Skip to main content
Case update 27 June 2024

We went to court to lift the government block on energy-efficient homes

The Tories have put roadblocks in the way of local councils who want to cut energy bills and carbon emissions. So we headed to the High Court to challenge the new rules. 

Last week, we supported Rights Community Action in court as they argued Michael Gove has undermined communities who want to build houses that cut energy bills and tackle the climate crisis. 

A written ministerial statement issued in December says that proposals for local energy efficiency standards that improve on current or planned building regulations “should be rejected” unless they meet checks defined by central government. It also declares that any improved regulations that manage to get through “should be applied flexibly” – making it all too easy for developers to override them.

This announcement muddies the waters around energy efficiency standards and smashes any hopes of communities committed to warmer homes and carbon plans. 

Good Law Project is powered by people across the UKDonate now

In the first test of the Environment Act 2021, Alex Goodman KC argued at the High Court that the government must consider the environmental impact of its policies before they are put into action. Goodman also contended that the new rules unlawfully interfere with local authorities’ pre-existing duties and abilities to improve energy performance standards in new homes, and that the policy unlawfully misrepresents the situation by excluding information about local authorities’ discretion to make independent decisions.

The government pushed back, arguing that it’s perfectly appropriate to undertake the environmental assessment process for a policy after it has been rolled out. The government also argued that even though it confirms the powers of local authorities, the Planning and Energy Act 2008 is not meant to override central government policy. 

According to Bekah Sparrow, legal manager at Good Law Project, central government needs to give a “meaningful commitment to improving energy efficiency standards in homes, for the sake of the planet – and our pockets”. 

“Instead, the government is spending money defending its decision to interfere with local authorities’ power to do just that in court,” she said. 

“We need better regulations, not a government that will give the go-ahead for developers to make more money while allowing them to make less effort to protect residents and the environment.”

For Rights Community Action’s CEO, Naomi Luhde-Thompson, local authorities must be able to set policies that improve on building regulations, as the planning act requires. 

“As the first case for testing the duty for considering the environment when making policy, it’s essential to set a precedent,” Luhde-Thompson said. “Any possible lack of a rigorous, evidence based process will concern the public, who want to protect the environment and tackle climate change.”

The decision now lies with the judge. 

In the meantime, we’ll be keeping a close eye on the election and putting pressure on whoever forms the next government to take stronger action on better, greener homes.