In early August, Corbyn launched his ten pledges, each of them addressing inequalities and providing solutions to problems in the UK today. The second and sixth of these pledges, namely, to create one million new homes, half of which are to be council houses, and that of moving to a “low-carbon economy” with green industries at its heart, particularly stand out. There is a chronic housing need across the country and annexing green technologies within this building programme is absolutely essential.
In July, Sevenoaks Labour Party Executive adopted a Momentum Swanley proposal: “Labour’s proposed national housebuilding programme should be based on eco-council housing where all properties have solar panels and other green technologies.” This is a very welcome shift.
The environment is often mentioned by politicians though they are seldom committed to it, as underlined by Hinkley Point’s nuclear energy expansion. Where is the government that will invest in our future and harness the energy freely available to us all?
Green energy is not a huge leap of faith but it is a political party funding issue given the donations and lobbying of the fossil fuel multinationals. Individuals, and indeed some businesses, have already chosen to invest in carbon reducing eco-programmes. Photovoltaic cells, or solar panels, have become more commonplace on our homes and buildings, wind turbines and rainwater harvesting systems less so. This is a massive win-win opportunity for the Labour Party if they adopt Swanley’s proposal.
The Tories continually state that the consumer should “shop around for the best energy deals”. It’s a facile phrase when addressing energy prices, but barely masks the stranglehold of the Big Six energy suppliers. Consumers are increasingly aware of rising energy prices and many homes have tumbled into the fuel poverty bracket – all this while shareholders receive escalating dividends.
The neoliberal mantra of market economies benefiting the consumer defies the reality in the bill-paying public’s opinion. Put simply, bill-payers receive unjustifiable, immoral price spikes from a predominantly fossil-fuelled industry that shows little regard for the climate. With our energy demands already incomparable to previous decades, we have to acknowledge that the need for energy shows no sign of abating – so green energy and technologies need to be at the forefront of any new building programmes. Household bills can be reduced, and widening fuel poverty lessened, or eradicated altogether.
Furthermore, excess green energy can be sold back into the National Grid and, in the case of council housing, paid into local authority coffers. Solar panels and wind turbines must be non-negotiable and foremost in any housing project. ‘Housing’ must mean ‘eco-housing’ in every local authority planning department.
Utilising rainwater harvesting systems more effectively, along with flood prevention construction and landscaping measures, will also help arrest the insurance premium hikes, make the new homes more robust to the challenges of climate change and reduce water rates.
The green think-tank – Environmentum – was established to encourage the Labour Party to adopt a mass eco-council house building and refurbishment programme. When challenged on the costs of these additional green measures, Nick Southgate, a spokesperson, said:
“The initial outlay is recognised as adding more financial cost at the beginning; however, some of this will be recovered and our climate right now – and in the future – should not bear the brunt of our excesses. Fossil fuel needs must be reduced and clean green technologies embraced. Some of the possible avenues for financing this housing revolution include a Land Tax, for those corporations and landlords strategically sitting on land (such as supermarkets blocking rival competition); removing the cap on National Insurance and making it progressive; and a tax on companies that have failed to mitigate against pollution and continue to pollute our environment.
We also believe that a second home tax, comparable with that used in Iceland, is necessary. This will help release ‘additional’ homes as many owners may well elect to sell their immoral cash-cows, or seldom-visited ‘home’. This will benefit urban areas, but it will also impact positively in areas such as Wales and the West Country where, for far too long, they have felt the ‘double-whammy’ housing pinch of low housing stocks being swallowed up by non-locals.
Affordable housing in the UK and climate change within our world are perhaps the greatest problems ahead of us now. The housing programme is essential as is coupling it with a green revolution.”
First Published in Labour Briefing, November 2016.