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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Topical Question Time

New-build Heat Standard

To ask the Scottish Government when it will next review the new-build heat standard. (S6T-01924)

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

The new-build heat standard was approved unanimously by parliamentary committee last year, following two consultations. Local authorities are responsible for implementing it. We have engaged with them, and will continue to do so, to ensure that the regulations are implemented in the right way. That is part of the regular implementation process for new legislation, and we will continue to address any need to clarify the guidance.

Rachael Hamilton

The minister might not know that rural communities across Scotland rely on wood-burning stoves to heat their homes—they did so during storm Arwen in particular. The poorly thought-out ban has been criticised by Western Isles Council, a Scottish National Party MSP and even a former Scottish Green MSP. With rural areas already suffering from population decline, why is the minister hellbent on making it even more difficult to heat new homes?

Patrick Harvie

Naturally, I reject the characterisation in the member’s question. In fact, we extensively consulted rural stakeholders—including rural local authorities—in developing the regulations, over a number of years and in two formal consultation processes. I am a little surprised that the member put her question in the way that she did given that, in committee, her party colleague agreed with the unanimous support for the new-build heat standard—a measure that has been praised by the United Kingdom Climate Change Committee, which urged the UK Government to accelerate its action in that area to match our timetable.

Rachael Hamilton

Although a provision that refers to emergency heating was secured, which permits alternative heat sources as a back-up in off-grid situations, it does not extend to stoves. The answer that the minister gave shows the ignorance of the SNP and Greens about the situation and about the needs of Scots who live outside the central belt.

The minister might not be banning stoves in existing homes, but the Government is consulting on doing just that. As well as reversing the ban for new builds, the minister must rule out subjecting rural communities to even harsher winters by ruling out the outright ban on wood-burning stoves. Will he commit to that?

Patrick Harvie

As well as being at a slight loss as to why the member appears unwilling to engage with the fact that her party colleague supported the instrument in committee, I am disappointed that she chooses to misrepresent the Government’s position on the entirely separate consultation on the heat in buildings bill, which does not propose an outright ban on existing biomass heating systems or their installation in existing homes—in fact, it asks questions about the additional flexibility that might be required in those circumstances, specifically to deal with the experiences of rural communities that the member mentioned.

It is clear that the new-build heat standard, alongside high energy efficiency standards for new builds, is necessary to drive down carbon emissions. We are convinced that we can do that in a way that tackles fuel poverty for all of Scotland’s communities and stimulates the development of a clean heat supply chain in Scotland.

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Given the small but often essential and traditional role that peat plays in heating some of Scotland’s most fuel-poor communities—such as those in my constituency—will the minister say what criteria will be set for an emergency heat system and its fuel sources in relation to the new-build heat standard? I declare an interest of a sort, as I cut peat for my own use.

Patrick Harvie

The technical handbooks highlight that fixed emergency heating might be appropriate when portable solutions are not viable because of the size, complexity or heat demands of a particular building. However, the new-build heat standard is technology neutral; not only does it make a distinction between direct and zero-direct emissions heating, but it does not distinguish by fuel source.

As for situations in which peat is used for cooking, I clarify that cooking is outside the scope of the new-build heat standard, which means that fuel-burning appliances can be installed if their only purpose is cooking.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

The guidance in the Government’s “Domestic Technical Handbook” says:

“emergency heating will normally be connected to the same means of heat distribution used by the normal heating system. A back-up source of electrical power would be needed to enable operation of related auxiliary systems.”

What analysis has the Scottish Government undertaken of the cost of installing all that? Given that cost and the technical issues, is there not in practice a ban? Will the minister confirm whether the back-up source of electrical power that is now required could include a diesel generator?

Patrick Harvie

As I said in my reply to Rachael Hamilton, the Government has consulted extensively and has heard from organisations, individuals and communities that have experience of the kind that Jamie Halcro Johnston refers to. We have taken account of all their responses and conducted a range of impact assessments on the measure, and we are convinced that it will achieve the objectives that I set out.

I ask Mr Halcro Johnston to recognise that, as with other aspects of our building standards system, when there is a need for discretion and the inability to apply any particular aspect of building standards, that flexibility is always there and will continue to be so.

Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The recent Climate Change Committee report praised the proposed heat in buildings bill as

“a template for the rest of the UK”

for decarbonising our housing stock, but it acknowledged that we will still need to ramp up the decarbonisation of our homes by a factor of 10 in the coming years if we are to have any hope of meeting our climate targets. Will the minister confirm how the new-build heat standard will contribute to reducing our emissions from such buildings? What is the estimated emissions reduction compared with that from continuing to build new homes with direct-emissions heating?

