Tim Pollard: plenty of opportunities for plenty of people.

Green Deal means opportunities for construction

Published:  25 April, 2012

UK: For a construction industry in hard times, the Green Deal is a commercial opportunity that will develop all of our marketplaces going forward, writes Lisa Arcangeli

Has the Government been on a U-turn about the Green Deal? Tim Pollard, head of sustainability at Plumb Center, says "absolutely not".

Mr Pollard was at Westminster this week and reported that when he spoke to Greg Barker, the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, he was told that there was a "rock solid, copper bottom commitment to the Green Deal." It is Tory Party policy and it is one that the Government is dedicated to pursuing.

"The coverage over the weekend was absolutely incorrect," Mr Pollard stated. "The changes to Building Regulations – Part L consultation with Green Deal - are two entirely separate things, undoubtedly linked by a common purpose, but they do not share the same legislation, the same timescales or anything else.

"The warbling has been about Part L consultation and consequential improvements. Green Deal, as far as government and all those involved with it, is going ahead with the same timescales and same levels of commitment."

Plumb Center, said Mr Pollard, remained committed to making sure that its customers have the opportunity to benefit from the Green Deal. "That may well involve us in taking various different participating roles."

Mr Pollard added that getting customers to participate in the Deal would involve some training, accreditation processes and "will certainly engage Plumb Center in the process in some sort of way. Until we finalise our arrangements, however we would prefer to leave our options open".

Mr Pollard believes it is inevitable that different groups will come together to address different market circumstances and opportunities. "We have already seen the process under way for what has been the largest Green Deal programme to come to market to-date – Birmingham Energy Savers.     

This organisation is a Birmingham City Council and Birmingham Environmental Partnership project working with businesses across the city. It aims to help the people of Birmingham save money on their fuel bills, become more energy-efficient and help protect the environment with no upfront costs.

The scale of Green Deal, Mr Pollard observed, is enormous. "We have heard quotes talking about it affecting 14 million properties by 2020. If that genuinely turns out to be the scale, the issue won't be about fighting over who gets the work, it will be a fight to satisfy demand. It is going to provide plenty of opportunities for plenty of people."

The uptake of Green Deal, according to ministers, will be something that will gradually emerge. "We don't expect to be overwhelmed by demand in October," said Mr Pollard.

"This is a 20-year programme, and it is fantastic opportunity for the construction industry. We are all desperate for it to succeed. But, because it is a loose framework, there are going to be all sorts of different models emerging and different types of participants.

"The scale of take-up will be a slow start but, hopefully, with a consistent build-up until we reach the point where we are really generating a lot of work. The scheme depends on that uptake because the funding is contingent on sizeable take-up so that the finance companies can enter the market and offer finance at a useable interest rate."

The word 'accreditation' strikes fear in the heart of the installer. "The good news as far as heating is concerned," Mr Pollard explained, "is that in order to be an accredited installer, the Government has recognised existing standards – Gas Safe and MCS. So, it will be a less than onerous process."

However, he warned, if installers are involved with work outside this area, there may be a higher benchmark to achieve. "The feeling is that both Gas Safe and MCS are a model for accreditation because they are quite rigorous."

The Government has always stated that much of the benefit of Green Deal is due to the high degree of consumer protection and guarantees and warranties that are associated with it. "The Government always cites the scheme in Australia that failed spectacularly because of a lack of consumer protection," he added. It does not intend to make that same mistake.

Is Plumb Center planning to lead the market? "It is a business decision for all businesses to understand the opportunity and the cost of entering this market," Mr Pollard replied.

"Because there is such a loose framework and because it is an 'emerging story', even when the scheme is launched, I expect we will see a rolling programme of modifications and amendments.

"Many people have struggled to keep up with this dialogue. It has taken a sizeable commitment from Plumb Center in terms of visits to London, attending meetings and working our way through hundreds of pages of consultation documents. You have to make a fairly large commitment to simply understand what the opportunity is.

"Once you have understood that, there is still a sizeable commitment if you want to become involved. Companies have to take a view of themselves, see how it measures up, what their business case is and what opportunity there is for a profitable outcome," Mr Pollard stated.

Not everybody will have to be a Green Deal provider. Nor will they have to be immersed in it. "The products that will be installed in buildings will be the same ones we are selling today," he pointed out.

"If you are a merchant, my suspicion is that you will be involved in the Green Deal whether you like it or not. The only difference between merchants and other suppliers will be deeper market control.

"I am fairly optimistic that the entire industry will be able to benefit from the Green Deal," he said.

The ambition at present is to affect large amounts of solid wall properties to try to improve their efficiency with insulation.

There is also some feeling that initially social housing providers and local authorities will play a strong role.

"There may be quicker progress in some areas than others," Mr Pollard explained. "When you look at owner-occupiers – which make up some 70% of the housing stock – they are all individuals. They'll all make their own decisions in their own timescales with their own budgets. That's why this will be a more difficult market to stimulate than an organisation that owns several thousand properties.

Uptake, he said, will also be driven by dynamism in the energy market in terms of fuel costs and comfort values in homes.

"Some of these products have been around for a number of years and yet there has not been a queue forming at our door by people saying 'we want some of that energy-efficiency'.

"The uptake will demand some fairly clever marketing and communication to help people to understand why they should be interested and what they will get at the end of the day.

"It might not be the perfect scheme, but it's the only show in town," he said. "You can either say it might not be the perfect scheme for you, but ask: how can you play your part and make sure you get the opportunities for yourself and your customers? Or, can you really stick your head in the sand and say it's not for you? That is the decision every business will have to make for itself." 

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