This week, local government secretary Eric Pickles’ department will table a last minute amendment to a Cabinet Office deregulation bill. Its text is set out below. The objective is clear. It is to stop any English local authority from ever again being able to set any energy standards for any building even marginally better better than the ones Pickles allows. Or rather, than the volume house-builders are prepared grudgingly to accept.
What is most disgraceful is that the original “localism” legislation, which allowed progressive authorities to promote greater energy efficiency, was put onto the statute book as the Planning and Energy Act in 2008 by the current energy minister Michael Fallon when a backbencher. He took up this private members’ bill very much at the instigation of the then Conservative party chairman, then loudly embracing the “go green, vote blue” banner. And who was then the Conservative party chairman? None other than Eric Pickles himself.
Since he became Community Secretary in 2010, Pickles has time and again proved himself to be hostile to energy saving. He has delayed the introduction of the new building regulations by 12 months, to April 2014 rather than 2013, and lowered their energy saving requirements way below the levels consulted upon.
The 2008 Act has succeeded in delivering higher standards of energy efficiency in new buildings, and so reducing future running costs for occupants. Particularly well-known examples are the Greater London Authority, set to deliver 40% higher than Pickles’ standards in 2016, and Cambridge City Council .
Pickles has long been a poodle of the big housing developers, whose commercial interests to spend as little as possible installing measures to cut fuel bills have promoted this personal U-turn. And because new property owners will as a consequence be paying higher than needed fuel bills, he has also shown that his concern is to maximise the profits of the big energy companies, rather than helping hard-pressed households enjoy lower fuel bills.
The original Act was also trumpeted by Pickles as representing a victory for localism, permitting councils to include higher than minimum standards in their local plans. Now however Pickles believes that the man in Whitehall – in other words, him – always knows best. And local authorities should just do what they are told.
This government amendment means that, yet again, Eric Pickles’ Communities Department , by promoting this mean-minded little clause, is determined upon undermining the Prime Minister’s declared objective to make the UK the most energy efficient country in Europe.
He is not content with having watered down the new national energy efficiency building regulations, which come into force next month – a year late, and with just a 6% rather than the anticipated 25% improvement on the old requirements.
He is now denying any opportunity for more progressive councils to continue setting higher standards than his minimum.