The energy crisis raises some huge issues for the housebuilding sector. The global surge in gas prices as demand increases post-pandemic is causing major concerns for many gas-based industries that supply housebuilders. With gas-fired kilns producing a wide range of products from bricks to various other ceramics, the reality of companies being unable to supply the high demand is now being confronted by the industry.
Compounding an existing materials shortage for a range of Covid and Brexit-related reasons, prices are believed to have increased across the sector by 23% over the past year.
At the same time, like the wildfires that have been burning worldwide, the climate debate has reached an unprecedented level of ferocity in the UK. Insulate Britain is going to intensify its efforts to disrupt the UK’s roads all the way up to COP26 in November and beyond, but one strange offshoot is how it has brought the seemingly ‘unsexy’ topic of insulation to the top of national news. Whatever you think of the methods, it can’t be denied they are forcing the urgency to retrofit our homes to cut carbon pre-2050 to the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Insulate Britain claims that nearly 15% of the UK’s total carbon emissions come from heating homes, and are demanding that the Government produces (in four months) a nationwide, properly funded programme to upgrade “almost every house,” with the priority given to social housing, to tackle fuel poverty.
The Government has its work cut out to persuade anyone it is going to deliver a robust retrofit programme soon – with new build of course to be covered by the Future Homes Standard. However, the desperately urgent message has been obscured by the protestors’ methods, such as blocking motorways with their bodies. This leads to ridiculous situations such as slurs like ‘terrorists’ being used to describe them.
The protests not only show the strength of feeling out there, the huge disruption they cause also reminds us that we take car use for granted. This also occurs when supplies of fuel are disrupted by yet another challenge forming part of the persistent ‘perfect storm’ – driver shortages.
The much-trailed Heat and Buildings Strategy, trumpeted since June 2020, but now rumoured to emerge just before COP26, has to include clarity on the practical support Government will give to the costs of heat pump installation (if hydrogen is currently out of the picture), and other key initiatives such as electric vehicle rollout. But moreover, it needs to include a retrofit strategy that works for the industry and consumers, unlike the disastrous implementation of the Green Homes Grant and woeful Green Deal.
The Government also needs to do a lot more to engage with local councils on attacking the zero carbon challenge; the recent National Audit Office report cited a “lack of clarity on roles, piecemeal funding, and diffuse accountabilities” as severely hampering progress. In the light of this daunting, but inescapable set of challenges for our leaders, we have to hope that COP26 won’t see a series of ‘cop-outs’ by Government.
When it comes to what the industry needs to do, our new Building Insights podcast is giving the experts the chance to offer clues. The first episode, with the Passivhaus Trust, shows how it could be the panacea for net zero, and an upcoming one will look at what the Future Homes Standard will mean in practice for housebuilders.
Go to www.hbdonline.co.uk/podcasts to listen.