Reasons to be cheerful?
With Christmas just a few days away, CIH NI director Cecilia Keaveney scours the Irish government's Budget for some festive cheer.
As we approach this month’s festivities - the season of goodwill - Christmas cheer seems in short supply. The stable really is a location that people will relate to more than ever at this time of austerity.
There is plenty of ‘bah humbug’ based on very serious realities such as the 180,000 families who are struggling to pay their mortgages and the one in four family homes that are either in arrears or have had their mortgages restructured. There has also been the announcement of the Property Tax that will further test individuals and families across all sectors of society, the 45% increase in people sleeping rough in Dublin in six months and all the other housing challenges that have emerged in 2012.
Alas, it is highly unlikely that these problems are going to be resolved in the short term. Many of us will be facing them throughout 2013. That’s why I took a conscious decision to scour this month’s Budget and seek out a positive housing announcement. I thought the inclusion of €35 million for retrofitting houses was worthy of further investigation. As a headline, it did appear to have positive potential.
At face value, the focus on retrofitting and energy efficiency is laudable. Who will gain, how the need will be prioritised and where that money will be spent is the detail that will be of interest. The €35 million is a ‘seed capital injection’ into the new Energy Efficiency Fund (EEF), and the government wants to grow that fund.
An intended joint venture with the private sector has merit, especially given continued difficulties accessing finance. But it’s also worth noting that a further €9 million is committed over the next three years to start energy efficiency work, not on homes identified as in most need, but in the grand houses that make up government buildings.
The National Energy Action Plan has a target of retrofitting 100,000 homes every year until 2020, so defining who will gain and how is an important topic for 2013. The fact that the new Property Tax is based on the value of your home, and improvements to your home increase its value, becomes part of the debate immediately. It means people looking to make their homes more energy-efficient could be penalised by the negative impact of higher tax.
Retrofitting and energy efficiency projects can help save and generate many billions of euros as well as delivering warmer, more economic homes for communities across the country.
But a sustainable industry will not automatically happen – as the potential conflict with the new Property Tax shows there is much work to be done to turn this €35 million Budget announcement into properly good news. At CIH we’ll be engaging in the debate on its strengths and weaknesses to help make sure this potential star shines brightly in 2013 rather than tarnishes.