Keeping Scotland's homes warm and healthy is one of the best investments we can make
Lori McElroy, chair of the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland, on how new regulation and planning controls, backed by market incentives, could improve the energy performance of existing homes
Image credit: PA
The forthcoming Warm Homes Bill is a historic opportunity for MSPs - they can make this generation of Scots the last to suffer the terrible consequences of living in cold, damp homes.
For many people, poorly-heated homes are literally a matter of life and death. This week new figures revealed that there were 2,720 excess deaths in Scotland last winter compared to months in the rest of the year. The National Records of Scotland - which compiles the figures - says that the five-year moving average has barely changed since the early 2000s.
The tragedy, and the scandal, is that many of those deaths - around 30 per cent according to research from the World Health Organisation - could have been avoided if everyone in Scotland lived in a home that was adequately insulated and heated.
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The Existing Homes Alliance brings together environmental campaigners, housing providers, energy campaigners, and senior local government officers. We've been pushing all political parties to properly invest in energy efficiency.
We welcome the previous actions taken by Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to promote energy efficiency. We particularly welcome the the Scottish Government commitment to eradicating poor energy performance of homes as a reason to be in fuel poverty.
But now we need to take action to make that pledge a reality.
Earlier this year, all four opposition parties in Holyrood wrote to housing minister Kevin Stewart calling on him to use the Warm Homes Bill to provide a clear statutory foundation for the new fuel poverty strategy, including the new target date for the eradication of fuel poverty and for the Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme. They also called for adequate resources to properly complete the job.
The Existing Homes Alliance supports those calls. We believe Scotland’s National Infrastructure Priority for energy efficiency should have a target of having the vast majority of homes reach Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) band C by 2025. This target echoes that proposed in the Scottish Fuel Poverty Strategic Working Group report, which recommends that no fuel poor household is living in a house below EPC band C by 2025.
We need new regulation and planning controls, backed by market incentives, to improve the energy performance of existing homes. That should include looking at how we can use the Parliament's powers over council tax and the land and building transaction tax to help homeowners invest in making their homes warmer.
We need an independent body responsible for overseeing the delivery of the Scottish Energy Efficiency Programme, and we need to place a duty on local authorities to produce Local Heat and Energy Efficiency Strategies.
All of this will - of course - cost money. But spending on making Scotland's homes warm and healthy is one of the best investments we can make.
If the Scottish Government agrees to bring all homes up to EPC band C, research suggests that will support 6,400 jobs throughout Scotland. It will give a much-needed boost to the Scottish economy, raising Gross Value Added by 0.27 per cent on an annual basis.
We can cut people's fuel bills through greater energy efficiency - by around £245 a year for fuel poor homes, if they are brought up to EPC band C. That will help reduce our gas imports by around 26 per cent, increasing our energy security and decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels.
All of this is designed to end fuel poverty in Scotland - a goal that will have massive benefits for people's health, especially those with respiratory conditions. Bringing all homes up to EPC band C could save NHS Scotland somewhere between £31-52 million.
And then there are the benefits to the environment of Scotland and the world.
The Warm Homes Bill should require that the vast majority of homes will be zero carbon in use, where technically feasible, by the completion of Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Programme in 2038. Without that kind of action, Scotland will struggle to meet its climate change targets, because emissions from homes account for around 25 per cent of Scotland’s total carbon emissions.
This year we are marking the 20th anniversary of the historic vote to establish the Scottish Parliament. We believe it's time to rekindle the sense of optimism and ambition that the people of Scotland had at that time; to meet the people's expectations that their Parliament would make a fundamental difference to their lives; to show that government can be a force for good in the world.
Creating a Scotland without fuel poverty - where warm homes contribute to a better economy, better health, and a cleaner world - would be an excellent place to start.
Lori McElroy is the chair of the Existing Homes Alliance Scotland
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