Will planning problems damage the green deal?
Councils are keen to promote the government’s sustainability initiative but worries over public uptake and planning requirements could hamper progress, says Nick Wood-Dow
The green deal is the most ambitious ever programme to upgrade the UK’s housing stock to make it more energy-efficient. But the initiative could be stymied by development control committees and planning officers, as many of the home improvements will need planning permission.
This is the government’s market-based, self-financing plan for encouraging people to invest in improving the energy-efficiency of their homes. Ministers hope to motivate people to tackle climate change by giving them access to long-term credit, which will be paid back through resulting savings on their electricity bills.
Nagging doubts of risks
A number of risks remain attached to the green deal, which are worrying investors, financiers, and industry experts. The legal battle around the government’s botched reduction to solar feed-in subsidies is weighing particularly heavily: these are long-term investments, and who is to say that a future government won’t, as governments are wont to do, move the goalposts? Uptake is in any case likely to be lower than the government predicts: currently, councils running free insulation schemes are finding it difficult to give it away. The hassle is often more than people are willing to put up with, let alone pay for.
There is also the planning process.
Most energy-saving measures don’t need planning permission. Many others fall under permitted development rights. But in the old properties that have the most green deal potential and are most in need of bringing up to modern insulation standards, the likelihood of conflict with development control increases.
These older properties are most likely to have solid walls, and require external insulation. Terraces or other buildings that front directly onto the pavement will increasing in size, and even a few extra inches can take it over the property’s existing footprint. External insulation can also change the appearance of a house – potentially a big sticking point if it is in a conservation area or an area of outstanding natural beauty with a restrictive design guide. These rules might also hinder attempts to insulate flat roofs or improve fascias.
Larger buildings, even if they are outside a conservation area, will require planning permission even for new double-glazing.
Councils are very keen to take the lead on the green deal, focussing on its potential for local job creation, helping households out of fuel poverty, and on meeting carbon reduction targets. What has yet to be demonstrated, though, is that councils have taken an integrated approach and included their development control officers in their plans. As most councils are reviewing their policies in light of the new National Planning Policy Framework, they ought to ensure that the green deal gets a special mention.
Nick Wood-Dow is deputy chairman of Chelgate a public relations and public affairs consultancy, and chaired the Westminster Briefing Conference on the green deal earlier this month.