Dose of realism required for policies as ban on new boilers expected to be delayed

23rd Nov 2023
David J Alexander

In his latest column for The Scotsman, David Alexander writes how mood music points to a dialling down on arbitrary, costly and unachievable targets for housing,

There have been some recent positive changes in mood toward the housing sector from the Scottish Government which hopefully indicate a shift of emphasis. A couple of weeks ago Scottish Housing Minister Paul McLennan said in an interview on the Sunday Show that “I think that the private rented sector is an important part of the housing mix” and “we have to make sure the private rented sector continues to thrive”.

If this view is genuine and is followed through, then this could be an important change of position for the Scottish Government.

This change of mood has been further emphasised this week after it was reported in the media that the timescale for introducing heat pumps is likely to be delayed.

At the end of November, a proposal for a Heat in Buildings Bill is to be introduced which will form part of a wider package to support the heat transition.

The upcoming consultation is set to stick to commitments for two main targets from the 2021 strategy which is for all homes to reach a good level of energy efficiency by 2033 “where feasible and cost-effective”, and “almost all homes” to be heated by climate-friendly heating systems by 2045.

But crucially while the SNP-Green government had said they were going to rule out new or replacement fossil fuel boilers for 170,000 off-grid properties by 2025 and were committed to banning new gas-fired boilers in properties on the grid from 2030 both of these deadlines are expected to be delayed.

What has impacted upon these policies, aside from the widespread shock at the rapidity of their introduction and the lack of planning, is the reality that these targets are arbitrary, costly, and unachievable.

While Patrick Harvie, the Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants' Rights, has previously said that the cost of installing heat pumps is about £8,400 the Energy Savings Trust estimates that typical costs are about £14,000.

Equally, independent analysis has found that there simply aren’t enough installers, or sufficient time to train them, to come close to meet these targets.

Most organisations felt that the deadlines were unrealistic, the costs too expensive, and the infrastructure to achieve these plans was not in place. A delay will allow a reset of the policy to ensure it can be effectively introduced where it is appropriate and affordable. While few would deny that cleaner energy systems are required it is essential that the introduction of such a wide ranging, costly, and innovative scheme carries the support of all involved.

There also need to be a further discussion of whether the current one-size-fits-all proposal for installing heat pumps in all environments to a truly realistic idea. For many homes in Scotland the proposed technology is likely to be unworkable.

Trying to turn around decades of building regulations and traditional homebuilding technologies in a short period of time was always going to be difficult. But by introducing a more realistic timeframe, consulting widely with the whole housing sector, and creating a proposal that is achievable, affordable, and introduced over a reasonable period of time will ensure a more successful outcome for all.