Opinion

Kevin McCloud: 'We've got the coldest homes in Europe – and cash-strapped families pay the price'

Kevin McLoud, presenter of Channel 4's Grand Designs and Miriam Turner, from Friends of the Earth, say the Tory government is abandoning those who will have to choose between heating and eating this winter

kevin McCloud

Kevin McCloud, of Channel 4's Grand Designs. Image: Supplied

With temperatures around the country plummeting below zero, people across the country have been struggling to keep warm in heat-leaking homes.  

The UK has got some of the worst-insulated homes in Europe. We used to be leaders on this stuff. Fifteen years ago, we were retrofitting nearly a million homes a year with insulation and had a target for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016.  

But these initiatives have all been abandoned. The UK is no longer in the race to a low-carbon economy – and it’s cash-strapped working families that will pay the price. Just as the weather turns cold, energy prices are up again and from this month people are facing another price hike with the typical annual energy bill up £95 to £1,928.  

It costs over £700 more a year to heat a poorly insulated home than a well-insulated one. Yet, the government is offering nothing to the millions of people living in draughty houses, facing sky-high bills.  

There have been roll-backs on the phase-out of fossil fuel boilers, and implementation of minimum energy efficiency standards in rental properties has been scrapped. This all points towards a fundamental failure of leadership. 

As it stands, the Tory government is not only failing to improve the energy efficiency of our homes, it’s abandoning those who will have to choose between heating and eating this winter. 

Our homes are in urgent need of a green revamp to help Britons become more resilient to cold snaps, and to stop us bleeding through cash just to keep warm. 

We have the solutions, it’s just about making them accessible and affordable to all.  

As seen in a recent episode of Grand Designs, the UK’s first ‘Passivhaus premium’ home is being built in the Cotswolds. Based on super energy efficient standards developed in Germany, it will generate at least four times the energy it uses – and be able to heat eight other homes. 

But it’s no good if only the one-off, luxury homes benefit from the innovation and technology used in green, energy-efficient designs. We need homes like this to become available to everyone. 



There are some isolated examples of progress. In Lancaster, 28 high-energy-efficient homes have been built to Passivhaus standards for a local housing association. They feature in Channel 4’s new series, the Big Climate Fight, and inspire hope for widespread “green” builds and retrofitting schemes in the UK. 

Local communities are also pushing for green homes in their areas. Friends of the Earth’s “United for Warm Homes” campaign has seen local groups lobby their MPs to support the roll-out of home insulation programmes and give help to those struggling to pay their energy bills.   

Much of Scandinavia, Germany and Belgium are already making Passivhaus regulations law. Scotland is doing the same and Wales may follow soon. England is visibly missing from this list.  

The energy efficiency and green credentials of our homes have a huge impact on our wallets and our planet, as well as the UK’s leadership on climate. It’s time for our leaders to listen and act. 

Kevin McCloud is a broadcaster, campaigner and presenter of Channel 4’s Grand Designs. Miriam Turner is co-executive director of Friends of the Earth.   

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