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Expert says scrapping zero-carbon homes scheme will be a mistake

Fuel poverty is a major problem in the UK. While rising energy prices certainly contribute to the problem, the poor energy performance of the country's existing housing stock is a much bigger issue.

Despite colder temperatures in Scandanavia and some parts of Europe, those countries have significantly fewer households living in cold homes - and that's because the houses are much more energy efficient.

Living with fuel poverty can cause a variety of problems for the residents of a cold home - from exacerbating or causing health problems to damaging sleep quality and even forcing some families to go hungry so they can pay their energy bills. Thousands of excess deaths are attributed to fuel poverty every year and the cost to the NHS adds up to billions.

Reducing the amount of fuel poverty means two things: improving the energy efficiency of existing homes and ensuring that new homes are built to the highest energy efficiency standards.

Unfortunately, neither of those things is currently happening enough - and some experts warn that we may actually be going backwards compared to where we could have been.

For example, just a few months ago, the UK government scrapped plans that required all new-build homes to be zero-carbon. Angus Mac Neil, chair of the energy and climate change committee, compares this decision to "mortgaging the future". He warns that the UK government's failure to build energy efficient homes means that future generations will be dealing with our costly mistakes.

A question of infrastructure

Writing for the Guardian, Mr MacNeil notes that across the UK, we rely on Victorian engineering and infrastructure. Things like the Forth Bridge, most of the sewer system and the London Underground date back to the 19th century. Many of the country's homes also fall into this category.

"Our older homes are among the most energy wasting in the world. And as anyone who has lived in a draughty, single-glazed Victorian terrace knows, they can be expensive to keep warm in winter," he explains.

However, while huge amounts of money have been spent upgrading and maintaining many Victorian relics, not enough has been done to make similar improvements to the existing housing stock - at least, not in terms of efficiency. And not enough has been done to bring building standards up to modern efficiency standards either.

"It seems incredible now that houses could be built without running water or proper drainage, but parliament had to introduce public health regulations to to insist new dwellings had all this," Mr MacNeil explains.

A number of organisations, ranging from charities through to housing associations and house builders have called for the government to make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority. Installing thermal wall insulation and taking other steps to upgrade homes could make a huge difference to the lives of individuals, as well as the wider economy. The Zero Carbon Homes policy would have required new housing developments to generate as much clean energy as they used - but that was cancelled before it even began.

"With the ink barely drying on the Paris climate change agreement, the government should be trying to write low-carbon ambitions into all of our energy and planning policies. But ministers seem content to mortgage the future so that houses can be built quickly," Mr MacNeil says.

He concedes that the move might make homes cheaper to build now - but warns that it will cost future generations dearly, locking the country into unnecessary climate-changing emissions and leading to higher than necessary energy bills for decades to come.

"We need to be building houses that are fit for the future. We have the technology and building techniques to construct houses that generate their own power and hardly need heating. We owe it to future generations to use them," he says.‚Äč


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