What do the manifestos have to say about building, energy and climate policy?
By guest blogger, Mike Hannis.
Welcome to this series of posts on the 2017 General Election manifestos, and thanks to Andy Simmonds for inviting me to write them. The aim is to separate out the parties’ concrete commitments from their plentiful rhetoric, focussing primarily on areas of interest to AECB members. In particular this will mean decoding what they have to say about building, energy and climate policy.
I won’t be speculating on the parties’ chances of success, offering any advice on how to vote, or digressing too far into other policy areas except where relevant to the core concerns mentioned above. I’ll try not to editorialise too much as this is not intended as a platform for my own views, many of which you can find online elsewhere. In my day job, I’m a Lecturer in Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University. I’m also an editor and feature writer at The Land magazine, and have in the past worked in planning consultancy and outdoor event management. I’m not professionally involved in construction, though I do live off-grid in a dwelling I built myself.
Greens: Setting the Agenda?
While the Green Party has in recent years gone to great lengths to convince voters that it has a full and coherent slate of serious policies on other topics, unlike other parties it continues to put environmental issues at the core. Policy in other areas is formulated to be consistent with environmental commitments, rather than the other way round. Also unlike other parties, the Greens maintain a very comprehensive set of detailed aspirational policies, made by members, setting out what a Green government would aim to do.
Their short and colourful 2017 general election manifesto is based on these standing policies. But recognising that the party is unlikely to be forming the next government, it focuses on identifying priority goals that Green MPs will push for in the next parliament. As might be expected given this background the manifesto itself, while sometimes seeming short on detail, still contains much that will be welcomed by those wanting to see strong commitments on building performance, energy and climate.
The Greens promise ‘a major programme to build affordable, zero carbon homes, including 100,000 social rented homes each year by 2022’, and aim to ‘ensure that all new homes are built to zero carbon standards by 2020’.
They don’t say exactly what interpretation of ‘zero carbon’ they favour, but elsewhere the party has endorsed Passivhaus standards, and indeed passed a conference motion in 2015 calling for Councils to ‘specify Passivhaus Standards on all buildings on Council-owned land, and as a condition of sale on any council land’.
They would also ‘embark upon a national programme of insulation and retrofitting to make every home warm, insulating nine million homes, and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs’. Drilling down beneath the manifesto into underlying policy, the party’s declared aim on retrofitting is to ‘improve the energy performance of up to 25 million dwellings, reducing their energy demand by an average of 40% by 2020, 60% by 2030 and 80% by 2050 on 2009 levels.’ (These targets were written before the 2015 election, so the dates should be adjusted accordingly.)
There is a commitment to ‘end mass council house sales and scrap Right to Buy at discounted prices’, and a promise of ‘action on empty homes to bring them back into use, and a trial of a Land Value Tax to encourage the use of vacant land and reduce speculation’.
Climate and Energy
On international climate negotiations, the Greens promise to ‘push for concerted global action to limit warming to 1.5 degrees’, ‘clearly outline how the UK would meet our domestic and international obligations’ and ‘make climate change a major foreign policy priority’.
Domestically, they aim to ‘breathe life back into the Climate Change Act by investing in an energy system fit for the 21st century’. This would mean directing ‘all new investment in energy towards clean, renewable energy, and a smarter, networked grid, with battery-storage, demand-side measures, and interconnection’.
This strong support for renewables includes ‘new support for onshore wind and solar-photovoltaics’ (though it is unclear exactly what form this might take), and ‘requiring grid operators to give priority access to community energy projects’.
The party promises not only a ban on fracking but also divestment of all public funds from the fossil fuel industry. No new nuclear power stations would be built – this would include cancelling Hinkley Point.
A ‘comprehensive plan to decarbonise heat’ is promised, including ‘pilot residential and commercial projects’. Underlying policy describes an aspiration for local councils to ‘incorporate heat planning as part of their energy planning powers, planning and commissioning new heat networks using low or zero carbon heat sources, funded through discounted loans from an energy efficiency fund’.
The Greens make a clear promise not just to ‘ensure that existing environmental laws are retained, or enhanced, no matter our future relationship with the European Union’ but also to ‘ensure that important principles – such as the Precautionary and Polluter-Pays principles – are transposed into UK statute books’.
More broadly they promise a new Environmental Protection Act and a ‘new environmental regulator and court to effectively monitor and enforce environmental law’, the introduction of ‘statutory requirements for updates to (and debates in) Parliament on the state of nature and biodiversity’ and ‘a right for every person in the UK to have access to a healthy and safe natural green space’.
A new Clean Air Act would ‘expand and strengthen a mandatory Clean Air Zone network, empowering local authorities to take control of air pollution in their communities’. They promise ‘tough action to reduce plastic and other waste, including the introduction of Deposit Return Schemes, with a zero waste target’.
Overall, it will be no surprise that Green policies in the areas examined here are stronger than those of any other party. It is perhaps unfair to compare the Green manifesto directly with those of larger parties, which are written with more of an eye to the compromises and complexities of government. But many Green environmental policies have in the past been quietly adopted by the major parties: for instance, the party has been calling for all new homes to be zero carbon since at least 2008.
Read blog number 1 here – Labour manifesto
Read blog number 2 here – Conservative manifesto
Read blog number 4 here – Liberal Democrats manifesto
The next manifesto analysis to be added shortly. Any comments? Let us know here – AECB members only – please log in to post.