The Chancellor raised hopes during the speech of green reform for the residential sector when he announced new incentive schemes in England totaling almost £750 million, including tax relief for green investments.
Sunak also launched business rate exemptions and relief for businesses decarbonising commercial buildings.
But he quashed eco-optimism when he drew to a close without making any additional policy announcements to slash carbon emissions from existing homes or in the housebuilding process.
“It was disappointing to hear so many tax cuts encouraging consumption of fossil fuels in air and car travel. By contrast there was not a single mention of the drive to net zero, investing in the technology, high quality skilled jobs and industrial capacity to insulate Britain’s leaky housing and new build homes,” says Ben Derbyshire of HTA Design.
“We do have a promise of affordable new homes on brownfield land but we might have hoped for a great project for the public good, training a workforce for factory-built, low-carbon homes for the heroes of the pandemic in a way that contributes at the same time to industrial productivity, environmental sustainability and housing affordability,” he adds.
The speech seemed all the more disappointing following the hot air emitted on air source heat pumps the week before. In the build-up to the Budget and COP26, which starts on Sunday, the Government announced it will be giving grants of £5,000 to help people install air source heat pumps, with the total money allocated enough to cover 90,000 homes.
This falls wildly short being just five per cent of the Government’s self-set target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.
“Many homes in Britain are not properly insulated and therefore an air source heat pump won’t work,” explained Savills’ research director Lawrence Bowles. “What was needed was tax relief for people to insulate their properties so they can then take advantage of the incentive to switch their gas boiler for an air source heat pump,” he explains.
The extension of Green Homes Grants were a missing policy too. In September 2020 the Tories announced the scheme which promised to offer homeowners discounts on expensive energy efficient home upgrades such as double glazed windows. However, it is due to end next spring.
In conjunction with the air source heat pump incentive, it may have gone some way to addressing Bowles’ concerns.
“It was a shame to see that the Budget did not reference the Green Homes Grant scheme of 2020 which was widely rumoured to be returning some months ago. With the focus now being on home more so than ever, thanks to months spent in lockdown and the subsequent appetite for home improvements, there has never been a greater opportunity for the Government to tie homes and environmental causes together for the long-term,” says Patrick Littlemore, chief executive of Marsh & Parsons.
Tackling the existence of gas boilers is just one narrow solution to the significant carbon problems posed by property. Once again the Government failed to mention or legislate for the crucial reduction of embodied carbon – the energy used and carbon emitted during the building of a home.
Construction is the most carbon intensive sector of our economy accounting for 40 per cent of global carbon emissions. In fact, global building space is expected to double before 2050 making it an impossible task for the world to become carbon zero in the time frame set by the United Nations.
There are sustainable materials that can be used for mass building, such as timber and clean steel, says James Drinkwater, the head of Built Environment at the Laudes Foundation. He is leading a new campaign called Built by Nature which is calling for the use of sustainable timber “that can help to decarbonise our built environment turning cities from carbon sources to carbon sinks.”
Sustainably forested timber (sourced at the right time of year and in the right places and using materials from the forest floor) is suitable for building houses or apartment blocks that range from two to eight floors and is in line with fire regulations, Drinkwater explains to H&P.
“The timber structures do not have to be clad in brick and cement, they are beautiful left exposed,” he explains. “As a country the UK is behind the likes of Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and France in sustainable construction. Now is the time to scale up.”
Built by Nature is launching a new accelerator fund this week providing grants to businesses that scale up timber building and show green innovation using timber from sustainably sourced forests.