Green Tories call for next PM to take urgent action to insulate homes | Green politics

A leading group representing green-minded Conservatives has called for the new prime minister to take urgent action to insulate more homes and scale up the installation of heat pumps to help poorer households with energy bills.

The Conservative Environment Network (CEN), which has the support of 133 Tory MPs, half the backbench parliamentary party, said its plan could be rolled out in parallel with measures to directly help with this winter’s fuel costs and would help move the UK towards its net zero goals, as well as saving people money.

The CEN’s intervention marks the latest stage in a fightback by environmental Tories amid signs the race to replace Boris Johnson could lead to green measures being rolled back, and greater weight given to the voices of MPs opposed to such policies.

Liz Truss, the clear favourite to become the next prime minister, has criticised the installation of solar farms on formerly agricultural land, and says she supports efforts to extract shale gas by fracking in areas where it has local support.

Her rival in the contest, Rishi Sunak, has pledged to tighten a de facto ban on planning permission for new onshore wind schemes.

The push against green measures has been led by Tory MPs and peers from the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, a relatively new body that argues against many environmental policies on the basis of the cost of living and energy security.

The CEN’s proposals, billed by the organisation as “practical, industry-led solutions that the government could swiftly introduce”, would cost a total of £9bn over the next eight years, it said, notably less than what had already been committed to assist with energy bills.

This would include a rapid expansion of an energy industry-led scheme to insulate fuel-poor homes, to do this for 500,000 households this winter, and a million a year by April 2023, including a commitment to long-term finance for the programme.

The CEN said there were still 7m UK homes lacking easy-to-install measures, such as loft or cavity wall insulation, that could save people living in a typical semi-detached home about £500 a year on their bills.

Another element would be a big expansion of a scheme to replace gas boilers with heat pumps, installing 775,000 a year by 2025, rather than the planned 90,000. This saves households an average of £225 a year and cuts their gas usage by 80%.

A final recommendation would be for energy firms to be required to contact customers with advice on how to turn down the so-called flow temperature of gas boilers so they run more efficiently, with many running at unnecessarily high temperatures, wasting gas and increasing bills without any extra warmth.

Philip Dunne, the MP for Ludlow and a supporter of the CEN, said there was a need for “urgent action to help households this winter. If we act decisively now, we can insulate hundreds of thousands of fuel-poor homes to lower energy bills permanently,” he said.

“Financial support is only a one-year fix for this winter. Without a new national programme starting to fix the UK’s 19m energy-inefficient homes, families would be left exposed for longer and the taxpayer landed with a larger bill.

“I urge the next prime minister to consider these practical, industry-led proposals to combat the gas crisis this winter.”

While much of the focus in the Tory leadership race has been on energy bills and the cost of living, the suite of policies that will be implemented remain relatively vague.

Sunak has talked in general terms about wanting more insulation, and has proposed measures to help households with bills, including a cut to VAT. Truss has said her “first port of call” would be tax cuts but has not ruled out extra help.

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