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Edward Mountain: Eco standards for Highland homes could hit us all in the pocket

By Ed Mountain

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Many Highland homes would struggle to meet new demands on energy efficiency.
Many Highland homes would struggle to meet new demands on energy efficiency.

When looking to buy a house, most people tend to seek out roughly the same information. They want to know what the asking price is and where it is. They want to know the basic characteristics, such as how many bedrooms and the size of the garden. Young families moving up the property ladder may have an eye out for local school catchments.

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But there’s one thing people don’t tend to look for, not in the first instance anyway, and that is the energy rating of the property. Yet, thanks to Scottish Government policy, it may be about to become one of the most expensive and onerous elements of purchasing a new home.

The Environmental Policy Certificate runs from ratings A to G, G being the worst. The Scottish Government in Edinburgh wants every building in the country, by law, to have an EPC rating of C or above by 2033. Ministers have been warned that while this may well be achievable for flash, new-build estates coming onto the market, it could be extremely difficult for everyone else.

The housing stock in the Highlands just isn’t suitable for this overhaul, and owners will be faced with bills of tens of thousands of pounds. By way of proving this, my office recently embarked on some research in relation to homes for sale in the Caithness area.

According to the national property website Rightmove there are 78 homes for sale in the area. This excludes plots of lands or developments which have not yet been built. Of these, just 17 are currently blessed with an EPC rating of C or above.

That’s just a fraction of the total, and leaves more than 60 which – if future SNP-Green proposals are applied – would fall foul of this legislation.

Either the sellers or the buyers would need to find significant extra funds to make these expensive mandated alterations. It would be enough to put off considerable numbers of people moving home at all.

What’s more, our analysis shows that many of the C-rated properties are also the most expensive. The further you go down the price list, the worse the energy rating becomes. That suggests that this policy will disproportionately affect those on low incomes, asking people who are at their financial limits in buying a home to then find even more for energy improvements. This damaging idea will unfairly impact the Highlands, and is another policy dreamed up in the central belt by a government that only cares about urban life.

People may wonder what is actually involved in upgrading a home to EPC C level.

The measures are numerous, and can include an air source heat pump, insulation of walls, new double-glazed windows, new external doors, underfloor insulation and recarpeting. These aren’t cheap amendments, and could easily run in excess of £25,000.

The latest evidence provided by this research proves the area of Caithness is simply nowhere near ready for the change. Once the Scottish Government reviews the responses to its consultation, it must think again about the financial burden this will load on the people of Caithness and beyond.

We all want warmer and more environmentally-friendly homes. But forcing people, in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, to bankroll a poorly thought-out government idea is lousy, irresponsible and could be devasting for family finances the region over.

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