By Brian Pain
Having just returned from an extended visit to Australia and NZ, I have been struck by how grubby, litter-strewn and rundown England seems to be in comparison.
It was to be hoped that when the government unveiled its strategy in March for tackling climate change that there would be a series of new initiatives that enabled us to make significant progress to a net zero carbon economy. What a disappointment!
Perversely, the government will defend the fossil fuel industry from its competitors and, in all likelihood, set no meaningful new green targets. Instead, it will pump money into false solutions such as carbon capture and storage. The means to achieve this on any scale doesn’t exist and, at best, is not likely to materialise in the next decade or two. This fabled technology’s purpose is to justify fossil fuel extraction on the grounds that ‘one day’ carbon emissions could be buried. There is also mention of the intention to promote ‘sustainable aviation fuel’. There is no such thing.
It looks certain that Sunak will announce the licensing of a huge new oilfield, Rosebank, subsidised by the UK’s tax relief for new gas and oil developments. In stark contrast, no such generosity is extended to the development of new renewables. Our own Helen Whately voted with the government not to extend help to the renewable sector.
There is no coherent home insulation policy that would do much to improve what are the leakiest houses in western Europe. Instead, the government is supporting household energy bills, never mind that the heat they pay for pours straight through our walls and roofs.
Recent reports have suggested that within 20 years, England, especially London and the Southeast will not have enough water to meet demand.
The combined impact of climate change and population growth, means that the country is facing an existential threat. Hugely expensive infrastructure projects such as giant pipes transferring water from the north to the south, new reservoirs and desalination plants take decades to realise, therefore water consumption per capita needs to be significantly reduced. It has been suggested that it should be reduced from the average current 140 litres per day to nearer 100 litres.
What is extremely frustrating is that we can do so much immediately to both reduce carbon emissions and cut water consumption. An immediate switch to subsidy for renewables rather than oil and gas fields, reinstatement of grants and loans for home insulation and much more pressure on water companies to spend more of their huge profits on leakage reduction would all make a big difference.
The current developer-led provision of new houses, which as we have argued elsewhere in this and past issues, leads to the wrong type of houses being built in the wrong places solely in order to maximise the volume housebuilders profits.
Also, those being built today do not seriously address environmental issues. Higher levels of insulation, orientation of buildings, automatic installation of solar and hot water panels and heat pumps, rather than gas boilers could be included in beefed up building regulations. Further, it is crazy that we still flush around 35% of our high quality drinking water directly down our lavatories. Houses designed to accommodate grey water systems should become mandatory.
It is believed that because the government has allowed the construction industry to save money, most new homes will need to be expensively retrofitted to meet the government’s net zero obligations.
According to a recent report from the Committee of Climate Change, if houses were built right, properly insulated, with heat pumps instead of gas boilers the initial extra cost per home would amount to an average of £4,800, whereas retrofitting costs around £26,300. In the meantime, those that buy them must also spend more on energy.
A small glimmer of hope lies in the recent pronouncements from the levelling up, housing and communities secretary, Michael Gove. This year he has at last abandoned the absurdity that there is a national need of a fixed number of houses a year.
He is telling councils that coating fields throughout England with ugly and substandard housing estates profits no one but builders. He has indicated that he wants to re-empower people to decide whether and how their communities to grow, change and appear. Rejecting what they regard as ugly or not fulfilling local needs.
Unfortunately, this is possibly nothing more than desperate pre- election rhetoric from a doomed government trying to hold on to its increasingly vulnerable seats.
Finally, it is important to emphasise that even if a vast new estate to the east of Faversham, developed by the Duchy of Cornwall, as one of the four main areas chosen for new housing in the emerging Faversham Neighbourhood Plan leaves you less than euphoric, then refusal to endorse it later on this year in the referendum could lead to much worse. If the Town is compelled to accommodate more houses, then a sensitive, phased, high quality development reflecting at least to some degree Faversham actual needs, certainly has to be better than the alternative of speculator sprawl.