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Report 24 May 2021

Our submission to the MHCLG inquiry into local government and net zero

Energy Saving Trust submitted a response to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) Committee inquiry into local government and the path to net zero in May 2021.

This inquiry examines the UK’s strategy for meeting the 2050 ‘net zero’ target at a local level. The focuses are:

  • If the government’s proposals for establishing planning guidelines and building regulations to reduce the UK’s household emissions.
  • If the current emphasis on heat pumps as a long-term solution to increase energy and ask if other options may prove more viable.
  • What other, non-domestic, measures local government can take to contribute to the UK’s emissions reduction targets.

Summary of our comments and recommendations

For new buildings:

  1. Ambition: the Future Homes and Buildings Standards are a good step forwards but do not go far enough given the scale of the change required. We are disappointed that government opted not to require low carbon heating from 2023. This would been a cost-effective route to scaling-up supply whilst delivering lower lifetime costs for occupants.
  2. Local control: since local authorities (LAs) and their residents will be liable for the costs of retrofitting new homes not built to net zero standards, it seems appropriate for local planning authorities (LPAs) to have a role in setting and enforcing standards. We urge that this power is not withdrawn. Higher standards in high-demand areas can bring down costs, enabling standards to be rolled out more widely. Government can encourage LPAs to act in a ‘same road, faster speed’ approach by setting out its long-term plans in advance’.
  3. Performance gap: We welcome the initial moves to tackle this, but more action is needed:
    i) The introduction of mandatory ‘as-built’ performance testing. This could build on London’s new ‘energy use disclosure’ and the government’s SMETER programme.
    ii) We support the findings of the Hackitt Review into building standards which recommended that LAs be funded to enforce standards properly.

For existing buildings:

  1. Departmental carbon budgets: Departmental carbon budgets would help to address the split responsibility between departments in areas such as heat decarbonisation and demand reduction.
  2. Clear roles and responsibilities: we recommend a clear role is set out for local government in delivering net zero. This should emphasise a collaborative relationship rather than one in which local government is viewed as a delivery arm of central government or a funding conduit. It should include a new duty to report on emissions, and to prioritise net zero in service delivery and procurement. As with any new duty, it should come with appropriate support and resources.
  3. Finance: for government to set out how the National Infrastructure Bank and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will support investment in this area and consider some regional devolution of funding in this area to allow existing budgets to be used more effectively.
  4. Capacity: For government to resource LAs to respond to the challenge. This should include building internal capability and resourcing new/ existing specialist support services (on finance – getting projects ‘investment ready’ and aggregating opportunities’ and on housing stock assessment).
  5. Local heat and energy strategy: For LAs (with appropriate funding and external specialist support) to work with partners to deliver local heat and energy strategies by 2023 (to a common methodology).
  6. Social housing: For social housing providers to deliver early action on heat and energy efficiency (promoted by the Decent Homes Standard and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund).
  7. Enforcement: Whilst regulation and enforcement will be required (and LAs should be equipped to respond), this should act as a signal to investors (including homeowners) rather than the primary driver.
  8. Consumers: It is important that the transition is seen as fair and that homeowners see a clear benefit to acting. For this there will need to be an attractive consumer offer including a ‘smorgasbord’ of finance to meet upfront costs, lower running costs (Treasury have a clear role here), impartial government-backed advice and strong consumer protection to de-risk action.

Last updated: 24 June 2021