The Energy Security Bill
George Clarke reacts to the recent Queens speech and asks whether it made any difference to housing
So, for the first time Prince Charles, the future King of the United Kingdom, gave the Queens Speech, which provides the government with an opportunity to highlight its main priorities for the months ahead.
There is one bill that stood out for me most. The Energy Security Bill. But, there was also a section in the government’s background briefing entitled “Housing Reform”.
Let’s cover this first.
Given that the country is in the thick of the biggest housing crisis and property affordability crisis the governments “housing reform” announcement borders on being pathetic.
I honestly believe that the phrase ‘Housing Crisis’ has been used so much over the last 20 years that the government itself has become immune to it.
This government’s (as well as every other government for the last 40 years) inability to even address it, never mind resolve it, means that our massive housing crisis is seen as something that British society simply has to accept. Well, I’m afraid that just isn’t good enough and we shouldn’t accept it.
People are becoming more angry that their children and grandchildren cannot afford to buy their own home, being stuck in private-rented accommodation for the rest of their lives as the government refuses to build the social housing the country needs.
Fine for those in government who no doubt bought their properties 30-40 years ago when homes were a lot more affordable and their trust funds would have more than covered the cost anyway.
It all started with Thatcher
But, for the rest of us, in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, she began to lay the unstable foundations for biggest housing crisis the UK has every seen.
The average house was price back then was £19,830 (that would equate to £102,601 today) and was 3.5 times the average National salary.
Today, the average house price is 8 times the average national salary and because banks will only lend 4-5 times what you earn, you don’t have to be Einstein to see that private homes are simply unaffordable for most people.
The maths don’t stack up!
Council house sell off
It is also worth remembering that in 1979 council houses made up just under a third of all UK homes in 1979. A third! That's some 6.5 million properties.
Now we only have just over 2 million council house in the UK because 4 million have been sold off (privatised) under Thatcher’s disastrous ‘Right to Buy Policy’.
We now have nearly 28 million homes in the UK, so we’ve gone from having a third of council houses to a fourteenth!
With the increase in overseas investors fuelling the housing market and the increase in second-home ownership combined with the demise of genuinely affordable housebuilding it is no wonder the housing market is completely screwed!
Oh, and to make matter worse, Boris Johnson is considering expanding the ‘Right to Buy’ policy to include the selling off of Hosing Association properties too.
I’m completely lost for words on that one.
When will the government realise that without a safe, secure, stable and affordable roof over your head, everything else in life becomes so much harder?
A background briefing
So, back to the ‘Housing Reform’ that was unbelievably relegated to being a ‘background briefing’ note of the Queens Speech. It was brief so this won’t take long.
The government intends to reform leasehold and level up homeownership.
I’m not really sure what that means.
It even says “Renters to have a secure path to ownership”…(how on earth are the government going to do that?)
And one of its main objectives is to “restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging, especially in those places where they have been lost”.
I’m not sure what this means either and I’m not convinced the government themselves do. How on earth do you “Restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging”?
Of course they are all lovely words that sound wonderful in an announcement, but the reality is many people are working harder for less, they are struggling to pay their energy and utility bills, the cost of living is going through the roof, taxation is higher than ever and millions are living in expensive, relatively short-term private rental properties with little chance of being able to save a deposit to get out of generation-rent.
And those that are really struggling having to decide whether to heat their home or feed their kids.
That’s how bad things have become.
For many people throughout Britain their priority for the next few years is simply to make ends meet and survive. “Local pride and belonging” is going to be tough.
Oh, and the government are going to reform the planning system. I think I’ve heard that for 30 years. So, lets see there.
It is pretty clear to me that there is no consensus in government of how to tackle the housing crisis.
There is no long-term viable strategy and all of this ‘tinkering’ with weak policies and unachievable objectives has very little impact on the bigger problem.
Heat pumps are the future
Let’s move onto the Energy Bill.
With the war in Ukraine creating a fossil-fuel crisis combined with the ambitious targets for Britain to be zero-net-carbon by 2050 the Energy Bill was probably the biggest part of the Queen’s Speech.
The Bill aims to ensure a safe and secure energy supply and supports a low-carbon energy solution to reduce our dependence on gas over the long term.
It will seek an extension of the price cap beyond 2023 to prevent energy suppliers from over-charging customers.
Ofgem will be appointed as the new regulator for heat networks to make sure that people get value for money and a reliable supply of heat.
One of the best parts of the Bill was the announcement that government would support industry and step-up investment in the design, innovation and development of renewable-energy heat pumps to try and lower the capital cost of heat pumps over time.
Heat pumps are 100% the way forward to provide heating and hot water in a clean and sustainable way.
But, we also have to make sure that the electricity used to power heat pumps is from clean, renewable sources.
There was also the announcement to create UK Infrastructure Bank to “support regional and local economic growth and deliver net zero”.
I have to say thought that I was devastated that there was nothing in the Queen’s Speech about retrofitting and upgrading the ecological standards of our existing housing stock.
This is genuinely the biggest challenge the government faces to achieve net-zero-carbon and they are doing absolutely nothing about it.
Which means we won’t hit that 2050 target. We really wont. We have 28 million existing homes in the UK and it the oldest housing stock in Europe.
There little point in promoting heat pumps if you don't promote insulating every single home in Britain to the higher standard. If your home isn’t insulated to a decent enough standard then there is a risk that an air source heat pump won’t be able to heat your home to the level you want.
A ‘Fabric First’ approach to a sustainable housing future is essential by installing as much insulation as possible and fitting high-quality double or even triple glazing.
Most houses in Britain ‘leak heat’ and that’s not only bad for the planet, but it’s bad for our energy bills and, let’s be honest, it’s just a massive waste.
But, the government as ABSOLUTELY NO AGENDA, NO POLICY AND NO VIABLE FINANCIAL PLAN to retrofit and to ecologically upgrade our poor quality existing housing stock.
Just not good enough
The only mention of the word “insulate” in the Queen’s Speech is a promise to jail Insulate Britain protesters.
Unbelievable! And not good enough.
Forget being Zero-Carbon by 2050.
With the government’s staggeringly slow rate of progress addressing the climate emergency and having no clear plan to make all of Britain’s Housing green it just isn’t going to happen.
And that’s not just my opinion.
The Climate Change Committee said that at the current, slow rate of progress by government and industry the UK will become net zero carbon in just over 700 year’s time!
That’s heart breaking.
George Clarke is an Architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador. This article and other blog’s by George Clarke appear regularly on Mitsubishi Electric’s The Hub