Margaret Beckett

The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP

Minister of State

Minister for Housing and Planning, attending Cabinet

The Quiet Revolution: Retro-fitting the Housing Stock

Date of speech 12 February 2009
Location Institute of Mechanical Engineers, London
Event summary Launch of the Heat and Energy Savings Strategy

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

Ed and Hazel have already explained why this is so important, and how we propose to make the difference.

As Housing Minister, my job is not only to deliver more housing - it is also to make sure we have better housing for all.

Charity is not the only thing that begins at home - so does energy saving.

We tend to think rather a lot about reducing carbon emissions through changing the way we travel or the way we generate power.

"...this quiet revolution is going to be in our living rooms and our lofts; making a huge and lasting difference to the way we live."

Yet air travel generates something like six per cent of the UK's carbon emissions - while home sweet home accounts for more than a quarter.

It may not be as glamorous or exciting to campaign for energy saving at home. But it can make an incredible difference. By 2050, we hope that our homes will contribute almost no emissions.

It will be difficult, undoubtedly, but I firmly believe it is achievable.

Today, we're setting out a strategy for fundamental change which will improve every home and benefit every family in the country.

Revolutions tend to be noisy, rebellious and out on the streets - but this quiet revolution is going to be in our living rooms and our lofts; making a huge and lasting difference to the way we live.

The focus of the debate so far on energy efficiency in housing has centred around the zero-carbon target for new homes.

That's perhaps understandable. It's relatively easy to understand, a world-leading target, and it makes a snappy headline.

And there's something exciting about the idea of technological and scientific solutions which capture the imagination. It's difficult to get quite so excited about lagging the roof.

"In essence, what we're proposing is a sort of green version of Changing Rooms - a sustainable makeover for every home."

Yet, actually, this complementary strategy, dealing as it does with existing homes will have a far bigger impact on our overall carbon emissions.

80 per cent of the homes which will be in use in 2050 are in use today.

And so tackling the emissions from existing homes is even more important.

When you're heading towards an iceberg, you don't just look at the ice above the surface. It's what's underneath that is going to sink you.

In essence, what we're proposing is a sort of green version of 'Changing Rooms' - a sustainable makeover for every home.

All basic measures, like lagging lofts and filling cavity walls, for 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.

It's not about making life more difficult for homeowners, or demanding impossible standards.

On the contrary. It's about removing the excuses and the obstacles. It's about raising standards and genuinely improving quality of life.

For me, that's a fundamental principle. As Ed has stressed, to succeed, this has got to be a fair programme, in which everyone shares in the benefits and accepts their responsibilities.

Sustainable lifestyles simply cannot be a luxury open to those with the money to invest in the latest green gadgets.

No elderly person should be put off by the sheer complexity of applying. No low-income family should miss out because they think they can't afford it. No one living in social housing should be overlooked.

In fact, it is some of these very people who stand to gain the most - especially those who live in fuel poverty.

And so, I believe that social housing must actually be at the forefront of these changes.

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.

I think that through implementing this strategy, we can go even further. Not only because that will mean that some of our most vulnerable families will benefit first.

But also because through the large scale retrofit of the existing stock in the social sector, we can help build capacity, develop skills, including the new skills needed in these ground-breaking industries and promote innovation.

People often think, wrongly, that the public sector delivers poorer quality, and lags behind the private sector.

Here, the public sector can show clear leadership, and pioneer approaches to be used in other sectors: it has a vitally important contribution to make.

But while the social housing sector can form a giant demonstration project, that does not mean we can afford to neglect the rest of the stock.

We know, for example, that despite improvements in recent years, that overall quality is lower in the private rented sector.

And it may be tricky to find the incentives which might tempt landlords to invest, since they won't directly see any pay off through lower fuel bills.

But that doesn't mean that landlords should simply think this is none of their business.

We will be offering them the same incentives and opportunities as other homeowners. And through our broader work to raise standards in the private rented sector, we will be exploring what else we might need to do.

We will also, of course, have to explore fair ways of financing some of these changes.

Understandably, people who only expect to live in their home for a couple of years may be reluctant to invest in a boiler if that investment won't pay back while they live there.

And finally, through all this of course, we will need to explore a way forward which works for industry. Of course, changes to building standards over the longer term will help set consistent action.

But as we all recognise, compulsion isn't always the most effective way to drive change. I'm mindful of the fact that those in this room will be able to think of many examples when they said to Government: you set the goals, and we will find the best, the most cost-effective solutions: and they delivered.

There is much more to be gained by working constructively with industry; building on voluntary action as well as tools like Energy Performance Certificates which are already working well.

There aren't going to be any easy answers. I hope the consultation we're launching today both raises awareness of the issues and sparks debate about the solutions.

We may even be able to make lagging the roof exciting. Thank you very much.

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