Hidden away within the recent Queens speech was a series of commitments to dismantle many of the Green energy policies brought in under both the last government and indeed the previous Major government. Obviously fearful that labour might win the next election, the Tories are taking a leaf out of G.W. Bushs play book and trying to hammer through as much legislation as possible favourable to their pay masters.
The Tories, aided by their lib dem lackies, firstly plan to make it easier for shale gas drillers to frack under peoples homes (wonder what that will do to house prices?). And this comes on the back of news that the US shale gas boom is running out of steam (not that this should come as a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention to the facts rather than the propaganda) and that even the US is now talking about the need to kerb emissions. Its as if the Tories were living in a cocoon through the winter storms (presumably in a coffin holding a handful of grave soil ;D).
And should protesters against fracking try to stop this drilling, the Tories are also seeking to tighten up trespass laws with another bill theyve slipped into the queens speech.
Perhaps more serious is the threat to fiddle with building standards. The Tories are now proposing to relax current standards for new buildings intended to ensure that new build structures are more energy efficient.
This is a hugely significant move. As Ive pointed out before, as much as 30-40% of the UKs final energy consumption involves providing heat to buildings. By contrast electricity is just 20% of the UKs final energy consumption (and quite a bit of that goes towards heating!). So any measure that can reduce the energy consumption of buildings would go along way to both reducing the UKs carbon emissions and reducing the peak demand for energy in winter (thus improving energy security).
And it would also mean saving money for not just householders, but also the government (by reducing the scale of the winter heating allowance…of course the Tories want to get rid of that too!). Not to mention less cases of pensioners freezing to death in winter in leaky cold houses. Such measures are also intended to counter the mistakes of the past. The fact is that the UK has in past housing booms thrown up lots of cheaply built but expensive to maintain houses which were poorly insulated, leaky, damp and without putting much thought into support infrastructure (e.g. drainage to avoid flooding, public transport to reduce the dependency for cars, etc.).
Obviously one doesnt want to repeat the mistakes of the past, so given these facts, the previous Labour government introduced strict limits and tough new building codes. These went so far as to suggest that all new homes should be zero carbon by 2016. These rules were no bolt from the blue, but built on measures previously introduced by the Major government and indeed measures the current coalition originally supported.
The justification for the changes the Tories now propose (in what is another U-turn on the environment…anyone still remember that greenest government ever pledge!), is that these tough building standards are curbing house building (by making the costs of building homes more expensive). So given that the Troy plan for the next election is to trigger a housing bubble (and thus an artificial spur of growth), these building standards are proving more than a little inconvenient.
However its worth reflecting on the consequences of such a policy. It was all well and good throwing up cheap leaky homes in the 70s, 80’s and 90’s when the world was awash with cheap fossil fuels, but that is not the case anymore. Anyone buying these homes will essentially be locking themselves into a future of many decades of ever higher gas bills (while the zero carbon homes come with much lower running costs).
And of course, where is all the gas to run these homes going to come from? As Ive previously discussed it is highly implausible to suggest the UK can rely on Shale gas and with events in Ukraine the security of supply of the UKs gas supplies is under greater threat than it ever has been before. Obviously in such circumstances creating a whole new generation of natural gas users is hardly a sensible strategy, no more than previous Tory policy to get rid of energy efficiency grants intended to allow existing households to refurbish homes (make them more air tight, better insulation, etc.)
As a token gesture, the Tories do include a measure to introduce a 5p charge on plastic bags. A good idea, as Ive discussed before, but clearly a classic example of bait and switch, as can be observed from the fact that the Daily Mail, which is usually allergic to anything environmental, actually praised this measure.
In short the Tory plan is to gut the environmental budget, repeat all of the mistakes of the past, leading to a Britain in future with yet more leaky, badly built, flood prone homes. The unfortunate owners of these new homes will find themselves trapped with the millstone of negative equity around their neck in a home they cannot sell and cannot afford to heat (once the shale gas fantasy runs its course).