This is the talk given by Julian Roskams to the Chance 4 Change event on 16th May
The issue of climate change must be tackled on a number of levels. As we heard from Will earlier, this has to be tackled by governments at the global level –the Paris conference at the end of the year is absolutely critical. But it is important that we as individuals and local communities should not lose sight of the contribution that we can make. As Sydney Smith, once said ‘It is the greatest of mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little – do what you can.”
Local government too has its part to play and I am here to discuss what our local councils can do – and indeed what they are doing.
Let me start by setting the context. The nature of local government is changing. Once it provided a whole host of services – including building and managing its own homes. It no longer does so. Increasingly, rather than provide services directly, local councils commission others to provide the service. And this creates a huge challenge for local government and for us as residents. Let us look at housing. When councils built their own housing, they could decide they would build them to a particular standard – and they would go ahead and do just that. Indeed, as councils knew they would be managing their housing for the next 50-70 years, it was in their interests to build them to the very highest standard. That is no longer the case. Councils do not build houses. Instead, we largely rely on developers to build our homes. And as private companies, their first duty is to their shareholders – and to make a profit. That is perfectly reasonable. But how can we, in local government, ensure that homes are built to the highest energy efficient standards, seen as a cost, when we are not doing the building. How can we affect the behaviour of those who build our homes, and indeed those who are buying our homes?
In March 2012 the district council approved an Energy Efficiency Plan which commits to an aspirational target of a 30% reduction in the council’s CO2 emissions by April 2017. The key drivers of this plan were to realise cost reductions in the context of rising and volatile energy prices and to demonstrate community leadership in energy efficiency and environmental sustainability by example, through addressing wastage and inefficiency within its own estate and operations. It had to be an aspirational target as the council does not build its own homes.
In keeping with this latter desire to influence community outcomes, the council also decided “to lend support in principle to the initiative being undertaken by Transition Malvern Hills to develop a Community Energy Programme for the district.” In response to this Transition drafted a report entitled “New Priorities for Energy Efficiency in the Malvern Hills District‟.
The report put forward a number of suggestions in relation to the potential roles of the council to achieve the outcome of “increasing the supply of renewable energy and reducing consumption of fossil fuels.‟ These draft suggestions were that the council could provide leadership and support to community energy efficiency through procurement of cheaper energy, partnership in a green energy supply company, pioneering energy efficiency through housing design, patronage of energy-saving audits and insulation programmes for older housing and promoting greener transportation.
In response, last year, the council set up a cross-party policy group on which I sat to take these recommendations forward, and in particular we were charged with looking at energy efficiency in our housing within the district. In view of the potential significance of the new housing development in prospect through the local plan, the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP), we decided to focus predominately on the opportunities to influence the design and construction of new housing. It was agreed that plans for housing growth contained in the SWDP to cover the period until 2030 presented a decisive opportunity to improve energy efficiency in the housing sector (and reduce the carbon footprint of the district). We believed that this could be done in a number of ways.
1. Promoting and supporting a hi-tech and innovative district – enhancing Malvern Hills hi-tech ‘brand’
The district has long had a strong reputation as a hi-tech hub and centre for innovation, and more recently particularly in the cyber defence sector. This brand could be further enhanced by the district becoming a leader in the promotion of environmental sustainability through energy-efficient building design and construction and renewable energy generation at a community scale. Further, the group concluded that developers should be required to meet higher environmental standards than outlined in the local plan by means of the adoption of a supplementary planning document. The district has a particular problem with high levels of fuel poverty. In 2012 23% of households were defined as being in fuel poverty, making this one of the most problematical districts in England in this respect. The council has put in place a number of initiatives to try and address the problem, for example, by initiatives to promote the Green Deal, by developing an agreement to secure the best price for Liquid Petroleum Gas customers and by providing support for heating oil buying groups.
However, the root cause of the problem has been identified as the high numbers of properties in the district which have un-insulated solid walls (particularly the older properties) and/or which have to rely on oil or LPG because they have no mains gas connection (particularly in the rural areas). This could also account for the high levels of CO2 emissions relative to other similar sized districts. The district ranks 31 out of 48 rural districts in its CO2 emissions.
