Building places that work for everyone

In her first speech as Prime Minister, Theresa May highlighted the plight of ordinary families ‘who can just about manage but worry about the cost of living’ or ‘who have their own home, but worry about paying the mortgage’.  And in her foreword to last month’s Housing White Paper she identified the ‘broken housing market’ as one of the biggest barriers to progress in Britain today.

Her concern is our concern too.  Mrs May knows that we urgently need to build new homes that are within reach of those being left behind.  We must reduce energy bills for those who are just about managing.  We must reduce the burden on the NHS by maximising the health and well-being of UK citizens.  And in a post-Brexit Britain we must create jobs, improve skills and grow our export opportunities. 

This is a vision that we share. And in our brand new paper, Building Places That Work for Everyone, we show how the built environment is already playing a key role in delivering on the Government’s aims.  We shine a spotlight on refurbishment projects that have delivered warmer, healthier homes and workplaces alongside significant fuel bill savings.  We show how high-quality design and smarter construction methods are already delivering new homes at scale and at speed.  And we demonstrate that the construction industry plays a crucial role in creating jobs, improving skills and growing our exports of cutting-edge products and services.

Let’s start with new buildings.  It is a common – but false – assumption that high-quality buildings take longer to build and are more expensive.  Offsite manufacture can substantially reduce construction waste and speed up delivery.  And well-designed developments, in which communities have had a real say, can sweep away planning objections – especially when they bring with them new amenities, green spaces and wildlife havens.   Take igloo Regeneration’s Dundas Hill development in Glasgow, which sailed through planning because of local community involvement in the development process right from the start. Delivering, sustainably, the numbers of new homes the country needs is well within our reach.

But it’s not just about new buildings. Around 80% of the buildings that will be occupied in in 2050 have already been built. If we are to meet our 2050 carbon target, we need to retrofit almost 25 million homes – that’s 1.4 homes every minute between now and 2050. Refurbishing homes can bring down bills for hard-pressed families; and for firms large and small more efficient use of energy frees up money to invest in the core business. A great example comes from Land Securities who over the past year have invested £2.6 million in energy reduction initiatives across 23 leading commercial and retail sites around the UK, saving customers 8.2 million kWh of energy, equal to £940,000 per annum. This includes Lewisham Shopping Centre, where lighting upgrades to LEDs will reduce landlord energy consumption by 20% - with benefits shared with customers including Marks & Spencer, Clarks and H&M.

We also mustn’t forget the health benefits of a well-designed, high-performing building.  A healthier, happier workforce means a more productive, successful business – it’s as simple as that.  Our members Skanska UK eliminated hazardous substances and made full use of natural daylight when rebuilding their Doncaster facility – leading to a more comfortable workplace and a huge drop in building-related sick days.  Meanwhile, in their landmark Boilers on Prescription pilot, social housing provider Gentoo provided energy efficiency upgrades for vulnerable residents.  The results were staggering: after 18 months GP appointments had decreased by 60%, and the project has generated widespread interest from healthcare professionals nationwide. 

These shining examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  And they show not just what might be possible in the future, but what is possible right now.  With the right combination of industry expertise, community engagement and a clear steer from Government, they can be the norm rather than the exception.

And I’m not the only one who is saying it.  It was standing room only when we launched our paper in Parliament on 28 February – and I was particularly thrilled by the welcome it received from Conservative politicians.  Our keynote speaker was Chair of the No. 10 Policy Board and Bright Blue supporter George Freeman MP.  He commended our ‘powerful, fact-based paper’, saying that it would be ‘really valuable in shaping policy’.  He highlighted how we must ‘build not yesterday’s boxes but tomorrow’s homes’ and mooted the interesting idea of rewarding local councils for delivering housing that uses less energy.  Meanwhile, another Bright Blue supporter James Heappey echoed George’s words, adding that truly sustainable homes can make people happier and healthier, reduce demand on the NHS and enable communities to be more cohesive.  Music to my ears!

So hopefully this is just the start of our new conversation with Government as we spread the word about the multiple benefits – social, economic and environmental – that high-quality buildings and neighbourhoods can deliver.  UK-GBC is uniquely placed to help Government achieve its vision in close partnership with the built environment industry whom we represent.  We look forward to working with them and all our partners to deliver on our shared vision – to build places that work for everyone.

Julie Hirigoyen is CEO of the UK Green Building Council

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

Our man-made countryside requires wildlife management

Traditionally, the Left has always seen the Tories as the defenders of various field sports, predominately hunting and shooting. For those who are unfamiliar with the activities, the accusation fits perfectly the image of ‘cruel toffs killing for fun’.

For decades the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), attacked the Conservative Party for defending such sports and made no secret of its support for the Labour Party, which involved substantial donations to party funds. The Hunting Act was nothing less than payback for this support, but now, with Labour in disarray and the Conservatives likely to be in government for the foreseeable future, further progress has been stymied and repeal of the hunting ban became a possibility; a change of strategy was needed.

It’s no surprise that ‘Conservative’ groups have now been formed, all designed to create the impression that the views expressed are held by the mainstream of the Tory Party. But look a little harder and some uncomfortable facts emerge, the first being that these groups have been formed and are run by the same few people, the ‘founder’ being a committee member of the LACS – an organisation that has been censured a number of times for producing anti-Tory material in contradiction of Charity Commission rules. There are also links with Brian May’s Save Me Trust, a body that has also strongly criticised the Conservative Party; requests as to who is funding these groups are consistently refused.

