The Renewable Energy Centre

Apr 03 2013

Fuel Poverty set to increase in the UK

High Thermostat ControlAs this cold weather continues, we are all spending far too much money on keeping warm at home and many people are reaching the point of fuel poverty.

According to the Independent (29th March 2013), the UK is now bottom of the Fuel Poverty League for Western Europe with 19.2% of UK homes, or 5 million households spending over 10% of their income on heating. This figure is likely to continue to rise particularly as the Warm Front programme has been axed.

Fuel poverty is a contributory factor in poor health and premature death especially amongst the elderly. Age UK reported that “those living in poorly insulated, cold homes are three times more likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than those living in warmer ones”.

We would like to offer a couple of suggestions to the government to alleviate this appalling situation.

  • Domestic heating oil is now four times the price it was ten years ago and the treasury’s income from VAT has risen proportionately. Why not reduce the 5% VAT on domestic energy bills to 3% or zero, particularly where the household contains pensioners or pre-school children? It is these households that are most likely to be at home and which will suffer from poorly heated living accommodation.
  • Most low-income families live in rented housing. Unfortunately there is no incentive for landlords, particularly private landlords, to improve the insulation in their properties as they do not pay the energy bills. Why not require landlords to insulate all rented accommodation to the best standards possible, with some form of financial penalty on poorly insulated properties?

Without some changes to existing legislation fuel poverty is going to increase and without pressure on landlords to improve their properties, the ever vicious circle will continue. As a result we desperately need to update our Victorian housing stock to cope with the changing weather patterns of the future.

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Feb 26 2013

The two sides to our listed buildings planning system

Pushme-pulleyu - credit BBCWhen Hugh Lofting created the Pushmi-Pullyu in The Story of Dr. Dolittle, he accidentally hit upon the perfect model for certain aspects of our listed buildings planning system.

As anyone who has a listed property, or is in a conservation zone, AONB or National Park will testify, the listed buildings planning system and regulations can be puzzling and highly frustrating at times.

Even though we are being encouraged to insulate to save energy, some planning authorities still insist that single-glazed sash or leaded windows cannot be replaced by double glazing. This is despite the fact that modern double-glazed units can look the same, are aesthetically pleasing and many times more energy efficient. Gone are the days when double glazing had to be the ugly white PVC units of twenty years ago. With so many UK houses falling under the listed buildings planning system, these issues will continue to cause many homeowners and planning officers much time and trouble.

I have always thought that churches must be a perfect candidate for solar heating or photovoltaics. Because they are always built East-West every one has a south-facing roof, they are generally tall enough so that they are not shaded by trees or buildings, and they always seem to be freezing cold in winter. In addition many churches struggle to fund the maintenance of their buildings and so this would be an easy solution and a cost effective measure ongoing to keep the water hot or the lights on.

But the Pushmi-Pullyu’s of some planning authorities object on aesthetic grounds even when the panels cannot be seen from the ground!

So is there a way forward for these planning conundrums? Looking at the current state of play, it is unlikely, and so just like the Pushme Pulleyu’s – local planning departments may continue to have two heads trying to move in opposite directions!

Feb 01 2013

Flooding Insurance – Puppets and Puppet Masters

Jigsaw House 2012 was the second wettest year on record after 2000 according to the Met office, and they say that in the future rainfall will be much worse and more frequent.

Inconvenient and costly as a flooded home may be, if you cannot insure it, you cannot sell it. Buyers will not be able to purchase it because they will be unable to mortgage without insurance cover. Ironic really as many of the major insurance companies are owned by banking groups who are the major sources of mortgage finance.

The spectre of hundreds of thousands of unsaleable homes and angry homeowners frightens politicians because these homeowners are likely to become an army of disgruntled voters who will vote them out as soon as they can.

Insurers know this and after the 2000 floods elicited promises from the government to invest in a new programme of flood defences, by threatening to withdraw insurance from 10% of UK homes. In return they promised to continue to provide flood risk cover for all but the most extreme cases.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) was negotiating from a position of considerable strength. The scenario of 10% of UK properties having their property insurance withdrawn and thus impossible to sell, would have resulted in a housing market crash that would have had devastating consequences for the Government of the day. John Prescott was quoted as saying that the floods in 2000 were a wake up call but we doubt whether he could sleep at all with the spectre of an imminent property market collapse in the background.

In their review of 2005 the ABI called for more investment in flood defences whilst in the same document, admitting that flood and storm claims were at their lowest level for 20 years.

I predict that the government response to the 2012 deluge will be threefold:

  • Planning changes to further restrict flood plain development.
  • Announcement of more investment in flood defences. In character with most initiatives by the current coalition, it will probably be marketed as a Community Flood Defence Programme so the responsibilities and costs can be laden on hard-pressed local authorities and/or Council tax payers.
  • A parachute scheme to provide funding for insurers (as if they need it!). Probably in the form of a government grant once a threshold of flooded properties has been reached. My guess is that it will be called a Severe Flood Compensation Rebate or something similar. In effect a bribe to the insurers to keep doing what they do badly at present.

So, when your home insurance sky-rockets, your Council Tax increases and the housing market stagnates or collapses even further, you can be comforted by the idea that you are helping the profits of the banking groups and their executives’ bonuses once more. I will leave it to the reader to guess who is the puppet master and who is the puppet!

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