The main rationale for an SPD on Energy in Buildings could particularly emphasise Malvern’s longstanding association with innovation and new technologies and the council’s commitment to promoting the town and district as a key player within the Central Technology Belt, and for which the development of more energy efficient/low carbon homes would be both logical and worthwhile. Equally important, would be the argument that the district needs to do more than the norm to catch up and offset its high CO2 emissions that result from the high proportion of older energy-inefficient homes.
2. Promoting greater awareness among developers (and the public) of available low energy usage/energy efficient technologies
The current practice is that our planners at council encourage consideration of a basket of sustainability measures through conditions on planning applications, including home energy efficiency, alternative heating where there is no mains gas (e.g. air source heat pumps at Great Witley), water butts for water conservation, and broadband to reduce commuting. Planners also signpost developers to green roofs, solar PV and similar technologies. However, our group considered that more could be done to promote greater awareness among developers and among the public (as prospective purchasers of new housing).
We visited the BRE innovation park in Watford, where developers are able to showcase the very latest in low carbon building – and this was an opportunity for to gain greater awareness and understanding of the opportunities available through design and construction. This included: Orientation and design principles, e.g. that can be used to maximise passive solar gain; Building layout and materials that can harness the positive effects of airflow; Renewable domestic energy generation including solar water heating, solar PV, wind power, ground source heat pumps, combined heat and power, biomass fuel; Biodiversity, landscaping and provision of community spaces; Sustainable drainage, rain water harvesting, grey water systems and green roofs
The group concluded that there is some scope to increase awareness of the scope of design principles and of the range of available technologies and materials amongst elected members, planning and other officers, developers and residents (as consumers of housing). This could be achieved through training sessions, seminars and the development of web-based resources to advise and “signpost‟ options to developers or residents.
3. Encouraging more demand for low energy usage/energy efficient housing among prospective purchasers
This could be achieved in a number of ways.
Link energy efficiency of new homes to cost benefits
The house-building industry should use the energy efficiency of new homes as an opportunity to emphasise the benefit of lower running costs. This should be the primary message, over and above climate change. Many house builders indicate that they promote some energy efficiency or provide sample utility bill information, but it is clear from research that occupiers would appreciate further quantification of running costs for homes and details of likely payback periods for different technological features. We also recommended that the Government should undertake a review of the EPC scheme, which is mandatory for the purchase or rental of a home, to ensure better information provision for consumers on actual home running costs.
Develop consumer-friendly terminology
Consumers generally are finding it difficult to understand the number of technical terms that are now associated with zero carbon homes. While “energy efficient‟ appears to be the most popular, other references and the names of technologies themselves compete to be accepted. So house builders need to adopt terminology that is user-friendly, engaging and easily understood, appealing to both buyers and renters. And agreed terminology should be developed that will allow the industry and consumers to benefit from a consistent approach.
Improve valuation of energy efficient new homes
The addition of designer kitchens and bathrooms can lead to higher property valuations, whereas fabric efficiency or renewable technologies fail to attract the same level of financial recognition. Valuers and mortgage lenders must recognise that new homes, built to higher levels of energy efficiency, save owners money in running costs and need to factor this into valuations and lending decisions.
Deliver better information for occupiers
There is a real need to provide improved information to occupiers at two key stages: prior to purchase to help in making informed purchase or rental choices, and on moving in, so that efficient use of technological features can be explained and understood.
Urgent further work needs to be carried out by house builders on developing a combination of user-friendly instructions and guides, training and intuitive control systems and the most effective use of each.
Provide clear information on current financial incentives to stimulate interest in renewable technologies
It is clear from research that many occupiers have little knowledge of existing financial incentives such as the Feed-in Tariff which aims to encourage the generation and use of renewable electricity. To further encourage occupier engagement with renewable technologies and potentially drive aspirations, simple and concise information about current financial incentives should be provided. Taxation breaks such as reduced stamp duty or council tax should also be explored in further detail.
Improve understanding of zero carbon homes
The zero carbon definition has been subject to much change and it has been hard for industry to fully understand the current proposals. The Government needs to confirm the remaining parts of the definition without delay to give the industry the confidence required to engage with and rise to the challenge it presents.