Sir Edward Garnier, the former Solicitor General, has written to Conservative Party Chairman, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, raising these concerns. Andrew Rosindell MP, a long-time supporter of animal welfare, has added his voice to those criticising the misuse of the Conservative Party logo, saying, “these groups appear to be more in keeping with the animal rights agenda promoted by the Labour Party.”

Rather than a scientific basis to their claims, whether it be hunting with dogs, bovine TB and the badger cull, grouse shooting and raptors or the issues surrounding rewilding, the arguments tend to rely on the results of carefully worded public opinion polls. The internet, in particular social media, allows a very false impression to be given, both in terms of supposed support and the realities of managing the countryside and its wildlife.

It is only when the question is turned around and the campaigners are asked what they stand for, rather than against, that the debate becomes more interesting. Do they, for example, accept any form of wildlife management? “Leaving it to nature” sounds attractive, but actually means no disease control, no protection of crops or livestock, no population control and no saving of vulnerable or declining species.

If improving animal welfare was the aim of the Hunting Act, where is the evidence? Surely, research would have been commissioned by anti-hunting groups and, regardless of the millions of pounds spent in support of this law, the debate would be over. The fact is, other methods of control, many unregulated, moved in to fill the vacuum and, with the status of the quarry animal having changed, far more have been killed in other ways– it’s just that this doesn’t fit the animal rights agenda, so they ignore it.

When asked what they actually stand for, one argument sometimes put forward by these groups is rewilding - the re-introduction of species that have died out - but while this is an attractive idea to many, it is certainly more complex than some would have us believe. In short, it depends on three things: what, where and how. What species is to be re-introduced? The wolf or the beaver? The consequences for each are very different.  

Where is the species to be located and is it appropriate? Scotland may appear to some to be suitable for the wolf but it is not a wilderness like Yellowstone National Park, where re-introduction of the wolf is indeed a success story. How re-introduction is undertaken is crucial and to make it work local people who are directly affected must be part of the process, as must the consequences of reintroduction and the possibility of subsequent population control.

Clearly, the fundamental problem with rewilding relates to the changes in the relatively small British countryside over many years, creating what is now a man-managed environment, while the natural system of top (apex) predators, middle (meso) predators and prey animals has been disrupted. Re-balancing that system, known as the trophic cascade, could be a good thing if possible, but the clock cannot simply be turned back unless meticulous planning is done.

In the absence of a widespread apex predator such as the wolf in the UK, we have the next best thing – its cousin the dog. Hunts operate in a manner similar to wolves when they are hunting and form a unique part of the wildlife management process. The hound is selective (through its remarkable scenting ability), is testing (through the chase) and, importantly, is non-wounding (the prey is either killed or escapes unscathed). By these means the old, sick, injured and diseased animals are generally removed. This form of hunting therefore fits perfectly into the wildlife management process, leaving a smaller but healthier prey population.

Yet hunting with dogs is the method that the Labour government chose, above all other methods, to be outlawed. Why does anyone, other than the Leftist class warriors, go along with such nonsense?

There is nothing inherently wrong in using dogs in wildlife management – it’s how they are used that matters, which is a condition that should apply equally to any other method of wildlife control. This could be addressed by a sensible wild mammal welfare law under which proven cruelty would be an offence, but such a move is opposed by anti-hunting groups because of their obsession with those who go hunting with dogs. Isn’t it odd that the supposed terror of the chase and the pain of being ripped apart by hunting dogs is claimed to be so terrible, but yet exactly the same process is fine when it comes to rewilding?

The anti-hunting groups are frustrated because the law they designed isn’t working as they imagined. The reason is clear: their case is flawed, their claims are false, their methods sometimes deceitful and the consequences of a ban are detrimental to the welfare of wildlife. No one, least of all Conservatives, should believe them.

Jim Barrington is a former director of the League Against Cruel Sports and is now an animal welfare consultant to the Countryside Alliance and the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

Regional devolution: a new frontier for low carbon retrofit?

The UK government is not currently doing enough to decarbonise the housing stock and protect householders from rising energy bills. In their 2016 progress report, the Committee on Climate Change concluded: "Progress improving the energy efficiency of buildings has stalled since 2012." This was echoed by the Energy and Climate Change Committee’s report on energy efficiency which urged government to “[…] promptly demonstrate a renewed commitment to tackling energy efficiency”.

It is also widely recognised that current levels of investment fall far short of what will be required to meet our 2030 national fuel poverty target: as Policy Exchange identifies, there is a funding gap of £700m a year. But potential for national government action seems limited largely due to the high profile failure of the Coalition government’s Green Deal policy. Ministers have become reluctant to put home energy efficiency at the top of their priority list.

With this in mind, it is interesting to look at devolved governments across the UK, not only Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but also at the English regions. Six combined authorities will be getting new directly elected mayors this May: Liverpool city region; Greater Manchester; the West Midlands; the West of England; Tees Valley and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

The combined authorities are new political structures sitting above the multiple councils in each of these regions. The Greater Manchester Combined Authority, for example, encompasses Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan. Of course there’s one big established precedent for all this, the London Mayor and Greater London Authority which has been in place since 2000.

