Wednesday 23 May 2012

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.”

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