Environment

Net zero: Thousands of northern households could be left out in the cold

Thousands in the north and midlands could be left in draughty homes with higher energy bills thanks to the high costs of insulation.

Homes in the north and midlands are costlier to upgrade. (Photo: © Terry Robinson (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The promise of “levelling up” the country has been Boris Johnson’s mantra since his 2019 election, but this appears to have been forgotten in the government’s recently unveiled environmental plans.

Thousands of homes in the north of England will be left out in the cold from government subsidies as it is considered too costly to retrofit them with new insulation, according to a new report.

Jonathan Werran, chief executive of think tank Localis, who commissioned the research, warned that the government’s “one size fits all” approach to funding retrofitting “threatens to deepen regional inequality” and fuel poverty by leaving thousands of homes without insulation in “red wall” areas.

Published on Tuesday, the government’s “heat and buildings strategy” has proposed a target of improving all housing stock to an energy efficiency rating of band C by 2035 “where practical, cost-effective and affordable”. 

Homes at this level of efficiency will also be eligible for greener home heating systems like heat pumps.

Home heating is responsible for around a fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions, meaning more double glazing and insulation will be essential for meeting net zero emissions by 2050. 

Better insulation and environmentally-friendly heating systems will pass on savings to occupiers, who will spend less on energy bills.

Yet the cost of retrofitting homes to the government’s proposed standards will not be spread evenly across the country, says Localis.

The report estimates that the cost in some areas of the north and midlands, where property prices are lower, will represent up to 25 per cent of a home’s value. 

In affluent parts of London and the south east, meanwhile, retrofitting will represent 2 per cent or less of the property’s value. 

This high cost risks “alienating landlords and homeowners” who may avoid making the necessary improvements for the UK to hit its net zero target by 2050, said the report.

As a result, thousands of private tenants may be left in draughty homes using fossil fuel boilers, making their energy costs higher for longer. 

The report points out that households in “red wall” areas will be particularly hard hit, undermining the government’s levelling up agenda. 

The government has failed to account for these issues with insulation in their announcement of a heat pump grant, the Environmental Audit Committee said. 

“As yet, there is little acknowledgment that effective use of heat pumps requires buildings to be properly insulated. 

“Our Committee’s evidence highlighted that insulation costs can double the current cost of a heat pump for many of the 19 million homes that are older and have an EPC rating of less than C,” it said. 

A spokesperson for Propertymark, a professional body for the property centre, said: 

“When we look at property value against the estimated cost of retrofit improvements for energy efficiency, we see a stark geographical divide making the feasibility of carrying out works required unequal across the country. 

“This means that those living in lower value areas will be penalised when they are unable to afford the measures needed to bring their homes in line with UK Government targets.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities has been contacted for comment.

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