Influencing the local market
The group took the view that our council could usefully work with estate agents and other relevant bodies to promote awareness of the benefits of more sustainable design and construction, especially of the annual financial savings in running costs associated with different technologies, such as those showcased at the BRE Innovation Park.
4. Encouraging and promoting community renewable energy schemes locally and the potential for income generation
The group reviewed the renewable energy profile of the district and its position relative to similar rural local authorities. The district has a relatively low level of energy generated from renewable sources.
The group also considered a number of reports outlining the benefits of community-owned renewable energy projects and how local authorities might enable communities to take advantage of such schemes.
Community-owned renewable energy projects represent a creative opportunity to give communities ownership over their own energy supply. They can help communities to reduce their CO2 emissions, generate valuable additional income and act as a catalyst for other community based projects. Some of the key benefits include investment in the local economy, supporting resources for other local community projects, developing community leadership and forward thinking, the potential for local job creation, development of the sense of local community identity and pride as well as increased energy security.
Common renewable energy technologies used in community projects include solar PV, biomass and district heating systems, hydro schemes, wind turbines and anaerobic digesters.
The group reviewed the scoping study carried out in 2008 by Worcestershire County Council which identified potential sites for renewables, including wind, biomass and hydro. Further work would need to be carried out to determine the viability for all such projects within the District, but the indications are that there exists much potential to develop more community-based renewable energy projects.
The group concluded that the council might helpfully promote more actively the benefits of community owned renewable energy projects such as the Malvern Community Energy Co-operative (MCEC) which has recently launched a successful share offer and installed solar PV panels on the roof of the Malvern Cube, and signpost communities to funding opportunities, such as the Rural Community Energy Fund, and sources of support. Worcestershire County Council now has a Sustainable Communities Project Manager with a remit that includes supporting the development of community renewable energy projects.
The council should further research the costs and benefits of a Council Tax exemption scheme designed to promote more energy efficient housing in the district.
5. Other Actions to build Malvern Hills’ reputation as a leading centre for energy efficiency
Self build housing
The council should seek ways to promote, support and incentivise self build. One such example could be to examine the potential for the council using or procuring land to be reserved for self build.
Malvern Community Energy Co-operative (MCEC)
The council should support initiatives like MCEC through facilitating local partnerships and raising awareness. The council could also explore ways in which partnership with MEC can “de-risk‟ investment in renewables for the council.
Incentivising private developers to design and build houses for lower energy usage and to higher energy efficiency standards
The council should consider introducing and running a prestigious annual awards scheme for innovative low energy houses (akin to the awards schemes it currently runs for enterprising and innovative businesses).
The council should sign up to the Climate Local programme. Climate Local is a Local Government Association initiative to drive, inspire and support council action on climate change. Launched in June 2012, it aims to support councils both to reduce carbon emissions and to increase resilience to a changing climate. As of April 2014, 87 local authorities have signed up.
So, that is some of the work that the district council is doing – and it is important that you lobby your local councillors to ensure that they keep to the promises that they have made.
I am also a member of Malvern Town Council and our biggest initiative at present is the development of a neighbourhood plan. Neighbourhood planning enables communities to play a much stronger role in shaping the areas in which they live and work and in supporting new development proposals. This is because unlike the parish, village or town plans that communities may have prepared, a neighbourhood plan forms part of the development plan and sits alongside the Local Plan (the South Worcestershire Development Plan) prepared by the local planning authority. Decisions on planning applications will be made using both the Local Plan and the neighbourhood plan, and any other material considerations.
Neighbourhood planning provides the opportunity for communities to set out a positive vision for how they want their community to develop over the next ten, fifteen, twenty years in ways that meet identified local need and make sense for local people. They can put in place planning policies that will help deliver that vision or grant planning permission for the development they want to see.
So, while we cannot change the numbers of homes that are being built – or where they are being built – we will be able to influence the standards to which they are built, the energy efficiency of homes, the renewable energy targets for whole developments, the building layout and materials that are used, and much else besides.
Though the neighbourhood plan has been launched by the town council it is important to understand that this plan belongs to the whole community, and anyone who wants to have an input into the shape of the plan would be welcomed with open arms. So if you want to find out more about the plan please contact me.