Wednesday 23 May 2012

No New Deal for people in fuel poverty

Green MLA Steven Agnew has expressed disappointment that £12m which had been set aside for the Green New Deal will now be used only for a boiler upgrade scheme for Housing Executive homes.

Social Development Minister Nelson McCausland made the announcement in the Assembly today when asked to outline the results of the economic appraisal carried out in relation to the £12m budget allocated for the Green New Deal.

“This is not the best use of the money earmarked for investment in the Green New Deal,” Mr Agnew said.

“The Green New Deal attracted all party support because it had the potential to tackle the triple crunch of unemployment, rising energy prices and climate change.

“It was designed to work as full package not in a piecemeal way which is simply tinkering around the edges as it also needs to incorporate retro fitting of insulation.

“18 months after the Executive first promised this money, the Minister has now chosen to support the Housing Executive’s bid and I believe that this is a wasted opportunity.

“The Green New Deal had provided the opportunity to leverage around £70 million of private investment over the next three years.

“By putting the scheme exclusively in the hands of the Housing Executive, this won’t happen now.

“I am of course glad to see any homes in Northern Ireland improve their energy efficiency as we need to urgently  tackle fuel poverty but the initial vision for Green New Deal was to provide a one-stop-shop for households offering a free energy assessment, a competitively tendered installation service and a government grant finance package.

“By awarding the £12m over the next four years to the Housing Executive, the money for the Green New Deal will be kept within one specific housing sector and denies individuals and families who live in privately-rented accommodation or own their homes the opportunity to save around £350 per year on their fuel bills.

“As this scheme is now only going to update old Housing Executive oil boilers and replace them with gas boilers, it further locks Northern Ireland into fossil fuels dependency rather than paving the way for a renewable energy future across the wider housing stock with improved thermal inefficiency through better insulation.”

DSD is failing to tackle fuel poverty in Northern Ireland

Green MLA Steven Agnew has called on the Executive to urgently re-examine its strategy on tackling fuel poverty in Northern Ireland.

The Green Party Leader’s comments came after a briefing by Lord Whitty at this morning’s ETI Committee on his report entitled Energising Northern Ireland.

The report was commissioned by the Consumer Council in 2010 to undertake an independent review of energy policy in Northern Ireland.

It concluded that the Department of Social Development is failing to tackle fuel poverty in an effective manner and makes clear that reduction in fuel poverty and decarbonisation of energy supply needs to be considered as being equally important policy objectives as cost and security of supply.

Mr Agnew asked Lord Whitty directly if it was his opinion that currently in Northern Ireland this was not the case and he stated that in his opinion that it wasn’t.

“Clearly the approach that is currently being taken is not working,” Mr Agnew said.

“Eight of the Northern Ireland Executive Departments plus the Utility Regulator influence energy-related matters and this makes energy policy overly complex given the small size of the market.

“This leads to a piecemeal approach which is not providing direct relief for hard-pressed families which are spending on average over £1000 more per year for their energy needs than households in GB.

“The current approach we have is both ineffective and inefficient as we have a disconnected system with a combination of one-off winter fuel payments and Housing Executive double-glazing window replacement schemes.

“What we need is a comprehensive energy efficiency audit of both private and social housing and then we need to address energy efficiency requirements of the housing stock area by area.

“The Department of Social Development was given a very modest budget of £4 million to pilot the Green New Deal solution which promotes an area by area approach to addressing fuel poverty and energy efficiency.

“But now the Department of Social Development is looking for other ways to spend that money rather than concentrating on an area by area approach.

“The current policy of the Warm Homes Scheme is not efficient because it is too much of a scatter-gun approach and this is not the best use of public money and not the best way to tackle fuel poverty.

“Evidence from other areas such as Kirklees clearly shows that an area by area approach is the best model to tackle fuel poverty.

“Given that Northern Ireland’s level of fuel poverty is the worst in any part of Great Britain and Ireland and there is no chance of the 2016 target for the elimination of fuel poverty being reached, a new joined strategy is urgently required.”

Monday 14 May 2012

Green MLA backs call for Climate Change Act for Northern Ireland

Steven Agnew MLA and Leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland is backing the call for a Climate Change Act for Northern Ireland.

Mr Agnew attended a Stop Climate Chaos event held in Stormont last week to discuss the need for a Climate Change Bill.

“I believe that there are strong moral, economic and social and environmental imperatives for Northern Ireland to cut its emissions in order to play its part in combatting climate change,” Mr Agnew said.

“It’s is not whether or when climate change will happen – it’s happening now.

“Hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable are being put at risk of drought, flood, starvation and disease.

“In developing nations where people are heavily dependent on agriculture, climate change means they are not getting the necessary yields required to survive and flourish.

“This situation was highlighted to me by Christian Aid and Trocaire which are working in these countries and they have seen the impact of climate change first hand.

“But the predicted devastation is not limited to the developing world – key economic centres like London, New York and Tokyo are also threatened by rising sea levels.

“Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have binding targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions yet our household emissions are 39% above the UK average.

“Tougher targets need to be set in Northern Ireland and we must recognise the role we have to play in tackling what represents a real threat to humanity.

“We have to make tackling climate change a key priority which needs to be taken into consideration when forming other environmental and economic legislation.

“Introducing Northern Ireland Climate Change Act with specific targets in within the next years would ensure that all Executive departments work towards reducing our carbon footprint over the next four decades.

“If we act now, we can help protect everyone’s future. That is why I am backing the call for a Northern Ireland Climate Change act with legally binding targets to reduce our emissions.”