What can the new mayors do to promote low carbon homes?

Each combined authority has a different devolution deal so powers do vary but if we look at the precedent that London has set we can get a sense of what could be done on energy efficient housing as more powers are devolved. Some of the key areas we think the future mayors should be pushing for are:

  • Zero carbon new builds. In 2015, George Osborne axed a long-standing commitment to national zero carbon newbuild standards. But London’s zero carbon new build standards came into force last October. New developments have to comply with tough emissions standards or pay to offset the carbon.
  • Retrofit programmes. London set up RE:NEW and RE:FIT, retrofit programmes for residential and public buildings, respectively. Although RE:NEW hasn’t quite transformed London’s housing stock yet, the fact that the Mayor is committed to domestic retrofit is important – and it’s never easy to get it perfect the first time around!
  • Municipal energy companies. Bristol, Nottingham and London have all being developing local energy companies and while having a metro mayor is not a requirement to do so it means that it can have more reach and over time grow and expand into other services.
  • Boiler scrappage. While not necessarily achieving large carbon savings replacing old, polluting boilers with new, more efficient boilers can be important in tackling fuel poverty.  
  • Heat planning and district heating. Tees Valley Combined Authority is already doing work matching up waste heat from industrial sources with local demand and the Mayor of London has been vocal about waste heat. With heat being one of the hardest areas to decarbonise and local conditions varying so much, combined authorities can really get their teeth stuck into this.
  • Making the most of national policies. There is £640 million per year on offer through the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) and combined authorities can do a lot to attract as much of this as possible to their areas.

While the specific “devolution deal” signed with Westminster varies region to region, and they will not be getting masses of new funding (each combined authority will get access to 30-year investment funds representing between £15 million and £36 million a year) the new metro-mayors will have significant powers. Their portfolios will cover economic strategy in their region and powers over areas such as transport, health, skills and housing.

An important part of combined authorities’ work will be to join up activity across a larger area and pull in different budgets in innovative ways. This will be particularly effective in tackling cold homes. Investing in energy efficiency can save on health budgets by reducing hospital admissions, GP visits and prescriptions. Mayors can join up energy efficiency and health budgets through schemes such as “boilers on prescription” in recognition of the fact that cold, draughty homes aggravate health problems.

An additional (and important) part of the metro-mayors’ arsenal will be soft power – the ability to bring business and civic leaders together and exert moral pressure to take action on carbon reduction and energy saving. In London, for example, the Mayor’s Business Energy Challenge awards made the most of the Mayor’s public platform to encourage businesses to cut down their energy consumption and move to cleaner energy sources.

Crucially, the mayors’ strategic role will mean they will be able to take a region-wide approach and align different objectives and departmental remits to cater to local requirements. Nowhere could this be more important than in driving a new regional approach to low carbon/low energy housing.

As such we believe that the regions can take the lead and prove that strategic investment in energy efficiency improves people’s lives, boosts local economies and supports security of supply. This evidence will help us keep up the pressure on national Government to make the right policy choices and make energy efficiency an infrastructure priority.

Joseph Cosier is a policy officer at the Energy Saving Trust

The views expressed in this essay are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue

We need a mobility renaissance to make London a cycling city

By now you will be familiar with the story. London’s air quality is both illegal and lethal. Not only does it continue to breach EU legal limits, it’s much worse than the standards called for by the World Health Organisation. The equivalent of over 9,000 Londoners die prematurely every year from simply breathing. Doctors are becoming unprecedentedly vocal about the serious, irreversible long-term impacts to the health and development of London’s children. It’s a situation that has been tolerated for too long.

Politicians of all stripes have finally agreed that this cannot be allowed to continue, and the Mayor of London has promised to reduce air pollution, consulting on a raft of important measures to get a grip on this crisis. But we shouldn’t underestimate how radical the programme to clean up London’s air will need to be: only action commensurate with the scale of the problem will do and the Mayor’s current proposals, creditable as they are, still have some way to go.

The policies on the table largely focus on a new charging regime to penalise dirty cars, taxis, private hire vehicles, coaches, and heavy goods vehicles, as well as renewing London’s bus fleet with cleaner models and investing in localised pollution abatement. But of themselves they won’t be enough. For example, a large proportion of particulate emissions arises from road, tyre and brake wear: this alone indicates that switching away from current volumes and patterns of motor vehicle use will be as important as tackling tailpipe emissions.

This is all part of a broader piece. London’s surface transport system needs to meet multiple objectives, such as keeping London’s growing population moving, delivering goods and services efficiently, reducing pollution and carbon emissions and achieving zero road fatalities and serious injuries. Improving our streetscape and how our roads are used also has a pivotal role in making the capital an even more vibrant, attractive, productive and world-class place in which to live, work and play.

Yet the current configuration won’t cut it, and profound change is required: walking and cycling must be allowed to flourish as the principal modes for everyday journeys; access to a car must be encouraged over car ownership; smarter delivery of goods and services must be incentivised; “multi-modal” journeys must be made easier and affordable; the bus network must be reorganised – the list goes on. Whatever the future system of surface transport looks like, if it’s going to be up to the job, then it won’t look like it does today.

