December 11, 2023

Some of the UK’s biggest construction companies, property developers and estate agencies have written to Rishi Sunak to warn that his weakening and postponement of green policies will harm investment in housing and cause hardship for many people.

More than 100 companies, including some of the UK’s biggest construction specialists, have urged the prime minister to reinstate the net zero policies, or find alternatives that “make upgrading Britain’s homes affordable”.

The Guardian revealed earlier this week that housebuilders and property developers have benefited by billions of pounds from delays to low-carbon building regulations in the past eight years of Conservative government, while the sector became one of the biggest sources of donations to the Tory party – almost £40m since 2010, according to a Guardian analysis.

In the last fortnight alone, Sunak has dismayed businesses and investors by rolling back several key low-carbon measures, including scrapping the proposed requirements for landlords to insulate and upgrade their properties to be more energy-efficient. He also announced a delay to the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars, from 2030 to 2035, softened measures to phase out gas boilers, and is pressing ahead with plans to scrap rules on sewage from new housing.

These delays are only the latest example of a number of low-carbon measures that have been held up or ditched over years of Conservative government, with the result that homeowners and taxpayers will have to pay tens of billions of pounds to bring newly built homes up to low-carbon standards.

The delays have resulted in years of unnecessarily high greenhouse gas emissions, and higher energy bills for residents.

There is some division on the subject within the construction and development sector; while some developers may welcome any delay to low-carbon measures, others are looking more to the future.

The letter to Sunak, seen by the Guardian, notes that many construction and property companies were planning to make substantial investments in net zero, which are now in doubt. The 114 signatories include Arup, Laing O’Rourke Construction, BNP Paribas Real Estate, Landsec, BAM, Buro Happold, Grosvenor, Avison Young, Great Portland Estates, Knight Frank, AECOM, Clarion Housing Group, and CBRE Group.

“Our industry has been working hard to gear up for that acceleration [of effort needed to meet net zero], but your announcement signalled less not more action needed,” the letter says. “In order to bring forward big financial investments, to recruit and train hundreds of thousands of people and to bring the public along with us in this journey we need confidence in long-term active policy support from government. Your announcement has set that back.”

The signatories also take issue with Sunak’s insistence that his delays would save money for households. “The longer we delay and the more we see stop-start piecemeal policy-making, the harder and more expensive the task becomes,” they say.

The signatories urge Sunak to “bring forward a comprehensive national strategy to retrofit our homes and buildings including much higher sustained government investment and market drivers to stimulate private investment as well as regulation. This would pay dividends to the treasury in tax returns.”

They also call for a new “future homes and building standard”. This was supposed to be in consultation by now, but a government spokesperson told the Guardian the aim was now to publish a consultation by the end of this year.

Simon McWhirter, the deputy chief executive at the UK Green Building Council, which organised the letter, said: “It’s beyond disappointing and simply reckless to see this false narrative from government that delaying climate action would reduce costs to households.

“Decisions now – whether around retrofit or the quality of our new buildings – will dictate the quality and legacy of what we’re able to achieve for generations. Delaying policies just means they’ll have to be implemented much faster, later, pushing up the cost for everyone – householders and businesses alike.

Tor Burrows, the group sustainability director at the property company Grosvenor, said: “Diluting the UK’s commitment to net zero is not the way to build our economy, create jobs or address climate change. Businesses desperately need clarity and stability to help them plan how they will invest in green practices, tech and skills. Without this we risk losing out on crucial investment which will ease the cost of living and increase the country’s global reputation and competitiveness.”

Jonathan Gibson, the principal and global director for environmental, social and corporate governance at Avison Young estate agents, said: “While we understand the challenges posed by the cost of living crisis and approaching elections, we must not compromise our long-term sustainability goals for short-term political gains. I urge the incoming government, especially in the context of the forthcoming general elections, to reconsider this regressive stance on net zero policies and demonstrate a genuine commitment to tackling climate change.”

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