in Politics Home calling for a long-term strategy including a government loan scheme to boost retrofitting of UK homes. The CIOB claims a loan scheme which enables homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their properties is needed if the UK is to reduce energy consumption, cut carbon emissions and bring down consumer bills. The call has been made in response to the Energy Security and Net Zero Committee’s recent ‘Heating our Homes’ inquiry, where the CIOB also reiterated previous calls for the Government to support the Construction Leadership Council’s National Retrofit Strategy. The CIOB says previous government schemes such as the Green Homes Grant and Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) have failed for several reasons, most notably that homeowners were required to part fund energy efficiency work in a lump sum. For many this simply wasn’t an option at the time the schemes were on offer, especially not during a cost-of-living crisis.
UK pension funds write to prime minister over net-zero policies – Professional Pensions
Professional Pensions reports that a group of UK pension funds have written to the Prime Minister warning that recent public statements and policy decisions regarding the net zero transition are impacting investor confidence. Members of the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), including major pension schemes such as the BT Pension Scheme (BTPS), Local Government Pension Scheme Central, Railpen, Scottish Widows, the People’s Partnership, TPT Retirement Solutions, Aegon and Aegon Asset Management, warned that recent moves to dilute or delay decarbonisation policies would impact the ability of financiers to provide the estimated £50bn to £60bn of annual investment required to deliver on the UK’s legally-binding climate goals.
The letter said: “We are writing to express concern at government’s recent public statements and policy signals, which risk undermining the UK’s leadership in the clarity, certainty, and confidence of policymaking toward meeting the UK’s commitment to net zero. This shift blurs regulatory visibility for investors and risks the ability of the finance sector to make the large-scale, transformative investments required to accelerate net-zero delivery and unlock growth in the UK.”