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Stephen Pound: My hon. Friend underlines in many ways the importance of this Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon). However, I am concerned about whether there is a lacuna in the area of education. I think of my constituent, Mr. Simon Davies, who told me about the house built in south Wales by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews), which is known as the “Teletubbies house” and is built almost entirely
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underground and covered with what he calls organic insulation and the rest of us call grass. Given that there is such a change in insulation from the traditional areas of cavity and loft insulation and double glazing, does my hon. Friend think we need an educative process for which the Bill would be the starting pistol?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I suspect that most people would not be able to afford the sort of construction that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) has been able to build for himself in terms of the cost of construction, the land involved and the insulation materials, including the football pitch on the roof.

My hon. Friend is right in his substantive point about the educative process behind my new clause and the Bill in general, although we may be straying into Third Reading territory. The Bill would serve a useful purpose in that respect by providing a system of pilot schemes for local authorities spreading out through local authority consortiums—examples include the Nottingham declaration and Merton, which he mentioned. A local authority that was going to introduce the higher standards required by clause 1 and my new clause—the same principles apply—would have to justify those new standards to its electorate and to those conducting business or developing property in its area. There would inevitably have to be a proper explanation to local people of why it had decided to go down that route.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend’s new clause have the potential to encourage not only registered social landlords but private landlords to improve the insulation standards in their conversions? As a fellow London Member, he will know that there are huge problems with thermal and noise insulation in houses belonging to registered social landlords, particularly those converted some time ago when standards were much lower. Those problems are even greater among private landlords who have converted buildings to flats with little regard for insulation standards, so that their tenants reap a harvest of problems.

10.15 am

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. That is exactly what my new clause would achieve. It would enable his local authority, or mine, if it so wished, to get tough with landlords carrying out such flat conversions as regards complying with the regulations. The building regulations as they stand may not be as tough as they should be, and the new clause would enable a local authority to set standards—they would have to be common-sense standards—that went beyond them.

Different areas have different housing needs and demands and different sorts of housing developments. My hon. Friend’s constituency probably has a much greater proportion of flat conversions than we have in outer London, so the problems are slightly different. Under my new clause, his local authority would be able, in relation to such properties, to impose

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I see no reason why that could not be broken down between different types of domestic development. For insulation against noise, although we are talking particularly about that geared towards energy, there would be different requirements for a detached house from those for a conversion to four flats in a former terrace. A much higher standard of insulation would be required, perhaps as much as for noise as for heat, between the floors and between the development and the properties to either side. My hon. Friend’s local authority could want to impose higher or different standards. That is the beauty of the approach taken by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks in clause 1, and in my new clause 1, which would enable local authorities to tailor the particular demands of their people to the requirements of the regulations that they wished to impose beyond the Government minimum safety net.

Martin Linton: Would there be any scope under my hon. Friend’s new clause for higher standards to be imposed at a time when landlords are making renovations? One of the problems that I encounter in my constituency, as I am sure he does in his, concerns people living in Victorian houses that were converted in the 1970s or 1980s, where the conversion consisted merely of putting a new front door on each landing, with no increase in the noise or thermal insulation in the rest of the house. That means that every sound made upstairs can be heard downstairs, and if there is a family living on the first floor with single people living above and below, the lives of everyone in the house are rendered impossible because basic insulation standards were not insisted on at the right time, when the original conversion was made, and they are condemned for ever to living, as it were, as three families in the same house—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that interventions are meant to be brief.

Mr. Dismore: I take my hon. Friend’s point. I have had personal experience of that problem. The issue of conversion is the same as that of renovation. It applies not only to flats but to bedsits and to the way that properties are broken down into smaller and smaller units. That may lead us into different arguments about the threshold for the number of flats in social housing and to the consequences of the 50 per cent. rule, but I accept that that is not a debate for today. The building regulations as a whole provide a basic safety net. The bottom line is that the regulations with which every building has to comply would also apply to conversions and, I think, to renovations. People could say to a local authority, “Look here, you’ve got this problem in your area, it’s a general issue, and you can do something about it for the people in your area if you wish.” It has to be done reasonably, and subsequent new clauses that I have tabled would require proper consultation, but my hon. Friend has hit on an important point. We have to do something to improve living standards through insulation, not just in terms of heating and noise, but by dealing with the impact on people’s general well-being. Such problems can be very disturbing. We have all had people in our constituency bring cases of noise problems to us, which can be dealt with by proper insulation, just as heating and energy issues can be. I
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am sure that we all have half a dozen or more of those cases on the go at any one time. People make complaints about their neighbours that could be dealt with by decent insulation.