But returning to pollution, we must at the same time acknowledge that preventing loss of life and lifelong debilitation will be costly and disruptive. If people and companies with dirty vehicles are to be penalised then the money raised must be invested in cleaner, alternative travel options – from new cycling facilities to green electricity infrastructure for vehicle charging. It will also be unjust not to provide support for those hard hit, e.g. for small scale operators least able to convert or replace their vehicles.

So far as cycling itself is concerned, let me give some specific examples of the kind of facilitation required for it flourish: giving road space over to physically-protected cycle tracks (not just blue paint) installed on the busiest routes; so-called modal filtering schemes that allow local access but block through traffic in residential areas and town centres; a 20 mph speed limit as the general rule (a proven lifesaver for pedestrians also); making "direct vision" lorries - the safest type available on the market - the norm on London’s streets; and basing housing developments around cycling, public transport and car-sharing. There is also enormous scope to open up the business-by-bike market with the recent arrival of increasingly affordable and reliable electrically-assisted cargo bikes: these are already being used by carriers such as DHL and UPS and are perfect for last-mile delivery within freight consolidation systems (indeed “e-bikes” also at a stroke make longer commutes more achievable and enjoyable by cycle). Little of this will happen organically, however, and capitalising on the enormous potential of cycling to reduce congestion, pollution and travel costs will require concerted action by the Mayor, TfL, the boroughs and business.

A new, enlightened approach to transport, together with innovation and improving technology, is dragging our city out of twentieth-century thinking. But a genuine mobility renaissance will only be possible if it carries Londoners with it. That’s why it is so encouraging that consensus is building across politicians, transport authorities, businesses, health specialists and so on to get the right policies in place, and to engage the public in them. Unlocking the multiple benefits of making London a cycling city must necessarily be at the heart of that conversation.

Ashok Sinha is CEO of London Cycling Campaign

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily of Bright Blue.

Cheap renewables should be at the core of our industrial strategy

The announcement of the new industrial strategy green paper is an exciting moment. The last few years have been defined by an almost total lack of joined-up thinking on energy policy and a bewildering raft of sudden policy announcements - including severe cuts to support for renewable energy - that have left little but uncertainty in their wake.

One of the strategy’s ten pillars commits to ‘delivering affordable energy and clean growth’. The government is setting out to ‘secure the economic benefits of the transition to a low-carbon economy’. Bundled into this are plans to back ultra-low emission vehicles, ‘smart’ and clean energy.

So far, so good. But this is politics.

Look a little closer. There is no mention of our two cheapest low carbon energy sources: onshore wind and solar PV, even as both continue to tumble in price. Onshore wind already rivals gas as the cheapest new energy source of any kind - and the government’s own projections show it undercutting new gas as early as next year (latest 2020). Solar is not far behind.

Yet, it is almost impossible to build new generation capacity - fossil, nuclear or renewable - without some public guarantee. For gas this is provided through the capacity market auctions (the last of which was in early December). In contrast, the rug has been pulled out from under onshore wind.

Since the unexpected election of a Conservative majority government in 2015 financial guarantees available to low carbon electricity generators have been denied to onshore wind - complemented by the erection of unique planning barriers. It is not being allowed to compete, period.

Relegating the cheapest low carbon energy source to the bench makes decarbonising our energy supply more expensive. Citizens Advice found that for each financial support auction run without onshore wind £500m would be added to the public bill over 15 years (not including eye-watering sums being spent on Hinkley). With auctions running roughly annually it’s not hard to see that cost reaching the billions. In part that number is so high because of a little advertised fact: subsidy auction rules require that onshore wind cannot alone be excluded. Instead, auctions for more ‘mature’ renewables must be cancelled altogether to deny onshore wind access. But this blocks bidding rights to the next cheapest low carbon energy source - solar PV - too. Hobbling onshore wind means taking commercial scale solar down with it - inflating the cost of meeting our emissions targets.

Overpaying to decarbonise our economy makes no fiscal sense, and breaks another Conservative manifesto promise: to transition to low carbon at lowest cost. Worse, it pushes up costs for businesses - particularly large industrial users of electricity. By equivocating about the role of ‘green subsidies’ in energy costs - all the while sidelining the cheapest renewables - the government risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that could erode public consent for the huge investment needed to modernise our energy system.

The time has come to face facts: an industrial strategy for a competitive and low carbon Britain that excludes our cheapest renewables just isn’t very strategic.

So where next? The 2015 manifesto commitment has its roots in a letter from 100 MPs to David Cameron in 2012 protesting onshore wind growth. Though sources maintain that many of them signed it casually, without much knowledge of the issue, nevertheless there are local dimensions the government is wary of.

But, really, they needn’t be.

Government polling shows onshore wind is popular nationally - at 71% (the highest score yet) - while our research finds two-thirds support in rural areas (where people are most likely to live next to turbines).Yes, there will be always be vocal local opposition - but the government found just 2% strongly opposed in national figures.

Building an active constituency for onshore wind isn’t rocket science. But like rockets, it needs oxygen. Community wind projects, where locals can directly participate and benefit, transform turbines from perceived corporate impositions to community assets. Recent Cooperative Energy polling found 65% of 2015 Conservative voters would be likely to support local community owned wind turbines. Combining this approach with existing industry standards for commercial developments that offer direct benefits to communities (through anything from a local share offer to energy bill reductions) is a powerful approach to embedding local benefits and cementing local enthusiasm.

