Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Speech to the West Yorkshire Growth and Economic Development Conference - 10/2/21


 I’ve been a Kirklees Councillor for 22 years, elected and re-elected for the Green Party 6 times. I’m the Green Party’s National Energy Spokesperson and I represent the Newsome Ward in Huddersfield which in many ways it is a microcosm of West Yorkshire. It has large Council estates, some streets with £300’000 pound houses, and some large asian communities.

 I’ve worked in Energy Efficiency and Renewables sector for 17 years. Project managed insulation and heating schemes. I have worked in the public sector and the private sector and used to work as lobbyist for the Renewable Energy Industry where I was ignored by some very important people.

 During many of my years as a Councillor I have learnt how political power can make positive change happen. For many years the Council lacked a majority, and to get budgets passed and leaders of the Council elected the largest party, whichever one it happened to be at the time, needed the support of just a few Councillors from another political group to achieve that. The Green Group was more than happy to help and as a result Kirklees had the UK’s first universally free insulation scheme, a renewable energy fund that installed solar panels on many council buildings, a solar scheme for householders with no upfront costs and schools constructed to very high energy specifications. Kirklees now has a majority party in control and is less innovative, risk averse, officer lead and managerial. My own politics aside it is a real shame and a waste of political power. For me the whole point of my political journey has been to make change happen and that is why I am standing to be West Yorkshire’s first Mayor.

 So enough about me what about the policies I will champion as West Yorkshire Mayor.

 The Green Bullding Fund that I propose aims to mainstream quality assured high energy standards in public sector building and social housing projects.

 4 years ago I chaired an All Party Group on Kirklees Council looking at the Passivhaus standard. A quality assured means of construction that produces buildings with low energy demand,  low carbon emissions and high energy efficiency standards. These are airtight properties with mechanical heat recovery ventilation.

 We looked at costs and gathered evidence from the Passivhaus Trust, and leading pioneering councils like Norwich City Council and Exeter City Council where they have mainstreamed Passivhaus on public sector projects. Once backed by a good supply of work and a policy that gives the construction sector the confidence to invest in skills, construction costs are not that much higher than building to current building regulation standards. The Passivhaus Trust reckons additional building cost are somewhere between 4-8% but that cost is soon recovered in saved energy costs. Some of the most powerful evidence we took was talking to people who lived in passivhaus properties and also seeing passive houses being constructed.

This is where policy can make a difference. So the conclusion of the All Party Passivhaus Group 4 years ago was to recommend to the Kirkees Labour Cabinet that we specify the Passivhaus Standard or equivalent in all public funded projects or as a condition of sale on the sale of council land for development.

 Sadly the Kirklees Cabinet has ignored the report and sadly when challenged uses evidence on costs derived from one off demonstration projects which by their nature can cost an additional 30% or more.

 So my proposal as West Yorkshire Mayor is to establish a Green Building Fund to cover up to 5% on top of the usual capital cost of the development to ensure that all public sector projects are constructed to the Passivhaus standard or an equivalent standard that achieves the same outcomes. The fund would stay at 5% for the first 5 years and then the percentage would decrease gradually as skills and familiarity with the standard help construction costs come down. This would not only cut emissions but put thousands of pounds back in the pockets of householders in saved energy bills, with money generally going back into the local economy.

 Won’t the Government’s future homes standard do the same job in reducing energy costs and carbon emissions? Well probably not . Research has shown that there is a substantial performance gap on supposedly green homes where they use far more energy than predicted. The quality assured approach to Passivhaus Construction ensures it does pretty much what it says on the tin and energy demand remains very low with 70-90% reductions in fuel bills typically being reported.

 We also want to tackle the need to retrofit existing properties to reduce their emissions with some substantial demonstration programmes that will aim to influence the significant investment needed from national Government, who have so far avoided a long term strategy to tackle the emissions of existing buildings. This is where the Mayor can make a real difference by being a pathfinder and policy innovator leading the way forward for national governments.

 The education and skills responsibility of the Mayor should be harnessed to ensure we have the architects, suppliers and builders to deliver the Green Building Fund, renovation of existing houses and to ensure that we have the skills to address challenges we know are coming such as the move from gas boilers to air sourced heat pumps which is a significant challenge in itself.

 I’m also a strong supporter of social rented housing, but they have been poorly served by successive governments of all political hues, with an ever diminishing council housing stock due to the wrong headed, right to buy policy. Social housing is a social good, an alternative to ownership, more secure than private rental and ensures there is an alternative to both. We need a strong and growing social housing sector to create not just the poverty housing of last resort but a viable option for people who can’t get on the housing ladder. With enough support and rising numbers of council housing it would be an essential check on rising house prices. The power I would seek from Government is the right for Councils in West Yorkshire to suspend the right to buy to ensure the business plans for investment in new Council housing stacked up and there would no longer by a hole in the financial case for investment.

 The role of West Yorkshire Mayor should not just be a souped up Council Leader or a MP with a bigger constituency. It has to be something different, It has got to be about generating real change, providing direction for the region and providing the policies that we need to deliver a sustainable future.

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