Phélim Mac Cafferty: Green homes are not a nice-to-have luxury

What do higher energy bills and fuel poverty have in common?

What do higher energy bills and fuel poverty have in common? They are at the centre of a concerted attack on the environment from the Conservative government.

For the last 10 years, the UK’s home-building industry has been asked by successive governments to pursue the building of "zero carbon homes", generating their own energy to reduce environmental damage. Much of the industry had got used to this approach, and invested time and money preparing for strong environmental building standards.

In July, the Conservative government suddenly and arbitrarily decided to abandon zero-carbon homes. 250 companies slammed the government’s decision, saying the proposal had “undermined industry confidence in government”. For the so-called "party of business", it was hardly the smartest move, was it?

As we approach the crucial United Nations climate talks in Paris in December, this decision - like tax-breaks for fracking - sends out completely the wrong signal, undermining the UK’s commitments to urgently reduce carbon emissions. The decision, dressed up as the "cutting of red tape", will in fact directly impact on future generations who will suffer the very worst impacts of climate change in coastal cities such as Brighton and Hove.

Housing is already responsible for a whopping 42% of our city’s greenhouse gas emissions, so we will oppose any decision that will worsen this. We currently have some of the least efficient housing in the UK, which results directly in high energy bills.

The blueprint for our city until 2030 - the City Plan - developed under the Green administration, was built on a vision of sustainability.

We worked with other councils to push down the cost of zero-carbon homes. Anyone who lives in a damp or freezing home will know exactly why we did that, too. More than one in 10 in our city live in fuel poverty. It is extremely disappointing that the plan is now in danger of being watered down by the current Labour council, in response to irresponsible government pressure.

The Tory government say they are committed to giving more freedom to local councils, so they should put their money where their mouth is. They should give greater freedom to cities such as ours to deliver homes fit for a modern world, and to continue to build on our fledgling sustainable homes movement with such brilliant initiatives such as Eco Open Houses.

Green homes aren’t a nice-to-have luxury; they are the essential future of the city’s building stock. And we need a City Plan that explicitly supports that.