Council fails to look to long term on fuel poverty

How much do you pay to heat your home? The chances are, the answer to that question is ‘too much’. Many people struggle to heat their home, but that shouldn’t be the case. If we build homes which are sufficiently energy efficient, gas and electricity costs can be kept to a bare minimum.

With lots of insulation, high efficiency triple-glazed windows and top-quality design and construction, we can build new homes so they’re kept warm by the sun. These homes are warm, comfortable and affordable to live in, and have been built across Germany and most of Scandinavia for decades. They’re known as “Passivhaus” homes, because they use the passive warmth of the sun for heating. Many housing associations in Scotland have also built them, and report that tenants are delighted with the comfort levels. In my own ward, I’m delighted that Port of Leith Housing Association is due to start building a block of flats to Passivhaus standard very soon.

Thumb3 ChasBooth_hires3-611x1024Today’s meeting of Edinburgh Council’s Housing Committee agreed to build around 250 new homes at North Sighthill. This is great news, because there is a desperate need for new affordable homes in Edinburgh. But Green councillors also asked council officials to consider building these new homes to higher energy standards, so we can keep future fuel bills down as low as possible for the new tenants. All we asked was to compare the costs of these options, and to also consider district heating for the site, which could also cut bills and carbon emissions.

Astonishingly, other councillors refused even to consider this. They claimed that looking at these options would add cost and delay the project. Yet the North Sighthill proposal still needs to be approved by another council committee in a month’s time – ample time for the information we asked for to be presented. And yes, building to a higher energy standard may add slightly to the build cost, but only by a tiny proportion. But the benefits to future tenants would be enormous. Crucially, it would future-proof their homes against the risk of tenants falling into fuel poverty.

So once again, the council has been asked to think long-term and invest for the benefit of future council tenants, and yet again it’s chosen the short-term option instead. If we’re to catch up with the best in Europe, we need to make smarter choices in future.