Margaret Beckett

The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP

Minister of State

Minister for Housing and Planning, attending Cabinet

The Green Changing Rooms: Retrofitting the existing housing stock

Date of speech 24 February 2009
Location Royal Society of Arts, London
Event summary RetroFit for purpose: A Homes & Communities Agency / Cambridge Econometrics conference

Draft text of the speech - may differ from the delivered version.

I'm delighted to have the opportunity to address you today.

Coming just a couple of weeks after the Government launched its Heat and Energy Savings Strategy, this discussion could not be more timely.

Over the past few years, climate change has moved decisively out of the margins and into mainstream political thinking.

"This new strategy is the next piece in the jigsaw puzzle... I call it the 'Green Changing Rooms' - a sustainable makeover for every home in the country."

The urgent need to cut carbon emissions is now recognised as one of the profound issues of our time: not only to tackle the threat of climate change, but also to improve our energy security.

And I think no-one would dispute that the UK is genuinely a world leader in this area.

We've been the first country to set such demanding targets for carbon reduction.

The first to put the legislation in place.

The first to aim for a zero carbon standard in new housing.

This new strategy is the next piece in the jigsaw puzzle: a massive programme of improvements, ultimately reaching every home in the country.

I call it the 'Green Changing Rooms' - a sustainable makeover for every home in the country.

It is a genuinely exciting programme; unprecedented in scale, which will bring about a transformation in the way we live: a quiet revolution in our living rooms and in our lofts.

All basic measures, like lagging the loft and filling cavity walls, in every home by 2015. More substantial improvements for seven million homes by 2020. And by 2030, all homes to benefit from all the cost effective measures possible.

But at its heart, this strategy is not about housing: it's about people.

Most people have started to make steps to greener living. They may have cut down the driving, recycling may have become second nature, and there's been a resurgence of interest in local food and allotments.

But it can be hard to take the next step, either because people aren't sure what to do, or think it will be too expensive.

So this strategy aims to make energy saving part of every one's business.

It's about explaining how it is relevant, how they will be better off, and giving them practical support to improve their home and raise their quality of life.

Your average householder may not be able to tell you what their carbon footprint is, but they could certainly tell you that their gas bill has gone up.

They may not know much about heat pumps, but I bet they would be interested if they knew it could save them money.

To date, the drive for energy efficiency has been led by suppliers. And it has been incredibly encouraging to see their commitment and the results that have been delivered so far.

But this has to be a universal approach - where no household misses out.

To get the scale and pace of change we need now, the clamour for change has got to come from individuals, from families and from communities.

And it can't just involve those who are already environmentally conscious or those who can afford solar panels.

It's absolutely critical that every household both shares in the benefits, and accepts their responsibilities.

In particular, the elderly, the poor and the vulnerable perhaps have most to gain from this, and it is essential that they do not miss out.

So we're starting with social housing. Thanks to the decent homes programme, it's already more energy efficient than the rest of the stock. And some of the greenest homes in the country are run by housing associations.

But this strategy will help go even further.

Through large-scale retrofit of the existing housing stock, we can help develop skills, promote innovation and build capacity so that the industry is ready to address the challenges in the rest of the stock.

Of course, there are still some big questions that remain.

The strategy is the start of a conversation: it is most certainly not the final say on the details; and thoughtful, considered insight from all our partners will be critical to helping identify the right way forward.

For example, what will be the best way to oversee delivery: a new body to co-ordinate the overall approach, a sort of low carbon trust, or an approach which builds on existing supplier commitments?

How can we make 'pay as you save' improvements work effectively, so that people aren't put off from investing in changes because they don't think they'll see the full pay-off?

And how can we make sure that private landlords take advantage of what's on offer, when they may not have the same incentives to participate?

Through this consultation, as well as some of our broader work such as the Rugg Review of the private sector, we can have the debate which will help us address those questions.

Finally, of course, in these difficult times, you cannot help but consider the potential impact of the downturn. Can we really afford to do this?

Well, I have three answers to that question.

Firstly, Sir Nicholas Stern has made it very clear.

The costs of not acting are far greater than the costs of acting. And the longer we wait, the greater the costs get. However great the immediate crisis, we cannot afford to neglect the longer term challenges.

Secondly, in a recession, people are ever more acutely aware of their fuel bills. Savings of up to £300 a year will make a real difference for families who are currently struggling to make ends meet.

And thirdly, I think there is a real opportunity here to help position Britain as a world leader in sustainable technologies and techniques.

Green collar jobs have expanded rapidly in recent years and I think there is incredible potential for these industries to expand even further.

Investment now will not only help create jobs, it will also help lay the foundations for more sustainable, low-carbon economic growth in the future.

To conclude, with this strategy, we've made our overall aims and approach to retrofitting clear. We are very clear on what we need to do, and why: we are approaching broad agreement on how, though there are many questions which remain to be answered.

We don't lack for imagination or ideas. What we have not had so far is a co-ordinated response, drawing together action in different areas. That is what this strategy is all about. But it is not something which can be delivered by Government alone.

So ultimately, I see this strategy as a call to arms.

For the private sector to deploy its ingenuity and creativity in coming up with cost effective solutions.

For the public sector to demonstrate genuine leadership.

And for individuals themselves to get involved, taking ownership over the changes in their homes and their communities.

Today, our homes make up more than a quarter of our carbon emissions. By 2050, we hope that will be almost nothing.

We have the commitment and the determination.

And as with the six million dollar man, gentlemen, we have the technology - almost.

So together, we can make this happen: improving every home, and benefiting every family in the country.

Thank you very much.

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