For this - as a first step - the planning barriers that block community-led wind projects must come down. This must be met with a re-doubled approach to enable a route to market for onshore wind (and thus solar PV). The government doesn’t have to choose between its manifesto pledges to halt subsidised onshore wind and to decarbonise at lowest cost. It can proactively support direct local supply projects, such as Energy Local, to create local energy markets that lower household bills while increasing payments to renewable generators. And it can provide long term contracts for onshore wind at or below the level needed to bring forward new gas. Under any reasonable analysis this is de-risking, not subsidising.

The government is right to identify affordable energy and clean growth at the core of our new industrial journey. There is simply no other way. But until it summons the leadership to bring our cheapest renewables in from the cold it will forever be trying, wastefully, to square this circle right at its heart.

Max Wakefield is lead campaigner on 10:10’s Blown Away campaign to stand up for onshore wind. Sign our petition before the spring budget to bring our cheapest renewables in from the cold.

The views expressed in the article are those of the author, not necessarily of Bright Blue

Turning back to the sea in 2017

Following a year of great political and economic turmoil, when predictions were mostly confounded, 2017 should be the year when people and communities around the country take centre-stage. A new action plan, developed with the support of hundreds of people, shows how coastal communities can take the lead, reconnect us with our coastal identity and secure a more prosperous future for the UK coast.

Coastal communities made up the top five areas that voted to leave the EU last June. This should not have surprised you. Britain’s over 11 million coastal residents face an uncertain economic future, with some unique and urgent challenges. When compared to non-coastal areas, they see higher levels of underemployment, economic inequality and educational underachievement. In addition, they are more vulnerable to the increasing threats that climate change brings, as well as the declining health of the UK’s marine environment.

The 2016 State of Nature report showed how the natural environment, on which our economy and our lives depend, is faring worse in the UK than in most other countries. For the coastal and marine environment, the key challenges remain the impact of our activities – a combination of pollution, over-exploitation, and climate change.

This picture has been unfolding for decades. Coastal areas sit alongside other areas in the UK that have never truly recovered from the loss or the decline of traditional industries and jobs since the late 1960s. Successive public policies have not been able to inject new life into marginalised UK economies still struggling to fill that void, and many communities have become dependent on government ‘hand-outs’, ultimately stripping them of a sense of pride in creating their own opportunities for a better future. So, it is no wonder that in 2016 they rejected the advice of both the UK and EU establishments.

One way or another, 2017 brings a window of opportunity to rethink the UK economy so that it truly works for everyone, and no longer, leaves people behind. An industrial policy aiming to rebalance the UK economy must be bigger, bolder and driven by the regions who need it most. For the UK coast, it must be about building the capabilities of places, people, and communities; support projects, small or large; and ensure there is the digital and transport infrastructure that communities need to thrive. They should not be expected to do it all alone.

Despite great examples of good practice happening around our coast, and a number of welcomed government efforts in recent years to support coastal communities, what policies have still not been able to address is that the problem for coastal communities is that they lack the scale of power and resources needed to address their complex and many unique challenges.

That is why the New Economics Foundation launched the Blue New Deal initiative, which has brought together a range of voices and interests to discuss the future of coastal communities, starting from its unique asset. UK waters cover a significant part of the UK national territory, extending to more than three and a half times the UK’s land area. Our extensive coast, and the marine environment surrounding it, provides us with a wealth of resources, including fish stocks, a variety of habitats and wildlife, energy sources, and cultural heritage.

Turning back to the sea means getting more people excited about what our coast has to offer and growing a new generation of innovative coastal and marine businesses. The Blue New Deal wants to see the development of stronger coastal economies that are able to support more good jobs and increased economic resilience through activities that can promote, support and deliver healthier ecosystems for the future.

There has never been a more urgent need for communities to come together and lead this change themselves. In the face of deprivation, political and financial instability, we need a new approach to economic regeneration. The Brexit vote was a wakeup call: communities left behind by our economy and ignored by our politics want greater control over their futures. But Britain’s pending exit from the EU also threatens to undermine recent coastal and marine conservation efforts and bring further division to towns and cities. So how can we deliver transformative economic reform that meets people’s deep desire for more control and supports a healthy environment for the future?

The Blue New Deal’s 20-point action plan is about putting people in control so they can reconnect with our seas, shape their own local priorities, and lead the way in revitalising the UK coast. It builds on existing experience and resources on the UK coast, and has the potential to support up to 160,000 additional jobs and £7.2 billion of additional income in coastal local authorities.

Fernanda Balata is Senior Programme Lead for Coastal Economies at the New Economics Foundation

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily of Bright Blue

A ‘whole house’ approach to improving our homes

When we think of buildings and homes what springs to mind?  A physical construction, a shelter with a roof, windows and doors where people live or work? Is a home the same as a building or is a home a more emotional thing – a building yes, but one with which we have a connection. Does it make us think of comfort, warmth, security, family, a stable foundation?

Perhaps it’s a reflection of my 30 years' working in the energy industry and my involvement in fuel poverty and similar challenges, but when I think of a home I think of heat leaking out of the roof, doors and windows like water from a dripping tap. I think of comfort, warmth and energy security and how they could be improved. I think not just of family but of how the health of those families could be improved. I think of how a home provides a foundation not just for existing families but for our environment and future generations and why the opportunity must not be missed to make our homes cheaper to heat, healthier and more sustainable.  

