Construction industry concern after PM’s net zero announcement

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, image courtesy of

Construction industry leaders have raised serious concerns following the prime minister’s announcement on the country’s net zero ambitions. 

Rishi Sunak has said the government was now taking a more “pragmatic” and “realistic” path to reach net zero by 2050.

The Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) and the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) say the prime minister’s announcement has caused “serious concerns and uncertainty” for the industry and its members.

While the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) says “anger and frustration” has reverberated across industry.

The government’s revised plans include:

  • Delaying the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035.
  • New policies forcing landlords to upgrade the energy efficiency of their properties to be scrapped. 
  • Delaying the ban on installing oil and LPG boilers, and new coal heating, for off-gas-grid homes to 2035, instead of phasing them out from 2026.
  • Setting an exemption to the phase-out of fossil fuel boilers, including gas, in 2035, so that households who will most struggle to make the switch to heat pumps or other low-carbon alternatives won’t have to do so.
  • Raising the Boiler Upgrade Grant by 50% to £7,500 to help households who want to replace their gas boilers with a low-carbon alternative like a heat pump.

Stephen Marcos Jones, chief executive of both ACE and EIC, said: “The announcements that were made have caused serious concerns and uncertainty for the industry and our members.

“Announcement of decisions in the coming months, but without clarity on what these will entail, only adds to that uncertainty. The promise of further environmental reforms must not hinder innovation.

“The ACE Group stresses the urgency of streamlining infrastructure projects in order to support the transition. Delays not only frustrate our members, but also the wider public.

“Confidence from investors and companies is crucial for success. Strong leadership is absolutely critical to delivering the emissions reductions needed.

“The ACE Group remains committed to advocating for the necessary measures and projects needed in our journey to net zero.”

Simon McWhirter, UKGBC’s deputy chief executive, added: “The anger and frustration at this latest policy U-turn has reverberated across industry. Delaying green policies just means they’ll have to be implemented much faster, later, pushing up the cost for everyone – householders and businesses alike. 

“The prime minister’s change in approach will also have a chilling effect on investment and skills training across green industries as they’re faced with yet another pull on the policy handbrake, just as our members and wider business were scaling up their pro-green activities across the economy.

“To really tackle this problem, the best way to bring down costs for households is to insulate homes, but the prime minister pulled the plug on measures to ensure landlords upgrade the draughty homes of renters – the group most affected by fuel poverty. 

“Apart from an increase in the heat pump grant, no other measures were announced to incentivise and help households to insulate and make the transition from fossil fuel heating. 

“We’re awaiting the long-overdue national strategy to upgrade all of our homes and buildings. But all we’ve had today is a further erosion of commitment and clarity from government.”

The prime minister vowed take forward a pragmatic, proportionate and realistic path to reach net zero by 2050, reducing costs on British families while still meeting international commitments. He said plans to meet net zero will only succeed if public support is maintained.

“This country is proud to be a world leader in reaching net zero by 2050. But we simply won’t achieve it unless we change,” he said. 

“We’ll now have a more pragmatic, proportionate and realistic approach that eases the burdens on families.

“All while doubling down on the new green industries of the future. In a democracy, that’s the only realistic path to net zero. We are going to change the way our politics works. We are going to make different decisions. We will not take the easy way out."

But industry has continued to urge government not to dial down its net zero ambitions. 

James Hardy, director and head of UK sustainability at Turner & Townsend, said: “Our industry, like many others, has been scaling up at pace to meet the government’s previously ambitious commitments around electric vehicles, energy efficiency and gas boiler phase-outs. 

“As these contribute to the delivery of UK's 2050 statutory target they aren’t a nice to have – they represent an absolute requirement if we are to mitigate the impacts of climate change.  

“The prime minister has rightly highlighted the importance of ensuring that those on the lowest incomes aren’t hardest hit by the transition to net zero. But by dialling down on action it will cost us more in the long run as we have to respond to climate related disruption to food, energy and water supplies. 

“There is readily available capital for green investment globally. Delaying our net zero efforts risks only makes this capital more expensive too. 

“The roll-out of retrofit for homes and workplaces, EV charging networks and clean energy solutions are highly complex and do require the ‘long-term green thinking’ the prime minister called for – a programmatic approach with full and consistent support of government and industry is essential to success. However, it mustn’t come at the cost of short-term political gain, nor should it derail the years of long-term planning, delivery and progress that we are already galvanising behind.”

The Construction Industry Council  has also spoken out. 

CIC Climate Change Committee chair Stephen Hodder said: “In the construction industry we are becoming accustomed to indecision having been hit by delays and policy uncertainty in a number of areas including HS2, UKCA Marking and nutrient neutrality.

“Policy delays and the removal of industry drivers undermine our attempts to plan, train our workforce, invest for the future and develop cost-effective market-based solutions. 

“This is particularly true in the case of our necessarily long-term journey to decarbonise the built environment and was already made clear to government in the industry response to the Skidmore Review. This uncertainty has already delayed valuable investment in climate-friendly solutions which would otherwise be much further down the road.”

He added: “We urge government to work with us and support the construction industry by helping to build trust and confidence in the proposals we are making to reduce emissions and defend the UK against the growing climate emergency.

“Dates are nothing without plans and it is only through a holistic approach to decarbonisation taking into account factors such as planning, fabric first and upskilling that we can meet the challenges ahead.”

Fiona Hodgson, chief executive of the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF), added: “In recent years, the UK's plumbing and heating sector has diligently retooled and upskilled to be green technology transition-ready. 

“While this announcement offers industry and consumers a brief reprieve to help ensure the skills, infrastructure and cost efficiencies are all in place, it significantly impacts the many businesses that have made substantial investments to be policy-ready."

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