Labour councillors call for government to fund large-scale retrofitting of homes

Councillors debated energy efficiency at this week’s full council meeting, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Insulation being fitted
Insulation being fitted (credit Erik McLean via Unsplash)

Barnet Council will urge the government to commit to upgrading 19 million homes by 2030 to boost energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty.

Councillors agreed to call on minsters to spend £11.7billion during the next three years to begin a “great homes upgrade” programme and set up a “retrofitting taskforce” to help achieve net zero carbon emissions.

The measures were set out in a motion presented by Labour’s Ross Houston to a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (24th). It stated that there are more than 15,000 households living in fuel poverty in Barnet and estimated to be “at least 61,399 homes below EPC [energy performance certificate] C that require retrofitting”, which could “create thousands of good-quality jobs”.

Introducing the motion, Cllr Houston said: “Housing is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions in the country […] Upgrading our homes will be a major step towards dealing with two of the major challenges that we face – climate change and fuel poverty.”

As well as creating new jobs, Cllr Houston said the upgrade scheme would improve health by reducing damp and mould, and slash the cost of family heating and utility bills. He added: “We need to see this as a national investment in our future.”

Conservative councillor Richard Cornelius proposed an amendment to the motion to push back the upgrade target to 2050. Rather than commit to a specific funding figure, his amended motion called for “as much as is affordable over the next three years to begin the great homes upgrade”.

Cllr Cornelius said his main concern was “doing things too quickly”, adding: “We’ve all seen the disasters of cavity wall insulation that have messed up homes, we’ve all seen the cladding disasters of recent years, and 2030 is just too quick to do this.” He also said he would prefer the upgrades to be down to individual choice rather than state intervention.

His Conservative colleague Nick Mearing-Smith claimed the activities of other countries such as China building coal-fired power stations would “absolutely dwarf anything that we might be able to do in this country”. Cllr Mearing-Smith said that when he looked into cladding a house he bought he discovered it would take 15 years to recoup the costs, which he said ordinary people would be unable to afford.

Labour’s Ella Rose urged action from the government, telling the meeting that “it cannot be up to individuals, already stretched, to put their hands in their own pockets yet again – many simply cannot afford to do so”. Pointing out that the council leader had declared a climate emergency and pledged to cut emissions, she added: “This motion is good for our residents, it’s good for our borough, and it’s good for the planet.”

Following the debate, Cllr Cornelius’ amended motion was voted down by Labour councillors. Labour’s Anne Clarke amended the motion to recognise the action being taken by the council to improve the energy efficiency of its own housing stock. The amended motion was supported by Labour councillors, with the Tories voting against.

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