Council calls on Government to help deliver more energy efficient homes in South Tyneside

Councillors have backed calls to lobby Ministers for support and funding to help deliver more energy efficient homes in South Tyneside.

Friday, 26th February 2021, 7:54 pm
Updated Friday, 26th February 2021, 7:58 pm
Cllrs Mark Walsh and David Francis

South Tyneside Council revealed earlier in February 2021 it was developing a fuel poverty strategy to help support residents who are struggling to pay energy bills.

At a full council meeting on February 25, Green Party councillor David Francis proposed a motion setting out further steps to provide warmer homes, lower bills and to help borough residents save more money.

This included the council lobbying the Government for a strategic approach to amending building regulations, focusing on the reintroduction of the ‘zero carbon homes standard’ for all new builds.

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Councillor David Francis proposed the motion

“I would like you to imagine a world with warmer homes, lower household bills and more money in local people’s pockets being spent in the local economy,” Cllr Francis said.

“If you contrast that with our current reality, a world where fuel poverty is a very real concern and we know that our neighbours are sometimes having to make heartbreaking choices between heating and eating – and all of that is happening against a backdrop of imminent climate catastrophe.

“But we have the power to change that in one small way, to make decisions that serve those residents rather than boosting profits for big energy and property development companies.”

Councillors heard the zero carbon homes standard was mooted by the previous Labour government in 2006 but then scrapped by a Conservative government in 2016.

Councillor Mark Walsh is the cabinet member responsible for housing and transport in South Tyneside

Legislation was then established to allow local authorities to set their own building standards, which can be done through the process of developing a local plan.

Cllr Francis has previously said that the zero-carbon standard could be included in this process, requiring developers to meet these standards when building new homes in the borough.

He told the meeting: “The counter argument to this motion might be that it creates additional obstacles and costs for housing development companies.

“My response to that would be to ask who are we here to serve, who are we here to represent and who are we accountable to.

“I choose to stand not with development companies, but with residents who deserve warmer homes, lower bills and a healthy planet to pass onto the next generation.”

The council’s Labour group proposed an amendment to the ‘council resolves to’ section of motion, which included more direct references to ‘retrofitting’ existing homes to reduce fuel poverty.

It also included the leader of the council writing to the Government to lobby for a strategic approach and funding to address the need for net zero carbon homes and for council officers to explore the options available for a regional response to the issue.

Councillor Mark Walsh, cabinet member for housing and transport, said work was ongoing to upgrade council homes and improve energy efficiency.

This included a recent announcement of Green Homes Grant funding which will be used to upgrade council housing stock.

Cllr Walsh noted the importance of partnership working and said if the council was to act on its own, it would be a “disincentive” for housebuilders to come to South Tyneside.

Cllr Francis welcomed the amendment and references to partnership working and said he hoped the motion would result in positive changes.

“I know that the resolutions here aren’t particularly firm commitments but I’m keen that whatever happens in terms of the voting on this, that we end up doing good rather than just sounding good,” he added.

The motion was approved by councillors verbally without the need for a named vote.

The amended motion ‘Warmer and Affordable to Heat New Build Homes’ in full.

This Council notes that:

:: The Government’s most recent figures for South Tyneside show that 8.7%, or 6,139, of South Tyneside’s households are in fuel poverty.

:: The loss of income to the local economy as a result of these lower energy efficiency standards, as those 6,139 householders’ income is spent paying energy bills rather than in local shops and on local services.

:: Whilst the Government cancelled the introduction of the Zero Carbon Home Standards in 2016, it has been confirmed that the Council can set their own energy efficiency standards for new buildings beyond those set in Part L of the Building Regulations.

:: The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that we now only have 8 years to take serious action to reduce emissions to avoid irreversible climate disruption.

This Council believes that:

:: We must take urgent action to improve the energy efficiency standards in new domestic dwellings in order to: Tackle the issue of fuel poverty in the borough, reduce carbon emissions save energy and keep money that would otherwise go to energy companies circulating in our local economy.

:: The ‘Zero Carbon Homes Standard’ offers a better alternative to the UK’s diminished energy efficiency ambitions for new-build housing and complies with UK Building Regulations.

This Council resolves to:

Request that the leader of the council writes to the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government to lobby for a strategic and coordinated approach together with the appropriate funding to address the need for net zero carbon homes and help to address fuel poverty.

This includes the need to retrofit existing housing stock with appropriate measures and tackle current fuel poverty with new build homes and work towards the implementation of net zero carbon homes as soon as practicable.

Further we ask officers to explore with colleagues in other North East local authorities what options are available to develop a regional response for sustainable net zero carbon homes for the future and options for retrofitting existing housing stock.