Debates between Baroness Blackstone and Baroness Hayman during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 4th Sep 2023

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Debate between Baroness Blackstone and Baroness Hayman
Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, I think I can beat the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, on his 50 years’ involvement with housing, because when I left university aged 20—which was more than 50 years ago—my first job was with Shelter, a newly formed organisation. I have not been involved in housing a great deal since, but that experience left me with an abiding conviction of the harm that is done to children and families, and to the prospects for individuals, by living in homes that are not fit for human habitation, that are not to the standards that we need, that are not secure and that deprive them of opportunities. So I very much welcome the amendments in this group that we have heard proposed very eloquently.

My two amendments are not about those high-level aspirations; they go back to the theme of delivery and how we actually make this happen. One deals with the supply side and the other with the demand side.

My Amendment 282H deals with rooftop solar power and the problem of getting affordable and clean energy to people. I am extremely grateful for the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Blackstone, and of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who had brought forward his own amendment on this subject in Committee.

This amendment requires the Secretary of State to make building regulations to ensure that, in England, new homes and public and commercial buildings, as well as existing public and commercial buildings, are fitted with solar panels. It recognises that of course flexibility is needed: there will be circumstances in which design optimisation and practical constraints mean that it would not be possible or useful to put solar panels on every building. However, the default position should be installation, because that is how we give householders the opportunity to minimise the energy consumption of their homes and to live in warm homes at reduced cost.

The Government recognise this. They know that solar power is one of the cleanest, cheapest forms of energy, and they have therefore set a national target for 70 gigawatts from solar by 2035. This is not only to reduce emissions but to reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels; this is not simply a net-zero issue but an energy security issue. It will also reduce the cost of energy bills for consumers, which, in the current situation with spikes in energy prices, means energy bills for the Government or taxpayers as well, because we have to subsidise those bills. In spite of these ambitions, the CCC’s recent assessment was that the Government’s solar targets are “significantly off track”. This is the same issue we were talking about earlier—that of delivery, rather than aspiration.

A recent report by the CPRE found that installing solar panels on new buildings, warehouse rooftops and other land such as car parks could provide at least 40 to 50 gigawatts of low-carbon electricity, contributing more than half of the national solar targets. Proposals in this amendment have widespread support—for example, from the Skidmore review, the Environmental Audit Committee and industry stakeholders such as Solar Energy UK. The provision would place no burden on households; indeed, it does the opposite, because it reduces financial outgoings. We all know that the cost of retrofitting—which we are doing constantly because we did not have the right standards in the first place—is more expensive. I hope that the Minister will think carefully about his response to the amendment.

My other amendment, Amendment 282L, deals with energy efficiency. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, who is very sorry that he could not be here, and to the noble Lords, Lord Stunell and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for their support.

I am not going to weary the House by repeating at length the arguments on energy efficiency that I and many others have made on the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill, the Energy Bill and this Bill. We have spoken at length on why it is crucial, can achieve multiple policy aims and will provide opportunities to contribute to levelling up, such as cheaper heating, rapid emission cuts, addressing the health implications of poor quality and damp homes, job creation in sustainable areas, high-quality skills and creating homegrown industries that can be rolled out across the country, because housing and buildings are everywhere. I will not repeat and lay down a list of all the reports, parliamentary and external, that have endorsed the need for both a coherent strategy and urgent action on energy efficiency. Yet the CCC recently concluded that the Government continue

“to avoid big, impactful decisions and action”

in relation to emissions from buildings.

This amendment is practical and unprescriptive. It merely requires the Government to consider all the options available and to produce a comprehensive plan, so that industry and the public have certainty, clear direction and clear milestones. The sector is poised to take action to scale up what could be a hugely productive market, but time and again in this area we have seen schemes start with a blaze of glory and then splutter into nothing. They have reduced confidence—confidence in the sector and in home owners, householders and tenants to support this.

This is an important time for the House to make clear its view on energy efficiency. We passed an amendment on energy efficiency on the Energy Bill. Tomorrow, along the corridor, they will be discussing that amendment. It will come back to us on ping-pong. It is important that we continue to talk about this. It is also important because we have a new Secretary of State: she will have an enormous in-tray but also opportunities. There is an opportunity for what we have been talking about all evening—strategic and comprehensive leadership. This amendment gives her that opportunity, and I hope it will be supported.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 282H, from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, on rooftop solar. Before speaking to that, I briefly record my very strong support for both Amendments 191A and 198, which would impose a duty to make regulations to promote healthy homes and neighbourhoods, and to reduce health inequalities, which are at a horrifyingly high level. I say this with some experience of both education and children’s health. I believe that it is especially important that children and young people have access to good, open, public space which enables them to benefit from exercise outside, within easy reach of their homes. It should be somewhere they can go without having to be taken on a bus or in a car a long way from where they live.

I turn to the rooftop solar amendment, which in no way suggests that it is an alternative to other important renewables, in particular onshore wind—which, rumour has it, I am delighted to say, the Government are at last coming round to accept will be needed on a much greater scale than before. Solar roof panels are also not an alternative to heat pumps. They complement them, and in so doing make the cost of heat pumps more affordable and avoid driving up consumers’ costs unnecessarily. Solar Energy UK estimates that, in a typical heat pump heated home, installing solar panels leads to an annual saving of around £1,500 a year.