Homes (and buildings) are the foundation of our modern society. They are where we work, where we learn, and the refuge we retire to at the end of the day but they are more than that, they are of paramount importance as we strive to reduce energy bills, increase industrial competitiveness and protect the environment for future generations.

Heat and energy efficiency are inextricably linked and it is therefore only by taking a whole house holistic approach that we will make our buildings healthier, cheaper and more sustainable. We need to ‘wrap’ our buildings (by improving the energy efficiency performance of the building fabric) then heat them sustainably and efficiently. In doing so we improve our health, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, stimulate industry and increase prosperity for us all. 

There is no single solution to the challenge of heating the UK’s homes. We must take an objective ‘whole house approach’ that recognises that energy efficiency and heat are integral and interconnected parts of the energy challenge and also its solution. Increasing the energy efficiency of the building fabric helps to maximise the gain from efficient and low carbon heating solutions; to address one without the other leads to sub-optimal results for homeowners, investors and Government.  

Our homes are not just important to individuals or families, they are important to the economy and the environment more widely. Domestic energy efficiency is of huge importance: the UK's 28 million homes account for 30% of energy use and 12% of carbon emissions. Within the UK 2.38 million households are living in fuel poverty. Energy efficiency and low carbon heating are also important for job creation, growth and skills development.  

The installation of low carbon heating and energy efficiency measures often uses local labour and the investment has the potential to boost employment and economic growth. There is also potential for longer-term benefits resulting from the lowering of energy bills which enable higher disposable income for domestic consumers and a reduction in running costs for business, the benefits of which can be spent elsewhere in the economy. The geographic spread of demand means that the supply chains and manufacturers that support the energy efficiency industry are likely to be located outside wealthy areas and provide sustainable jobs across the UK.  

Achieving mass market engagement in energy efficiency will stimulate opportunities not only for the technology manufacturers and suppliers, but also for the many small- to medium-sized businesses providing and installing heating systems, insulation and glazing. These are the very entrepreneurs, self-starters and employers that are key to the growth of the UK economy.  

In its 2016 report ‘Better homes: incentivising home energy improvements’, Bright Blue highlighted that the sector of the UK low-carbon economy which creates the highest number of jobs is energy efficiency, employing 155,000 people in 2014 and that increased take-up of home energy improvements would increase employment and economic activity in the UK. It is estimated that the economic impact of raising all homes to a band C on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) would be the creation of 108,000 net jobs per annum between 2020 and 2030, and an increase in relative GDP of 0.6% by 2030.
So at a time when the Government is focussed on national productivity and developing an industrial strategy, it is vital that the role that energy efficiency and sustainable technologies can play in the success of that strategy is recognised. The development of the industrial strategy offers an opportunity to provide a framework for a long-term, stable policy landscape which encourages the deployment of low-carbon, efficient technologies in our homes and buildings. The Sustainable Energy Association is therefore calling on the Government to recognise the importance of energy efficiency within the strategy by setting a clear target to bring all domestic buildings up to EPC band C by 2030.

This would help make our homes healthier, cheaper and more sustainable, and perhaps then we can all think of comfort, warmth, security, family, and a stable foundation, when we think of our ‘home’. 

Lesley Rudd is Acting Chief Executive of the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA). The SEA is a campaign organisation supported by business and public interests from a cross section of the energy in buildings sector.  If anyone would like to support the SEA campaign to bring domestic buildings up to EPC band C please contact the author. 

The views in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Bright Blue

The UK’s charging network is in need of expansion and reform

Sales of electric vehicles have been increasing rapidly over the last five years, from around 3,500 units sold in 2012 to 70,000 this year. No longer a futuristic novelty, there are now roughly 500,000 electric and hybrid cars on Europe’s roads.

The UK Government is keen to support the development of the private electric vehicle (EV) sector. In most circumstances, buyers of new electric cars can take advantage of a government grant of up to £4,500 put towards the cost of their vehicle, as well as funds for a charging unit at home, and an exemption from road tax and the congestion charge. The 2016 Autumn Statement also outlined the creation of a £390 million investment fund to support the development and operation of both low emission and autonomous vehicles.

While consumer uptake has been reasonably strong, the UK’s network of charging points has been lagging behind. There are around 11,000 charging points in the UK, with proportionally more in London and a good distribution of charging facilities dotted across the motorway network.

The usual criticisms leveled at charging points are fourfold: there aren’t enough of them, they don’t always work, they’re complicated to operate and they’re too expensive.

Charging stations are often owned and operated by different firms, and each require different memberships, with different apps and login details, as well as having an array of attachments for the various vehicles. Last year, the Environmental Audit Committee also found that certain charging stations were costing as much as £7.50 for a 30-minute rapid charge, putting the cost of some trips into the same bracket as a modern diesel.

Depending on your energy supplier, charging an electric vehicle can cost as little as £3 from your domestic power supply, which is where 90% of charges are currently taking place. As most all-electric cars remain more expensive than comparable vehicles in their respective categories, the prospect of ultra-low running costs is a major draw for consumers.

Quentin Wilson, the motoring journalist and a campaigner for FairFuelUK, told the Times last week: ‘‘No one should be paying over the odds to charge an electric vehicle, otherwise the push towards green cars will fall at the first hurdle.’

