“Incentives are needed to help decarbonise our housing stock”

coins and wooden house

Lucy Dixon spoke to Conservative Environment Network (CEN) member and MP for Waveney, Peter Aldous, who says incentives are needed to help decarbonise our housing stock.

Ahead of 2023’s Autumn Statement, the CEN supported proposals for a green stamp duty rebate and, although it wasn’t part of Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s announcements, the idea remains on the table as we head towards the Spring Budget and an eventual General Election.

Could you highlight what you are proposing, what that might look like and what the sort of benefits would be?

I think putting this in context over the last past few months, the government has done quite a lot of work to support households who are in fuel poverty. And I think that they are quite right to focus grants and direct support in that way. But the vast majority of our existing housing stock is not in the social sector, and if we do nothing else then the estimates are that it could take about 300 years to reach our decarbonisation targets in respect of our existing housing stock. Therefore one needs to think as to what one does to incentivise that vast majority of that existing stock.

By the time we get to 2050, something like 90% of the houses we live in will have already been built. So that is what the CEN’s campaign on stamp duty is aimed at – the easiest, most ready means of providing a tax incentive is when a property comes onto the market. So either a purchaser is incentivised by a stamp duty cut, or you could also introduce it retrospectively so that the purchaser has a period, for which I think two years seems sensible, for them to carry out that improvement themselves and hence get a rebate.

It seems to me a sensible proposal to improve our housing stock still further now, obviously not all houses are going to come onto the market in the next few years. So you need to look at other means as well. And hence another of the suggestions that CEN is putting forward is an employee benefit scheme similar to bike to work, whereby the employers can sign up to this and encourage employees to carry out such improvement works and in return the employer NI contributions will be reduced. This could be a means of improving the situation on the demand side. And I think the more one does this, along with those other initiatives that have been announced, the more one is creating a demand for services and therefore the more you can build a supply chain, whether it is with people retraining to do this work and likewise on the materials to be produced wherever possible in this country.

I don’t think there is a magic wand solution. Some people might’ve said the Green New Deal was a magic wand solution, but that didn’t work. And so it is a whole raft of measures designed to address this particular problem. And obviously in my neck of the woods, one looks at energy supply, whether that is the wind turbines out in the North Sea, which are important for decarbonising our electricity supply and provide local jobs and exactly the same with Sizewell C. But you can spend too much time focusing on energy supply when you should also be looking at the demand side of the equation.

There wasn’t an announcement in the Autumn Statement, but I think like so many things I’m doing, when you don’t get what you’re looking for, four, you dust yourself down and start all over again. And with that in mind, there is a focus on the Spring Budget.

And what about the private rental sector? Were there proposals from CEN to support landlords or to incentivise landlords?

I think what the CEN has highlighted that when it comes to landlords, when you look at things like renewing furniture, carrying out maintenance to your property, paying legal fees relating to your property, those are all tax deductible. And an anomaly is that if you carry out energy efficiency measures such as installation, they are not, and again, the proposal is that those type of works, those energy efficiency works, they should be tax deductible as well. I think that’s right.

Are you hearing welcoming noises from the government on these proposals?

I think the case has been made, it is a strong case and I’ve not detected any sort of kickback if you like, along the lines that it is not practical. I think the Chancellor  is mindful that he has a difficult financial situation to navigate and I would hope that if there is the necessary headroom in the spring that he would do it. They’re not measures which on their own are going to win you or lose you an election, but the feedback is that there is strong support for them and they would tick the right box with the electorate.

Do you hear from your own constituents on energy efficiency or funding for these different measures?

With the cost of living crisis and the higher cost of energy bills, people are mindful of how to manage those budgets and anything to help them, I sense will be welcome, will be. Managing a budget at the moment is extremely challenging. I think also in this region we’re at the forefront of climate change and this is all part of insulating ourselves in both ways to that particular challenge. So I think it does have an appeal definitely.

And are there other key measures or schemes that CEN is focusing on for the budget?

There are two things I would highlight on this – we need to be training people to do this work and we need to be monitoring it to ensure that it’s carried out properly. We don’t want to be creating cowboys charters. And the best way to do that is to do these things locally. The message is you need to make sure that the system is properly regulated and that is best done by providing councils with the resources to be able to do it, so the building inspectors can get out and ensure good governance. We also need to be making sure that the local colleges, and in my perspective East Coast College, are putting on the courses so that people can do this training. Now that in itself presents a challenge because when you look at so many of these courses, finding the trainers at the current time can be difficult. We’re going to work very closely with the employers to work out how best we actually do that.