Comment: The conservatory tax - a problem of presentation
The consequential improvement initiative makes sense but will only work once the green deal is clear and acceptable to a wide audience, says Mark Oliver of H+H UK
Having read the headlines over Easter about the government’s proposed “conservatory tax” it is hard to blame David Cameron for hastily distancing himself from the whole idea. The problem has always been with the presentation of the measure, and it was for this reason that I was never able to join in with the general industry support for the consequential improvement proposal in the new Part L Building Regulations consultation.
Put simply, any action that could be perceived as increasing the cost of home improvement work risks damaging the one sector of the market that continues to perform. With new housebuilding struggling to gain momentum, private home improvements and extensions account for a rising percentage of available work for builders, merchants and manufacturers. If the building industry is to come out of recession then this work must not be put under threat.
The concept behind the conservatory tax (although, of course, it is not a tax and doesn’t focus on conservatories) is sound. We need to improve the energy efficiency of the existing housing stock, and introducing an element of compulsion to people already committed to spending on home improvements makes sense. It makes particularly good sense when the cost is to be funded by the green deal and is therefore effectively cost-neutral to homeowners.
The building industry, with an eye to protecting the market for home insulation and to kick-starting green deal by using some coercion, gave nearly universal support to the measure. The danger of exposing the home improvement market to potential reduction does not seem to have been widely considered.
However, with the funding mechanisms behind the green deal still unclear, even to those of us who have supported the initiative from the start, it was never going to be an easy message to get to the homeowner. And so it proved. In the mind of the householder, the whole issue translated simply as “increased costs for home improvement”, leading to an immediate risk that cash-strapped homeowners will simply put off or cancel their plans.
Missing the point
Some industry analysts are now questioning whether the green deal can survive at all without the work resulting from the consequential improvement initiative. But while I see that concern, I do think it misses the point of green deal.
Surely the initiative is designed to work as a catalyst to change the way we all view carbon reduction – the aim must be to make not reducing your carbon emissions socially unacceptable. By helping those with limited means to fund energy efficiency improvements, it should also stimulate those who can fund it to go ahead and make their own energy saving investment, retaining all the saving themselves, because it offers a good investment return.
This is never going to a simple message to communicate. If there is a right time to introduce the consequential improvement argument to a revised Part L it will be when the green deal is widely understood. It will be a great pity if, by doing a very public U-turn on the issue now, the government makes it impossible to reintroduce the concept in time. However, for now, this is one U-turn that I welcome.
Mark Oliver is managing director of H+H UK, manufacturer of aircrete products.