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Government think tank calls for green building "MOTs"

Under Foresight's proposal, buildings could be made to take an MOT that recognises green technology use

Businesses could be made to undertake annual "green MOTs" for their buildings and offices, under new proposals being considered by the government.

The recommendation forms part of a major new report on how to enhance the energy efficiency of the UK's building stock from the government's scientific think tank Foresight, and could lay the foundation for minimum energy efficiency standards for existing properties, and even higher insurance premiums or council taxes for those buildings that waste the most energy.

Under the proposals, homes and offices would be legally obliged to undertake annual energy efficiency tests, modelled on car MOT tests and designed to ensure that existing buildings adhere to high energy efficiency standards similar to those that are to be imposed upon all new properties from 2019 under the government's zero carbon building legislation.

"Homes built in the future will be more carbon neutral, however, the vast majority of buildings pre-date our awareness of emissions and climate change," said Professor John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the government and director of Foresight. "Bringing older housing stock's energy efficiency up to standard should be a priority - provided the right incentives and support are offered to encourage homeowners, business, housing authorities and local government to change their thinking."

The reports' authors have indicated that once green building MOT tests are in place the analogy with motoring could be extended, with those properties that fail to meet the minimum standard penalised through higher council taxes or insurance premiums.

However, John Alker of the Green Building Council warned that the government had to address the high upfront costs that discourage many firms from undertaking low carbon refurbishments before it resorts to penalising those buildings that fail to enhance their energy efficiency.

"We need to see a lot more carrot before we start to use the stick," he said. Alker added that the government was due to consult next month on a report the Green Building Council has contributed to, setting out plans for new financing mechanisms designed to make it easier for people to deploy green technologies on their buildings.

"The idea is that you attach a loan to pay for green improvements to the property rather than the person, so it feels more like a standing charge than a loan" he explained. "That means [improving the energy efficiency of the building] costs nothing up front and the monthly repayments are lower than the savings on your energy bills, so whoever is resident in the building is paying less than they would have done and is also enjoying cost savings."

In addition to building MOTs, the Foresight study also calls for renewed efforts to encourage workers and householders to save more energy, primarily through the roll out of smart meters, as well as greater support for decentralised energy generation projects that curb energy lost through transmission.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, praised the report for offering "a valuable contribution to the debate".

He added that the government was "building on current policies supporting individuals and communities as they develop secure, low-carbon energy supplies and retrofit buildings" and was committed to introducing legislation to " provide real incentives for those installing small scale renewable electricity and heat technologies".

The Department for Communities and Local Government is now expected to assess the study and report on which elements will be adopted as government policy in a year's time.

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