Stephen Pound: My hon. Friend refers principally to thermal insulation, but he is on to something quite important with regard to sound attenuation. On the point about the amount of development in inner-London constituencies, in my area, even where there are cellars—or Kasey Kellers as people call them locally—people have tried to build there. Given his discussions with the Thermal Insulation Manufacturers and Suppliers Association, was he aware of any part of its remit that includes the benign combination of thermal and sound insulation in the same material?

Mr. Dismore: I think that my hon. Friend will find that that organisation simply deals with the question of insulation as a whole, and as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton), a useful by-product of insulating a building properly for heat and, therefore, energy consumption, is a better effect in dealing with noise. Of course, the only effect produced by lagging pipes will be that they will not bang so loudly if there is an airlock, but insulation between floors and in roofs, cavity walls and so forth can have a significant effect if someone is being disturbed by their neighbour’s stereo. Both my hon. Friends made significant points in that regard.

In November 2006, the new planning policy statement 3 on housing was published, which dealt with the particular problems of climate change. It said that

That goes to the heart of my new clause. As I said in my opening remarks, we have to try to cut carbon emissions in the first place, which is done not just through the way in which the energy is produced—be it windmills, solar power or whatever—but by using less energy. The PPS3 guidance is important in that respect.

It is important that the planning guidance be integrated with the building regulations. That is what I am trying to put across in new clause 1. Effectively, the local authority has powers under the planning laws; it does not have the power to mess around directly with the building regulations, but it can do so indirectly through the planning laws. That is why integration through the PPS supplement, with the building regulations is the right way to go. The PPS supplement makes it clear that planning for climate change necessitates clear and challenging roles for regional and local spatial strategies, which are expected to help to shape the framework for energy supply in their local authority area.

At the local level, development plan documents—the things that we are looking at to set out the basic planning framework—will set policies on the provision of low-carbon and renewable sources of energy to provide the platform necessary for securing and complementing the increasingly high levels of energy efficiency required by building regulations. Again, we see the symmetry between the need for policies on
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low-carbon and renewable sources of energy and the need for energy efficiency required by the building regulations. We have a statement that makes it clear that both sides of the equation have to be addressed. Paragraph 30 of the PPS supplement draft document makes it clear that planning authorities should

It advocates that they engage

and to support innovation. At the same time it says that they should not be setting their own standards for environmental performance, as national standards are already set out through the building regulations, and for new homes, in the code for sustainable homes. I think that that last part is wrong. Local authorities should be in the forefront of such work.

The document states

for which clause 1 provides—

It is also important, however, that they have regard, as the planning guidance document says, to other matters, some of which I shall pick up on later if we get to the second group of new clauses. The document emphasises, in a shopping list of about a dozen issues in paragraph 23, the contribution that can be made to meeting the energy performance requirements for new buildings through the building regulations, and by extension, through new clause 1—moving beyond those into local requirements.

Chris Mole: My hon. Friend draws attention in new clause 1 to the role of local planning authorities and their local development plan documents, which are now called local development frameworks. Assuming that new clause 1 is accepted, and the Bill is passed, in a case where a local authority has recently agreed its local development framework, should it take an issue up through supplementary planning guidance to add it back into its local development framework, because it has not been able to take it into account until now?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Any planning document, whether it is the old-fashioned unitary development plan or the new local development framework, needs to be a dynamic document. It cannot be set in stone, which is an inevitable consequence of the Bill, regardless of new clause 1.

There is no doubt that we all experience in our constituencies pressure from our electorate for measures to deal with the problems of climate change. Those measures can be carried out in a variety of ways, such as recycling, which local authorities can deal with directly. However, we know that among the significant generators of carbon emissions are buildings. They are probably the most significant generator after the motor car—I do not have the precise figures. We can bear
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down on issues relating to motor fuel or aviation fuel—one of the hot topics at the moment when considering the Kyoto goals—but we must not forget the importance of buildings.