The Times also reported that the Department for Transport is planning to crackdown on the cost of rapid charges, potentially setting common pricing structures and making power points easier to access. A spokesperson for the DfT said that while the upfront costs of using these facilities remained a “commercial matter” - “we do not want prohibitive pricing to be a barrier to uptake and will continue to monitor developments.”

The scarcity of rapid charging points is leading to a new behavioural issue in car parks across the country. “We do get charge rage if someone ICEs your bay”, Dale Vince, founder of Ecocentricity told The Telegraph a few weeks ago. “And people don’t like it if someone parks a Tesla to charge for two hours. When your car has finished charging, our message is: move it.” ‘ICE’ in this context refers to parking a car with an Internal Combustion Engine into a charging bay, which happens more often than you might think.

The need to expand the availability of these units was recognised back in November, when Philip Hammond announced that £80 million of the Government’s £390 million fund for the EV sector would be used to support the installation of charging points. According to Erik Fairbairn, chief executive of Pod Point, each charging unit costs between £2,000 and £20,000 to install.

But while charge rage is becoming more prevalent, “range anxiety” is now less of a problem, as car makers continue to improve the battery capacity of their cars. The new £25,000 Renault Zoe R90 Z.E.40 Signature offers a maximum range of up to 250 miles in optimal driving conditions, or around 185 miles in real-world conditions as experienced by WhatCar. At the top end of the spectrum, the £92,000 Tesla Model S P100D has a range of 380 miles.

Although the charging system today has a reputation for being a bit fiddly, the convenience of being able to plug in by the road-side, in your house, or via a lamppost as some have proposed, means they could be far more widely available than petrol stations.

Back in September, the Environmental Audit Committee warned that unless charging facilities are improved, the Government would fall far short of its aim to see 9% of cars and vans classified as ultra-low emissions vehicles by 2020.

It may now require action from the Government and local authorities to bring about the changes needed for electric cars to be considered a mainstream alternative to their fossil-fuelled cousins.

Ashley Coates is a member of Bright Blue and freelance journalist. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.

Message to energy ministers - let industry lead the way on energy efficiency

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Greg Clark, Nick Hurd or Baroness Neville-Rolfe. It’s not an easy brief, in fact it’s tough, really tough. An area filled with failed policy, over-reliance on subsidy, barriers and a broad number of policy interventions which are being flung at ministers each and every week. And we still have increasing numbers of people in the UK slipping from low incomes into fuel poverty with the coldest, “leakiest” homes in western Europe.  

The signal from Treasury officials is that there’s no money in the pot, it is the end of subsidy as we know it. Best not forget to mention the fragmented voices, myriads of stakeholders all eager to push their solution as the solution to climate change, energy reduction, energy security, decarbonisation and de-risking the energy supply in this uncertain world.

Confidence in the sector is low – internally and externally. You can experience the lethargy every day from all stakeholders whether they be industry or government. This is a 'just about managing' (JAM) industry, an industry which desperately needs to be able to restore its strength, confidence and stability and to be matched by a bold and brave government and policy framework.

To ministers it cannot be clearer that this area needs government support and even intervention, a big no-no with this new Government. This industry has been decimated by bad or failed policy – policy that was not well thought-through or was just too short-term. The Green Deal burnt many fingers. We urgently need Greg Clark, Nick Hurd and Baroness Neville-Rolfe to reframe, reset and reassure this market to bring certainty in what is an uncertain time.

What would I want to see were I Energy Minister? There are a raft of solutions out there. As a minister I would feel bombarded by them, almost drowning in the sea of ideas. “But how does a solution fit together and deliver?”, I might say, wishing to see industry bringing an achievable long-term vision package to my ministerial desk that clearly outlined and addressed fuel poverty, decarbonisation, energy security, demand reduction and the health and wellbeing of consumers – and more widely addressing how we improve our housing stock, housing stock that is the coldest in western Europe. An energy minister needs to have the right information, the framework to convince Treasury.  As Baroness Neville-Rolfe knows from her background in retail, industry itself is best placed to do this.

Furthermore, for too long we, as the industry, have been in denial on the reality of politics. For many years we had an easier ride with other political parties in government. This Government has policy objectives that are tightly honed on value for money and leveraging private finance and it has repeatedly communicated its desire to reduce subsidy particularly in the longer term. Conservatives have a ‘less is more’ approach to regulation with a ‘one in and three out’ policy but are also in dire need of some positive policy and an economic hit as they negotiate Brexit.

For industry, this context needs to be central to any thinking. Let’s put ourselves in the Government’s shoes. Let’s ensure we understand the political agenda and the political language: i.e. what the Government needs to do, what it wants to do and the restrictions they face in addressing the enormity of this brief.

Industry is now coming together with the forming of the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG) and putting together the pieces of the jigsaw for government – a successful, high value for money infrastructure programme for energy efficiency.  The reframing of this issue as an energy efficiency infrastructure programme would enable government to move away from short-term interventions, to set out an ultimate vision to get all homes up to a high standard of energy efficiency and to have an infrastructure delivery model for getting us there.

The concept is simple to understand - energy efficiency is infrastructure and it delivers economic returns comparable to other major infrastructure programmes. This approach will deliver for government, consumers and industry. With economic and social benefits which will boost the economy and bring jobs and savings for consumers, we can strengthen the UK’s energy security and stamp out fuel poverty, and finally realise decarbonisation to help the UK meet its challenging climate targets.

