Parliament returns this week after what has been a tumultuous summer. With both domestic and international issues dominating MP’s inboxes, it is unlikely that the coming months will be any quieter. Coming before The House, we will see bills relating to procurement, national insurance, elections and planning. The legislative timetable is chock-full and is also required to make way for the joy that is party conference season!
Perhaps most importantly to South Devon, the Planning Bill will offer an opportunity to overhaul a slow and outdated planning system that has long needed reform. I have spoken and written many words about what needs to be done to improve our housing system and how a new planning bill offers the opportunity to build better, improve local engagement and ensure that residents can get a foot on the housing ladder. So, rather than repeat my arguments, I want to broaden my focus as to how we can build greener.
For some, the green debate is relegated to factories, farms and oil producers changing their approach. They, undoubtedly, have a huge part to play, but so too does the housing sector. For the UK to meet its climate change goals, we must, at the very least, make small changes in a whole raft of different areas.
The Green Homes Grant scheme that was launched last year signalled the right intent. Unfortunately, the practicality of running the scheme hit a brick wall and it ultimately failed. That said, there are plans to reboot and relaunch the scheme to ensure that money (which has already been allocated) can make the impact that is so very needed in both new and old houses.
To date, much of the focus has been placed around new build properties, but any initiative that seeks to lower emissions will have to address older houses that need retrofitting. Whatever the scheme looks like, it must be broad and allow for flexibility. For instance, green technology is being produced in this country at an astounding rate. But Governments of all colours move too slowly to cultivate and include such innovative creations. So, any new ‘rebooted policy’ must be broad enough to allow new and emerging technologies to play a full role in helping homeowners, developers and builders to lower their emissions. After all, Governments are always disastrous at picking winners and losers, so let’s ensure that you, the consumer, can choose what’s best!
The same can be said regarding retail and commercial buildings. Their all too often unutilised roofs are wasted opportunities for new solar panels to be installed. South Devon can boast of more sun than most other parts of the country, so we should be using this to our advantage.
Finally, housing associations, of which South Devon has many, have a part to play in promoting new technologies and techniques. From insulation to prevent damp, to helping lower tenants' electricity costs, the opportunities are endless. But it requires a hand in glove approach that is both proactive and fast-moving.
The Planning Bill offers the opportunity to create a mindset that is flexible and adaptable, not just to the new technologies being created but to the circumstances which we all face.