Speaking in yesterdays Energy Bill Second Reading Debate, Waveney MP Peter Aldous welcomed the Government’s Green Deal initiative and made a number of suggestions to improve the Bill.
Responding to correspondence from Constituents, Aldous spoke in favour of the Warm Homes Amendment to the Energy Bill which would require the private rental sector to retrofit energy efficiency measure sooner to help those on the lowest incomes struggling to pay their fuel bills who often live in damp, cold homes.
Mr Aldous also called on the Government to take the opportunity of the Bill to tackle a technical problem which is hindering access to finance for the offshore wind industry which has great potential in Waveney.
Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): The Government are to be commended for introducing ambitious legislation, for thinking outside the box and for highlighting the importance of realising the potential for Britain to be a world leader in the move towards a low-carbon economy. The Bill contains a wide variety of measures that can help Britain in that aim, including the promotion of smart meters and the move towards greater transparency for energy companies.
The ministerial team are to be congratulated on adopting an open-door approach in explaining their proposals and listening to parliamentarians’ views and concerns. I very much hope that that approach continues in Committee, because although the Government’s ambition and strategy are spot on, we need to look closely at some of the provisions to establish whether they need strengthening so that the Bill achieves its objectives.
It is appropriate for the Government to concentrate much of their efforts on domestic buildings, because 24% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the domestic building stock. The flagship green deal is a bold attempt to improve the nation’s housing stock, and giving it every opportunity to succeed is vital.
However, there are a variety of issues to which I would be grateful if the Minister could give further consideration. The CBI, among other organisations, has suggested that there is a need for incentives to encourage take-up of the green deal. I am aware that the Chancellor has indicated that he will look at that. Incentives could include changes to stamp duty, VAT reductions on some works, and council tax rebates.
I would also be grateful if the Minister could consider whether the green deal should include renewables and microgeneration, both of which have important roles to play in the move towards a low-carbon economy. It is also important to consider accepting the warm homes amendment, because the production of an overall plan and strategy kept regularly under review would generate confidence in the green deal and encourage its uptake.
The private rented sector requires specific consideration. Buildings in this sector are more likely to be pre-1919 properties, and thus there is a limit to the energy efficiency improvements that can be made. However, there are other significant challenges in encouraging take-up of the green deal in the private rented sector. First, there is the problem that the initial cost of the works will be borne by the landlord, with the benefits of reduced fuel bills going to the tenants. Secondly, with many tenancies being short term in nature, investment is understandably unattractive to tenants. Thirdly, there is the worry that in the past a non-regulatory approach has invariably not worked. We need to consider how the green deal sits alongside existing tenancy laws and whether legislation is required to encourage landlords to take it up. When the Bill was being considered in the other place, the Government stated that the position would be reviewed after 12 months so that it could be decided whether further legislation was needed requiring landlords to take up the green deal. I welcome the further proposals that the Secretary of State has brought forward today.
I believe that the warm homes amendment has merit, and that consideration should be given to imposing the 2016 deadline for providing minimum energy efficiency standards in the private rented sector, after which landlords will not be able to rent out the worst-performing properties. The warm homes amendment would strengthen the Bill by helping to provide a minimum standard for the private rented sector, and it would help to provide more certainty to businesses expected to deliver the green deal. It is supported by the Federation for Small Businesses and the Federation of Master Builders, and would provide a clear direction for businesses and help to drive the take-up of low-carbon skills across the construction sector.
Although the green deal applies to non-domestic buildings, research carried out by surveyors Cyril Sweett has revealed that the nature of many buildings, such as schools, offices, industrial units and retail warehouses is such that not enough savings will be made to pay for improvements, and that thus they will not qualify for the green deal. Although the green deal will therefore largely apply to domestic buildings, it is important that the UK’s non-domestic buildings are not overlooked as they seek to reduce emissions and energy bills. I therefore urge Ministers to consider carefully the proposal put forward by the British Property Federation and the UK Green Building Council, which have highlighted an anomaly concerning public sector and private sector buildings: the former are obliged to provide display energy certificates, while the latter are not. The BPF and the GBC believe that a voluntary approach to take-up in the private sector will not work and are of the opinion that it is vital for the Government to provide mandatory DECs. I urge the Government to consider their representations.
It is important that the Bill is framed in such a way as to provide opportunities for small business to play a full role in the roll-out of both the green deal and the energy company obligation, and to ensure that they are not squeezed out by energy suppliers and large companies. There are significant job opportunities for small businesses, ranging from carrying out the energy surveys to installing many of the energy saving works. There is a need for both training and the building up of capacity within the sector in the lead-up to the introduction of the green deal in the latter part of 2012, while with the ECO there is the need to avoid a monopoly situation. There is also a need to encourage banks to provide funding for small and medium-sized enterprises, so that they can get involved in this major opportunity that will help to kick-start the construction sector. With the ECO, it is important to improve access to the market for independent suppliers, and consideration should be given to earmarking a proportion of the obligation for non-obligated suppliers.
Finally, I would be grateful if in Committee the Government could consider addressing a situation that is handicapping the offshore wind sector, which has an important role to play in my constituency. Currently a clause exists in the leases and agreements for lease for offshore wind projects that allows a switch from offshore wind to oil and gas to take place should new oil or gas reserves be found. In that situation, no compensation is payable to wind developers. The existence of the clause continues to cause major problems for offshore wind projects that are seeking finance, with the result that banks view such projects as higher risk than necessary. This comes at a time when both industries are seeking to develop areas of the seabed that are close to each other or even overlap. Efforts to work together to prevent problems will be meaningless unless a fair and clear framework is established in situations where co-existence is impossible. There is an urgent need to ensure that the matter is resolved quickly, through the creation of an early termination mechanism, which would detail how compensation would be paid to the wind developer if a lease is terminated. I urge the Government to take action on the issue now. It has been dragging on for some years and it is important that it should now be resolved, at a time when the offshore wind industry in the UK is rapidly expanding and when companies are looking to make investment decisions. The Energy Bill is an ideal vehicle to tackle the problem.
The Government have the ambition to be the greenest Government ever. I believe that this goal can be achieved if they take on board the helpful suggestions made by right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House during the debate this afternoon and this evening.
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