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Latest 30 May 2024

Mick Woolley: ‘The Tories have failed us all on housing’

Mark Siddall / Mick Woolley

Good Law Project supporter Mick Woolley explains how he had to push against an outdated planning system to build himself a home for the future.

Imagine living in a house where you can walk around in a T-shirt all year round, without spending a fortune on heating. A house full of light, peace and quiet with no draughts and no damp. A house where the energy bills are next to nothing and the solar panels on the roof can run an electric car for free all summer.

It’s not that hard for me to imagine this home of the future – I moved in five years ago. Built to the exacting standards of a Passivhaus, this new bungalow is larger than the 1980s house I left behind, but uses only 5% of the energy. It’s so well insulated that it keeps to the same comfortable temperature all year round, with only a tiny back-up heater. And it’s so well ventilated that we have fresh, clean air in summer and winter, with no condensation, no stuffiness and definitely no mould.

I’m no builder, but I worked with two architects and was constantly on site to make sure the house was up to scratch – taping around doors, windows and internal surfaces to keep everything airtight, and fitting the pipes for the ventilation system. My main contractor pulled out, but with the help of an amazing carpenter we managed to finish the build in less than two years.

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I’m lucky. Lucky that I had the time and the means to work on it myself and could drive the project through. But these standards should be normal practice for developers across the UK. You shouldn’t have to push against a planning system stuck in the past to build a home that’s ready for the future.

People have been building and living in passive houses for more than 30 years. There are more than 2,900 Passivhaus buildings in the UK, with more than 100,000 around the world. It costs on average about 8% more to build a new home to the Passivhaus standard, but it can cost as much as 30% of a house’s value to bring it up to the standard after it has been built – a gap that will only get wider as building new houses with Passivhaus technologies becomes more common, driving economies of scale.

We’re in the middle of a climate emergency and a cost of living crisis. We should all be living in homes that keep us warm and dry, homes that will carry on keeping us warm and dry as the planet heats. Ever since David Cameron said he’d “cut the green crap” in 2013, the Tories have sided with developers and blocked improvements to building standards that would save homeowners money and tackle the climate crisis. Last year the department for levelling up issued a directive limiting local authorities from introducing “local plans” to improve energy efficiency in housing beyond “national policy”, even if communities want to go further.

There are around 30 million homes in the UK, and we’re building around 200,000 homes a year. And only a tiny fraction of these homes measure up to the challenges of our changing world. The Tories have failed us all on housing. It’s time to make sure we’re building homes fit for the future.