Pickles facing legal action over decision to scrap energy efficiency policy

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles could soon face a judicial review over his controversial decision to ditch a proposed energy efficiency policy that promised to deliver a £11bn boost to the economy, slash greenhouse gas emissions, and drive adoption of the government’s new Green Deal scheme.

Pickles last year scrapped the proposed “consequential improvements” rules for households and other small buildings, after the policy was erroneously dubbed a “conservatory tax” by some sections of the media.


The rules, which had been subject to a full consultation that revealed 82 per cent of respondents to be in favour, would have required households or property owners undertaking extensions to invest around 10 per cent of the cost of the work on improving the energy efficiency of the building. Compliance with the requirements was to be enabled by the newly-launched Green Deal energy efficiency loan scheme, which would have ensured people could undertake the additional improvements at no upfront cost.

According to the government’s own impact assessment the policy was expected to provide £11bn of economic benefits, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 130 million tonnes over the lifetime of the properties, and result in hundreds of thousands of additional households taking out Green Deal packages.

However, late last year Pickles rejected the policy following a series of reports in the right-wing press that labelled the measure a “conservatory tax”.

Now the Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) has informed Pickles that it will apply for a judicial review against the decision on the grounds that the Secretary of State failed to properly explain why he had rejected the weight of evidence in favour of the policy.

Speaking to BusinessGreen, ACE director Andrew Warren said ditching the consequential improvements rules was an “irrational decision” given it defied the majority of consultation responses and provided no new evidence as to why the regulation should be rejected.

“Fundamentally no real reason has been given as to why a policy that had widespread support has been dropped,” he said.

Pickles now has until February 11 to respond to ACE with confirmation he will reconsider the policy or face a formal application for a judicial review.

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said the government had “carefully considered” responses to the consultation, as well as research of the effects on home owners and building professionals by the Energy Saving Trust (EST) and AECOM.

“We noted the potential danger that introducing consequential improvements would discourage people from undertaking home improvements,” she said. “Given the government’s growth agenda and the proposed lifting of planning rules to make it easier for people to carry out sensible extensions and improvements to their home Ministers have decided it would be inappropriate to place an additional cost on building owners.

“The Green Deal will continue to provide financial incentives to home owners looking to improve their home’s energy efficiency, cut carbon emissions and reduce their long term energy bills.”

However, ACE maintains the two reports from the EST and AECOM that were cited as justification for the decision were broadly in favour of the policy, and has accused Pickles of “misrepresenting their conclusions”.

Supporters of the policy have also noted that it has been operated successfully by the Conservative-controlled Uttlesford Council in Essex for over five years.

BusinessGreen also understands officials at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) were left deeply frustrated by Pickles’ decision, which will make it significantly harder to drive take-up of a Green Deal scheme that is already facing questions over its ability to secure high levels of public participation.