With cross-party support, Scotland is leading the way and has already committed to making energy efficiency an infrastructure priority supported by capital funding. My message to the minister is to take up this opportunity and do better, be bold, go further. Let’s not look at this as a social subsidy but instead as a savvy public capital investment and great value for money. Let’s, at the very least, get UK homes to Band C by 2030 to meet carbon budgets.

The EEIG will start 2017 by reframing the issue: we have commissioned a shared “20-year vision for a building energy efficiency infrastructure programme” with Frontier Economics to support energy ministers to create a long-term energy efficiency infrastructure programme for Britain.  The vision will be shared across Government, with Parliamentarians and central and local government policymakers.

As an energy minister I would want to make each and every UK citizen the king (or queen) of his own, “warm” and “efficient” castle again. We must not forget the consumer is king. Let us also help the ministers deliver. As the International Energy Agency’s most recent energy efficiency market report stressed: “The greatest efficiency gains have been led by policy, and the greatest untapped potentials lie where policy is absent or inadequate.” It continues:Harnessing the potential of energy efficiency is key to transitioning to a sustainable and secure energy system that generates prosperity for our world.” Let’s get harnessing and working with ministers to deliver the future of energy efficiency.

Sarah Kostense-Winterton is executive director of MIMA and provides the secretariat to the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group

The views in this article are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Bright Blue

Efficiency First: a new paradigm for a sustainable energy system

The UK’s energy policy is at crossroads. Ambitious carbon targets, an aging energy infrastructure, rising fuel poverty and a legacy of fossil fuel investment warrant bold political decisions to ensure the UK transitions to a sustainable low-carbon energy system. Because of the long-term nature of investment in energy infrastructure, decisions made over the next five to ten years will shape the trajectory along which the energy system will evolve. Getting those choices right is key for ensuring a sustainable, affordable and secure energy future - the principle of Efficiency First delivers on all three.

Efficiency First is a principle applied to policy-making, planning and investment in the energy sector. Put simply, it prioritises investments in customer-side efficiency resources (including end-use energy efficiency and demand response) whenever they would cost less, or deliver more value, than investing in energy infrastructure, fuels, and supply alone.

At a first look, this is purely a common-sense policy – surely public policy should promote end-use efficiency whenever saving energy or shifting its use in time costs less or delivers greater value than conventional supply-side options. Doesn’t this happen automatically? Unfortunately, no. On the demand side, investments in efficient solutions are impeded by numerous market barriers to individual action; and on the supply side, industry traditions, business models and regulatory practices have always favoured, and continue to favour, fossil fuel based energy infrastructure and sales over lower sales and energy saving technologies. As a result, not a single pound of the £256 billion investment pipeline for energy infrastructure is allocated to energy efficiency.

Efficiency First can radically change our thinking about supply and demand-side infrastructure. It means developing the discipline to systematically test policy proposals and investment decisions asking the question whether or not the same outcome could be achieved more cheaply through demand-side measures generating more societal value. It does not simply mean to spend more money on or to always prioritise energy efficiency. But it requires considering efficiency explicitly before investments are locked into new costly supply-side infrastructure.

Here is a concrete example of what this means: In the early 1990s, MANWEB, the electricity supplier and distributor for the North Wales (now part of Scottish Power), was facing the prospect of having to build a new substation for the town of Holyhead at a cost of £850,000. Electricity demand in Holyhead was increasing by 2% per year. After a Member of MANWEB’s board suggested that investment could be deferred through demand reduction, MANWEB launched the Holyhead Powersave Project with the aim of reducing peak demand on the island. The Holyhead Powersave Project cost £500,000. This resulted in avoided investment cost of £350,000, as with the implementation of the programme, there was no need to build the substation due to the reduction in peak demand by 10%.

This example illustrates why Efficiency First is so important. Meeting the demand for energy services more efficiently and more flexibly on the demand side will avoid more costly investments in energy infrastructure and fuel, and is essential to the cost-effective and timely decarbonisation of the economy. Moreover, investment in demand-side alternatives will benefit not only the energy system, but can carry many additional benefits, such as improved air quality, improved health, and increased energy security. It is easy to see the reasons to avoid the wasteful consumption of fossil fuels, with their unwelcome emissions and energy security costs – but it is also important to maximize the efficient use of renewable, non-emitting resources as we seek to rapidly and cost-effectively decarbonise the UK economy. Wasting high-value renewable resources on inefficient end-use consumption is both economically costly and a drag on the pace of decarbonisation. Customer-based efficiency and demand response resources are an essential foundation to achieving all of the other key objectives of the UK’s energy policy – the oft-cited “trilemma” of security, sustainability and affordability.

The principle of Efficiency First has gained traction at EU level since the launch of the Energy Union Communication in February 2015 and also in some European countries such as Germany where it has become an energy policy principle and is now the underlying principle of Germany’s Green Book on Energy Efficiency. The UK should follow and adopt the Efficiency First principle - this is consistent with reaching the 2050 climate goals most economically. Adopting a “hard look” policy to examine and invest in Efficiency First is the first and most important step the Government can take to unlock the huge reservoir of low-cost, low-carbon savings that now sits untapped in every part of the United Kingdom.

Jan Rosenow is a senior associate for the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP)

The views expressed in this essay are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue