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My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) referred to the materials used in construction, particularly timber. In my constituency,
there have been arguments about whether timber-framed buildings should be used. An enormous timber-framed block of flatsI forget how many storeyswas going up opposite the Metropolitan police training college, but it caught fire and rapidly burned to the ground, threatening the training college and the nearby local police station. It was spectacular, but is now being rebuilt in concrete. I suspect that any contribution that it made to energy efficiency was offset by the amount of carbon that was released by that timber disappearing into the atmosphere.
Stephen Pound: There are times when I wake up in the middle of the night in fear that I am in a dreadful Friday morning loop in which we come up with increasingly bizarre possibilities. As I stand in this glorious Chamber that is made almost entirely of wood, I have to ask myself whether I am in any danger. I do not think that I am.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) made an extremely important point. Construction material is significant, in relation to energy use and efficiency; I hope that no one would argue with that. The massive increases and changes in concrete technology give us a whole range of new options, but I hope that we will continue to use wood for a great many years. When we think about insulating a building, we still think about traditional loft insulation, double glazing, lagging and insulation within the structure of the building, but the structure itself can be a component of insulation.
When an hon. Member introduces a Bill, even one as well regarded, respected and well thought out as the one before us, people will always seek to add to it. There is a constant conflict between measures being over-specific or far too general. By and large, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks has struck a good balance, because he has set a target and, by presenting the Bill, he has sought to give local authorities the power to include and incorporate that target in their plans. The way in which he has done that allows a structure to exist without it being over-detailed. However, new clause 1 and amendment No. 11 would add to it. They would not limit or handcuff the free spirit that is inherent in the Bill, but would aim and direct it a little more.
Martin Linton: Does my hon. Friend agree that a new clause allowing local authorities to exceed the insulation guidelines would be of great benefit to owner-occupiers? My constituent, Mr. Healey, has raised this issue with me. He feels that the value of the insulation that he has installed in his house is more likely to be realised, when he sells his house, if he can point to insulation standards that he has met that have been set by his local authority. The very act of setting higher insulation standards as technology improves would allow people who have wisely installed insulation to those standards to be sure that they could recover the value when they sold their houses.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, which is relevant to home information packs, although I do not wish to rehash the whole argument that we had on those. His point chimes with mine, in that, by and large, we tend to seek examples of good practice that have commercial benefit. I
remember visiting a property in a place called Hangeland, in Norway, where they use a commercially driven system of heat insulation, not just because that is environmentally correct, but because it is an advantage to do so in that part of the world, where there is a huge fiscal advantage. That advantage will inevitably roll on when such properties are sold.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) said in his well-received contribution, we must consider, in the drafting of new clause 1, those who are not owner-occupiers. I understand the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Martin Linton) made, but a huge number of people would not be affectedthose in the rented sector. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon said, many of them, although they might not be in the poorest categories, might have a propensity to find themselves in fuel poverty and in poverty generally. By making the Bill more specific and mandatory, new clause 1 would widen its remit and assist such people. We know that the Bill is for good people. If one is building a new home, one would see the advantage of this idea. Even some of the most antediluvian councils in the landthere might be one or two left that instinctively oppose such measureswould see an advantage, if not for the planet in the medium to long term, but for the pocket in the short term.
I am concerned about the people who are excluded, and new clause 1 and amendment No. 11 go some way towards extending the remit and benefits of the Bill. I was going to say that they extend the sunshine of the Bill to such people, but I should say that they extend the energy-efficient sunshine of it. The measures are therefore worthy of consideration. I am cheered, as I always am, by the words of my hon. Friend the Minister, who has studied the Bill with great effort and has made some extremely supportive comments. It would not be entirely inappropriate for us to extend the remit of the Bill and tighten, focus and direct it by accepting new clause 1 and amendment No. 11.
Mr. Dismore: We have had an interesting discussion. The objections to new clause 1 seem to be about whether energy efficiency standards, as provided for in the existing clause 1, would encompass insulation, and about whether the new clause would somehow weaken the Bill by referring specifically to domestic and commercial development. On the first point, energy efficiency standards go way beyond just insulation, and it is sometimes better to spell these things out in legislation, rather than allow them to be inferred or implied. The Bill is somewhat general in its expression of these matters. I have seen, through my work on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, how important it is to spell out what is meant in legislation. There is nothing in my new clause that would take anything away from clause 1(1)(c). It would supplement it; it would not take away from it.
It has been suggested that my new clause would weaken the Bill by ensuring that it referred in terms to domestic and commercial development. I certainly take the point made by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) that commercial and domestic development
would not include the construction of a new football stadium or other public buildings. I take the point that I might have been a little too narrow in that regard, but the new clause would not weaken the Bill because it would add to it rather than take anything away. Clause 1 would stay as it is, leaving open the question of what kind of development we are talking aboutpersonally, I would prefer to see that spelled out in the Billbut new clause 1 would provide an additional requirement that focused specifically on commercial and domestic developments. If the Bill were to go to another place, and if my new clause found favour, that particular problem could be put right.
However, I have listened to what people have said, and we have had a useful debate on this issue. If the Bill goes to another place, some of my comments might be taken into account there and a more tightly worded amendment could be tabled at that stage. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
When setting the proportions of energy from renewable sources and low carbon sources under section 1, a local planning authority shall take into account the availability of local supplies of such energy..
When exercising its discretion under section 1, a local planning authority shall consult local businesses, house builders, residents organisations and social housing providers before settings the requirements permitted by section 1..
Mr. Dismore: A range of subjects are grouped together here incorporating a series of new ideas that the promoter of the Bill ought to consider. One of the problems with clause 1, as it is presently framed, is that it refers to
energy from renewable sources in the locality of the development.
Nowhere does it set out what the renewable sources are meant to be or, more importantly, what is meant by locality. Paragraphs (a) and (b) of clause 1(1) refer to locality, while paragraph (c) says in their area,
which could cause complications when considering renewable sources, and in considering where energy comes from and what the cost will be. The new clauses try to fill some of the gaps in the Bill.
New clause 3 deals with the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in a local authoritys area. I refer here to area rather than to locality, because locality is such a vague word. It could mean a place within the boundaries of a local authority, within a neighbouring local authority or within a region. The Bill needs to be more specific.
Following on from that, we need to look at the question of microgeneration. The Government have done a great deal to encourage microgeneration. There are two phases to the microgeneration support scheme. Householders can apply for grants of up to £2,500 under phase 1 and, from April this year, under phase 2, commercial bodies and those in the voluntary sector are able to apply for 50 per cent. of the cost of installing microgeneration technology.
If we look at the website of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, we see that the Department is running the microgeneration scheme and that it wants to see significant improvements, as we all do. The microgeneration strategy was launched in 2006 with the objective of creating the conditions in which microgeneration becomes a realistic alternative or supplementary energy generation source for the householder. Phase 1 of the scheme allowed householders to apply for grants of up to £2,500 per property towards the cost of having a certified product installed by a certified installer. It is managed by the Energy Saving Trust.
Phase 2 of the low-carbon buildings programme allows organisations to apply for the 50 per cent. grants. Those organisations can include schools, hospitals, housing associations and local authorities, as well as charitable bodies. There is always a question of whether enough money is being set aside for these projects, but it is expected that funds are already committed through to mid-2009.
A lot of information is available about the scheme. It was reported that, by early 2007, the domestic scheme, as it then was, was oversubscribed on the first day of each month. I was therefore pleased when the Chancellor increased the amount available for the householder scheme to £18 million in last years Budget. The reforms to the scheme that came into force at that time were important. They spread the money a little more thinly across individual grants, but that meant that many more people could qualify for them.
Wind systems could qualify for up to £2,500, while solar water heating systems attracted a grant of £400. Ground source heat pumps were eligible for a £1,200 grant. So quite a lot of money is available from central Government to encourage microgeneration. What we are looking at here is the desirability of encouraging microgeneration through a local authority in its own area. A key issue is planning consent, which is what the Bill is all about. We need to determine what a local authority can do to encourage the provision of renewable energy and, in the context of the new clause, of microgeneration.
Last year, the Government published a consultation containing detailed proposals for permitted development
of domestic microgeneration within properly considered, pre-defined limits. I am sure that all of us have known cases of constituents who have wanted to put a windmill on their roof but have been refused planning permission by the council.
Martin Linton: Is my hon. Friend concerned that some local authorities might not be as progressive as Merton, for example, and might take a negative attitude towards imaginative microgeneration schemes that householders or developers might want to install?
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it explains why I have phrased new clause 3 as I have. In our debate on the previous group of amendments, we talked about permissive powers for local authorities. New clause 3 contains a mixture of the permissive and the mandatory. It states:
When exercising its discretion under section 1,
a local planning authority shall consider the desirability of increasing the extent of microgeneration in its area.
Microgeneration is not a complete panacea for the problems that we are talking about in the context of the Bill. There is always a problem, for example, about the noise created by wind turbines, and they can also be pretty unsightly and rather big. We therefore have to ensure that conservation area status is protected, while at the same time trying to strike the right balance. The original consultation by the Government suggested that local authorities would retain the right to restrict planning permission in cases where the benefit of the technology was questionable.
Martin Linton: Is my hon. Friend aware that some local authorities have been prejudiced against wind turbines, even when there is no noise problem and even when they are in the middle of the North sea? Those authorities have taken an almost dogmatic attitude against the use of wind turbines, although the purpose of my hon. Friends new clauseand, indeed, the Billis to encourage them.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The giant wind turbines on the offshore wind farms are entirely different from what we are describing in the Bill, but he is right; I know from my own case load of a couple of cases that have arisen in the past few months in which people have applied for permission to install a wind turbine on their roof and been turned down by Barnet council. I have not seen the full details, or the rationale for the decision; the applications have simply been turned down.
There is an argument that domestic wind turbines are not particularly cost-effective, unlike slightly bigger turbines. For example, St. Jamess school in my constituency has put up its own wind turbine, which has proved very effective in providing energy for the school. The school also sells back to the grid some of the energy that it does not need. It has been able to make that turbine an effective item. There is a question about whether domestic wind turbines will ever achieve
the payback that is claimed for them. Of course, other forms of microgeneration go beyond that and we need to see what local authorities can do to encourage microgeneration in their areas.
renewable sources in the locality of the development.
the locality of the development
refers to where the electricity is coming from or where it is being used. That is an ambiguity that needs to be resolved. I have assumed for the purposes of new clause 7 that the intention is that the renewable source itself should come from somewhere in the locality of where the development occurs.
Mr. Dismore: This is a serious problem. I can understand why the word local is used in this context, because a development on a local authority boundary could want energy supplies from the neighbouring councils area, just over the frontier. If one referred to a local authority area in that context, that might not achieve the intended objective. On the other hand, the problem with defining the word local is that it is the same as asking, How long is a piece of string? It makes things difficult. I have used the words local supplies in new clause 7 to mirror the construction of clause 1. The definition is vague and ought to be considered when the Bill goes elsewhere, assuming that it does. My hon. Friend the Minister might be aware that I tabled amendments to try to flush out the problem by deleting those words, but they were unfortunately not selected for debate, so I am a little constrained in how far I can argue that particular point. He has highlighted a problem with the Bill, but as those amendments were not selected we will not be able to debate it at length today.
What do we mean by local supplies? In general, if we are talking about renewable energy across the board, all council areas have access to renewable energy if they agree to sign up to a green tariff with an energy company and are prepared to pay for it. It is not cheap, although that obviously depends on the supplier. If a local authority wanted to go into microgeneration and supply its own energy, it could build a small microgenerating power station, for example for a housing estate. I have already mentioned the tiny one that has been built by a school in my constituency. Such a development could provide heat and light for homes in the local area. Indeed, any excess could be sold back to the energy companies or the national grid. There are examples of good practice where that has happened.
The real problem with the Bill is that we do not know what local means in this context. The Government have set a target of generating 10 per cent. of all electricity from renewable sources by 2010, mainly by requiring
the electricity companies to provide for green energy generation. As we know, progress has been slow compared with what we would all like to see.
Some local authorities have been doing the work themselves, and a trawl through the internet has produced some interesting examples. Woking councilI am not making a party political pointproclaims itself as the market leader in this respect. Its website talks about local sustainable energy systems, and its approach is
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