Most forward-looking local authorities will want to consider the Bill, assuming it becomes law, and will find it surprising if, when looking at the issue of microgeneration, they do not have similar powers to deal with insulation. That is probably an easier thing to achieve and probably has a better, more cost-effective payback than some of the microgeneration schemes. We know that some of the green energy supplies—to foreshadow an argument that we may have on the second group of new clauses—can be more expensive.

Stephen Pound: I do not think that there will be many arguments in the House today except on points of detail. My hon. Friend referred to forward-thinking local authorities. I appreciate that we cannot introduce retrospective legislation, or retrofit legislation, and a builder such as Murphys in my constituency will say that it is perfectly happy and comfortable with the requirements for extensions and new build, but is there not a danger that we could end up with a two-tier system where older converted properties are energy-inefficient and the modern ones are efficient? I appreciate that the Government are doing work in this area, but has my hon. Friend given consideration to that in his new clause?

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point that goes back to the statistics I referred to setting out how few properties are fully insulated. If only 16 per cent. are insulated, there is a reason for that. He is right: when we are building from scratch, it is easier to comply with new requirements. With regard to the building regulations, however, if the Victorian properties to which my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea referred earlier are not modernised, converted or refurbished, all sorts of building regulations will not be complied with.

If one considers, for example, the construction of a staircase, the treads may not be right. That is an inevitable consequence of building before building regulations were introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North asks an important question about how we catch up with the enormous backlog of 84 per cent. The position is probably a bit better now, because those figures are a couple of years out of date.

10.30 am

A carrot and stick approach is needed to catch up with the backlog. The carrot approach includes the warm homes initiative and the various grants that are available for microgeneration. Thought needs to be given to the matter as and when conversions or major works are undertaken. A good example would be that, when one installs a new boiler, it has to meet the new up-to-date standards because that is a requirement of the law. Some improvement is therefore inevitable.

Martin Linton: Has my hon. Friend any idea of how long the catch-up process would take under the Bill, with the new clause? Clearly, people who live in older houses understand that they cannot expect the same high standards, but they look forward to a time when
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standards of insulation in their houses will catch up. I have a Mr. Davies in my constituency who has suffered from persistent problems caused by poor insulation. If I could give him some sort of idea of time scale, it would make his life much easier.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend asks a question that I do not believe anyone can answer. There are times in the life of a building when things happen—for example, replacing a boiler contributes to improving energy efficiency; conversions or refurbishments often mean major work; roofs have to be replaced every 30 years or so—and that is an opportunity to do something about insulation. When a house changes hands, what needs to be done is highlighted. Home information packs can be important in that context—I propose to refer to them later. A range of measures are needed and the Bill—I hope with my new clause—would make an important contribution to the process.

My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made an important point when as Housing Minister she addressed the all-party group on climate change in November 2006. She said that energy savings could be made in existing homes by simple measures such as cavity wall insulation, which does not have to be very expensive. The review of the sustainability of existing buildings showed that the number of homes with more than 150 mm of loft insulation increased by 4 million between 2001 and 2004, but a further 8.5 million could benefit from cavity wall insulation, which typically costs £340 to fit and pays for itself in 2.6 years. In five years, householders will get a 200 per cent. return on their investment. Earlier, my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North spoke about the need to educate the public about such matters. Those figures are simple to convey.

It could take many years to achieve the payback on some of the proposals in the Bill for microgeneration. However, loft insulation and cavity wall insulation have an almost immediate effect. To revert to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, carrot and stick measures include education as well as making grants available to less well-off households, pensioners and so on through the warm homes initiative and various local authority and London-wide measures.

The Bill also has implications for the decent homes standard, which the Government established as a key checklist of fitness for acceptable dwellings. Central Government have made significant grants available to local authorities for improvements to their housing stock. I am pleased to say that, in Barnet, we have £88.5 million from central Government for improving our council housing stock.

Stephen Pound: The Barnett formula.

Mr. Dismore: Indeed, but with one “t”.

Stephen Pound: And a bit less cash.

Mr. Dismore: Yes. I have long called for a “Barnet formula” to meet our needs, which are special to our area. Just as Scotland has its special needs, so do we. However, I digress.

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