Budget 2021

By Ron Cowley, Chief Executive Officer

Published March 2021

Budget speeches don’t always leave you feeling optimistic, but this one was different.

By the time the Chancellor sat down I wasn’t thinking about taxes or duties, but an opportunity to cut carbon emissions and plot a way through the pandemic for the economy.

I listened from my desk looking out across the Severn estuary, at our site where we’re set to demonstrate how the homes of the future will be built.

The UK’s current housing stock is responsible for 40% of the nation’s carbon emissions.

But we can build – or equip – properties so smart they generate their own power, know what the weather’s going to be like in the next few days, and use that energy, store it or send it to the National Grid.

Everything from high tech heat pumps to plain old loft insulation can make a huge difference.

That difference must be made though, and on a grand scale if we are really going to tackle the problem.

That’s where the Chancellor comes in. He made it very clear that green industries would help drive the economic recovery, and he spelt out lots of ways the money could be raised.

He promised a new infrastructure bank with a focus on green projects, special government borrowing, even a savings product for ordinary people to make their contribution. Think of it as a sort of war bond in the battle against climate change.

That wasn’t all. He pledged a new task force to examine modern methods of construction. Any discussion of how we create homes in the future will have to involve building them very differently from the way we did in the past.

Above all, the Treasury didn’t reveal all the details of these plans. More will be revealed about how that green borrowing in the coming months. The infrastructure bank is in its infancy.

So, while he didn’t announce a plan for low carbon housing in his speech, he paved the way to build and fit out greener properties across the nation.

Take just one idea from his Budget. From this summer that bank will offer councils low cost loans for strategic infrastructure projects. Across the UK, councils have realised that their housing stock is contributing to a climate emergency, and some are taking steps to put that right.

Why not focus some of the new bank’s firepower on those homes? We’d suggest a programme of spending equipping flats and houses with the technology they need to become net zero carbon properties. This would revolutionise those buildings, provide vital jobs, and offer an economic boost in communities across the country.

A plan like that is perfectly possible because of something else the Chancellor told us. The government, he said, was committed to green growth.

That sort of phrase is heard so often that it doesn’t make headlines anymore, but it matters. The government and opposition alike believe that the work we must do to tackle climate change represents an opportunity. We will recover from this economic crisis not despite the significant investment in new technology that we have to make, but because of it.

Just a few years ago electric vehicles seemed futuristic curiosities. Now the great global auto companies are rebuilding production lines because they are the only option for the future. The same change is coming for homes. The way they use energy cannot stay the same. We’re taking the lessons learned as the world embraced next generation technology for vehicles and applying them to housing.

Rishi Sunak’s speech spelt out how we could turn these innovations into common features of British homes and have a huge impact on our carbon emissions. If he’s reading, I’d like to invite him to visit. The view over the Severn is tremendous, and there’s a vision of the future of housing that he can turn into a reality.