Surprisingly little discussion in the Lib Dem Blogosphere about Chris Huhne and Andrew Stunell’s proposals for tackling the thorny problem of reducing the carbon impact of British housing. Indeed, the only commentary at all I’ve read thus far is Iain Dale denouncing it as illiberal. Poor show.
Myself, I’ve only skimmed through the policy paper and have yet to fully digest it, but it does seem to be a very sensible policy. In short, it works like this: beef up building standards so that all new build will meet tough efficiency standards by 2011; encourage energy companies to offer people long term loans (which will stay with the house, not the individual) to install a “WarmHome” pack on existing buildings; in the longer term, increase stamp duty on homes which haven’t installed the package.
Using the market in this way to promote energy efficiency is at the heart of the Lib Dem approach to environmental policy. Making utility companies the solution rather than the problem and keeping the use of environmental taxation to a minimum is both pro-business and pro-consumer. Iain Dale’s criticisms are flawed on a number of grounds:
- the policy is not about ‘forcing’ people to take out loans, but encouraging them to do so by spreading the cost over 25 years and thus enabling them to see immediate savings. The emphasis is squarely on carrot, not stick.
- the retrospective stamp duty ‘punishment’ is actually an inducement to encourage people to take steps which would save them money in any case. And they will be given a year’s grace to make the necessary changes.
- he is completely wrong about the system of random spot checks: these are about giving people peace of mind about building standards. They are checks on the industry, not the consumer. Nowhere in the paper does it say that people would be ‘forced’ to undergo inspection. On the other hand, a free spot check to ensure the Â£10,000 you have just forked out has actually been spent on something which meets minimal standards is something I would have thought most people would welcome.
My one complaint about the paper is that the use of the word mortgage is a little intimidating. Once I read the detail, I was happy, but the ‘m’ word suggests expensive loans hanging over peoples heads for decades when in fact the paper is proposing savings. I prefer another analogy used in the paper: hire purchase.
Overall though, this is a valuable contribution to Lib Dem policy (not that it will be party policy for another 5 months) and something I suspect the Tories will be ‘borrowing’ very soon, regardless of Mr Dale’s reservations.