24 March 1997

Andrew Stunell MP (Hazel Grove) Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Energy

At the moment, the commercial market tries to persuade home owners that double or triple glazing and fancy plastic doors represent the way forward, but professionals know that roof and wall insulation, plus draught exclusion and improvements to the efficiency of heating schemes, are far more important. One of the benefits of the Energy Efficiency Bill will be to bring before the 400,000 purchasers of property genuinely efficient and effective ways of spending money to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.

We should give credit to the development of building regulations and the energy efficiency rules as they apply to new-build houses. The introduction of standard assessment procedures (SAP) is to be welcomed, and its recent extension to housing in Scotland is highly desirable and commendable.

At the moment, estate agents say, "It's got two bathrooms en-suite, a double garage and a nicely made garden," and so on. In future, the agent should add the fact that the house has a SAP rating of 63, 71, or whatever. An SAP rating should be a marketable quality in any home; it could certainly be rather more useful than being told whether the master bedroom has built-in cupboards.

Insulation is not the only factor. We must also consider the way in which heat is generated, and the way in which it circulates. Many problems of air change are connected more with heating systems than with the viability of living in a particular room.

Although the building regulations have been improving steadily, they are still nowhere near setting the thermal efficiency standards achieved by homes in other parts of northern Europe—Scandinavia in particular, but also Germany and Switzerland. I hope that no one believes that the current regulations have achieved, as it were, a plateau of energy efficiency.

Obviously, the extra survey costs will be passed on to purchasers in one way or another. They will have to fork out, just as they would if their surveyor's report said that they should replace a window or redecorate the front of the house. When they are deciding whether to buy the house, they will have to decide whether to bear that extra cost. Alongside the cost, however, will be the saving—the pay-back period. When I was working in this area, I found that the pay-back period for such measures as improved roof and wall insulation was often very short, much shorter than the pay-back period for double glazing. Many purchasers would automatically think of installing double glazing when revamping a newly purchased house; it might benefit them considerably to know that they could use their money to better effect by adopting the suggestions in the survey form and installing, say, wall insulation. The costs are not substantial, and are easily recoverable.

The Energy Efficiency Bill will bring about considerable benefits. Advice will be given to 400,000 home purchasers each year, which will allow them to save money in the long term. The measure will contribute to the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, which is not only Government policy but essential for the prevention of further drastic climate change. It will also improve the transparency of the housing market in one important respect, by making purchasers and sellers aware that there is both a cost and a benefit in improving home efficiency. Home efficiency will stand in the marketplace alongside double garages and en-suite bathrooms.

I support the Energy Efficiency Bill, and the Liberal Democrats will back it strongly.

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