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Greener homes a feature of Liberal Democrat manifesto

Greener homes with more insulation have been pledged by the Liberal Democrats in the party's manifesto.

The document, which places much stress on the party's environmental commitments in energy, transport, housing and the economy, has pledged to raise the level of housebuilding to an "ambitious target" of 300,000 a year, with the new homes needing to be "sustainably planned" to avoid placing too much pressure on existing infrastructure.

Using a government commissioning programme, the party said it would "ensure that half a million affordable, energy-efficient homes are built by the end of the Parliament".

The party also proposed to build "at least" ten new garden cities in England, which it said would provide "tens of thousands of high-quality new zero carbon homes, with gardens and shared green space, jobs, schools and public transport". The revival of the garden city idea - which had been pioneered in the 19th century - was something championed by the coalition between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives between 2010 and 2005, leading to the earmarking of Ebbsfleet in Kent and Bicester in Oxfordshire for such projects.

While the original ideas of Ebenezer Howard manifested in the development of the first garden city - Letchworth in Hertfordshire - were a response to the desire to find alternatives to the crowded squalor of cities like London, the modern plan idea is for such developments to act as exemplars of modern, eco-friendly design.  

Making homes greener is also a central part of the party's approach on the environment, with the manifesto stating: "Liberal Democrats will reduce energy bills permanently by improving home insulation and encouraging small-scale, community and local authority renewable schemes." It proposes to ensure every home in England achieves an energy performance rating of C or higher by 2035. In addition, four million homes will be made highly energy efficient, reaching an energy performance rating of B by 2022. Fuel-poor households will get priority in this area.  

When the party was in power as part of the coalition, it introduced the zero carbon standard. It noted this has been abandoned by the Conservatives, but it has pledged to bring this back and extend it to non-residential homes by 2022.  

Of course, cynics will argue none of this programme will be implemented, as the Liberal Democrats will not win the election and are very unlikely to hold the balance of power the way they did in 2010, given the very high probability of a clear Conservative victory. However, ideas suggested by the Liberal Democrats and their Liberal predecessors have often ended up being adopted by other parties, with examples ranging from Keynesian economics to devolution.

The sheer number of homes pledged is certainly a challenge. The Conservatives promised to build a million by 2020 in their last election manifesto, and the recent white paper vowed to raise the tally from 200,000 a year to 250,000. Labour, meanwhile, are also pledging a million properties over five years, with at least half of these being built by councils and housing associations.

A policy not offered by the Liberal Democrats is the capping of energy bills, with the party arguing that keeping costs down should be the result of energy efficiency. This contrasts with pledges to enforce statutory limits of one kind or another by both Labour and the Tories. Some would argue that this emphasis may be the better one, as it has more of an environmental focus in ensuring people need to use less energy to keep their homes warm in winter, rather than allowing people to burn as much energy for less.