Labour’s slashing of proposed spending on home insulation will leave millions of people on low incomes in cold, damp homes and could prevent the UK meeting its legally binding carbon targets, campaigners and housebuilders have warned.
The Federation of Master Builders criticised the drastic scaling back of Labour’s low-carbon policies, announced by Keir Starmer on Thursday after months of speculation.
Brian Berry, chief executive of the body representing the building trade, said: “It is disappointing that the Labour party has decided to roll back its ambition to retrofit 19m homes to just 5m. Sadly, this is just one of many damaging and disjointed policy efforts over the last decade to deliver green upgrades, which every time ends up hitting the confidence of industry and consumers.”
The new plans were “simply not enough” and would “barely scratch the surface” of the need for insulation, he said, missing the opportunities home insulation offers for saving energy, benefiting householders and the wider economy. “Retrofitting the UK’s 28m homes, the oldest in Europe, would help stimulate economic growth in every community, but time after time the opportunity to do so is lost,” he said.
Many major housebuilders have been among the most generous donors to the Tory party in the past decade, but the industry was broadly supportive of Labour’s plans for 1.5m new homes.
Energy experts also said Labour’s decision to slash its home insulation programme could mean that, in government, it would be at risk of failing to meet the legally binding targets on carbon reduction and ending fuel poverty by 2030.
The 4m homes that will not now be insulated by 2030, under the plans, would account for about 1% of the UK’s emissions in that year, leaving a substantial gap, as the UK has pledged under the Paris agreement to cut emissions by 68% by 2030 and is not on track to meet that goal.
Juliet Phillips, UK energy lead at the environmental thinktank E3G, said: “Investing in warmer homes is essential to solving the fuel poverty crisis. However, under the current government, we’ve seen a massive collapse in the installer workforce needed to deliver these improvements.
“Alongside money, a Labour government would need a laser focus on rebuilding supply chains as a day one priority. Regulations will also be a key driver – with an urgent need to bring up standards in the private rented sector, which has some of the coldest, leakiest homes in Britain.”
There are also major gaps in Labour’s “green prosperity plan” that may stymie the UK’s chances of meeting milestone targets on the way to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, experts and campaigners warned.
Transport is not mentioned in the new plan, set out in detail for the first time this week, nor the UK’s dire water infrastructure, and nature is also missing. Emissions from transport are now the biggest source of carbon in the UK, and have stayed stubbornly high despite the take-up of electric vehicles, as SUVs have swelled in popularity.
Doug Parr, policy director of Greenpeace UK, warned of the gaps: “This country has been run into the ground over the last 13 years. Voters and businesses are crying out for bold, visionary leadership to fix the damage that this government has caused. The UK urgently needs a bold green industrial strategy that will create millions of jobs, increase energy independence, grow our flailing economy and help the cost of living and climate crises all at the same time.”
Spending on nature would also yield returns, in job creation and health, according to environmental experts, and Labour’s original plans for £28bn in spending would have included nature restoration. But nothing on the subject was included in the plan unveiled this week.
“The £28bn was a symbol of Labour’s resolve on climate and nature restoration, as well as a cash commitment in line with the scale of nature’s needs,” said Richard Benwell, chief executive of the Wildlife and Countryside Link charity. “Without it, Labour is left with no mission for nature restoration, and no public plan for meeting the legally binding target to halt nature’s decline by 2030.”
Labour’s plans for boosting low-carbon industry have also been scaled back, and this too will be problematic for some industries, according to analysis by the consultancy Laith for E3G. Steel is likely to gain about £2.5bn in government funding under the Labour plan, but steel accounts for only about 14% of the UK’s industrial emissions, and the analysis found that the proposed spending would be “not enough to meaningfully decarbonise all other sectors beyond steel”.
Labour is still committed to creating a national energy champion, Great British Energy, to decarbonise the power generation sector. Jonathan Maxwell, chief executive of Sustainable Development Capital and fund manager of the investment trust SEEIT, said much of the money necessary to achieve this could come from the private sector, which was eager to invest.
He advocates a focus on decentralised energy, which is generated and used locally, for instance through solar panels and heat networks. He said: “Combined with cutting demand by reducing waste at the point of use, this true green efficient infrastructure could probably be delivered for less than £50bn in total,” he said. “Government needs to pump prime markets, involving less capital and more development, planning, regulation and streamlined incentives.”
Bob Ward, head of policy at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, said: “At first glance the green prosperity plan will boost action to cut emissions, particularly compared to the current government’s half-hearted approach. However, it is not clear if the scaled-back ambition will still be sufficient to put the UK back on a path that will meet our statutory carbon budgets and net zero emissions by 2050.
“It is also very worrying that the green prosperity plan ignores other extremely important investment needs, such as adapting to climate change impacts, reversing biodiversity loss and stopping environmental degradation, including air and water pollution.”