Patrick Harvie

The policy’s objective is to prevent the greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with delivering space heating, hot water and cooling in new buildings, and so to help to achieve net zero by 2045.

On the climate change plan accounting basis for emissions, over the long term, the new-build heat standard is expected to deliver cumulative savings of about 5.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent between 2024 and 2083, under central assumptions. That can be broken down as 2.3 million tonnes equivalent saving in the residential sector and 3 million tonnes equivalent in the services sector.

The member mentioned that the UK Climate Change Committee has praised our work on that. I, too, am convinced that that work will stimulate the development of the supply chain for clean heat in Scotland.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

There is no escaping the fact that people in rural homes face a particular challenge in remaining warm or decarbonising their heat systems in an affordable way, and that the exceptions in legislation are necessary. Will the minister reassure my constituents in Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale that, through the new-build heat standard, consideration is being given to the unique needs of rural and remote homes, and that rural home owners can access additional support, including grant funding, to meet their clean heating needs?

Patrick Harvie

Absolutely. We have taken seriously the concerns of rural communities and have included provision for the use of fixed emergency heating. That reflects the reality that such flexibility might be needed in some circumstances for new homes to provide emergency heat, which could include the use of wood-burning stoves.

I mentioned the extensive consultation that has taken place. North Ayrshire Council, Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Aspire Orkney and other organisations and companies working across the country, including in rural communities, took part in that, as well as in a number of separate workshops.

On grant funding, we already provide additional support to households for installing clean heating and energy efficiency measures in existing homes. For example, our home energy Scotland grants and loans have a rural uplift, which means that people in applicable areas can obtain grants of up to £9,000.

Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Will the minister clarify how I am to tell my constituents who are building new houses—for example, in the area of Rothes, which is in the shadow of a plant that burns woodchips to generate electricity, for which a grant is given—why they cannot burn wood in their wood-burning stoves?

Patrick Harvie

People who currently have wood-burning stoves should be reassured that those who claim that there is an outright ban are misleading them. People who already rely on such systems can continue to do so.

In relation to new build, the UK Climate Change Committee has been clear that there are circumstances in which biomass can give us a useful contribution to reducing our carbon emissions, but that will not be the case in all circumstances. We will continue to explore the situations where that is justified, while ensuring that the homes that we build for the future are fit for the 21st century in terms of addressing climate change and particulate pollution.

Free Bikes for School-age Children

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on its pledge to provide a free bike to every school-age child who cannot afford one. (S6T-01914)

The Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights (Patrick Harvie)

The free bikes pilot programme concluded in August 2022, and the independent evaluation by Research Scotland was published in January 2023. Based on the evaluation’s findings, we concluded that a third sector partnership approach would best meet local needs, rather than a national model for delivery. That informed the development of the free bikes partnership, which was established in April 2023. The Scottish Government has invested £900,000 in the free bikes partnership, which is run on our behalf by Cycling Scotland. To date, a total of 6,814 new, refurbished and specially adapted bikes have been provided to children by delivery partners under the scheme.

Will the Government keep its pledge to provide free bikes to children living in poverty by 2026?

Patrick Harvie

I have already indicated the action that we are taking, and I would hope that those members who have made a rather simplistic calculation about the price per bike for the purposes of press releases will recognise that they are misleading people. The money that is being invested in the programme is not only for the provision of bikes; it is also for adapted bikes, to ensure that the scheme is inclusive, and it includes cycle training, accessories and other costs. I hope that members will recognise the strong value to Scotland in achieving a shift towards active travel, in maintaining the health of our young people and in ensuring that active travel is as inclusive as it needs to be.

Martin Whitfield

I am grateful to the minister for that response, but I did not make mention of any costs or of any quotes. I asked whether or not the pledge was going to be kept in 2026. Can the minster confirm, then, that, by 2026, all children living in poverty will have access to a free bike?

I have set out the approach that we are taking with the free bikes partnership, and the—

Members: Ah!

I am sorry that members do not wish to hear the answer. I have set out the approach that we are taking in relation to the free bikes partnership, which—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the minister.

Patrick Harvie

The free bikes partnership is based on the evaluation of the pilots that we undertook. It was absolutely necessary to undertake those pilots to understand the different challenges and the different delivery models. We concluded—in my view, quite rightly—that, on the basis of the evidence, a single national delivery model would not be the best way to meet the needs or intentions of the policy. That is why we are taking forward the third sector partnership programme.

I am keen to allow other members to put supplementary questions, so let us keep them, and responses, concise.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

I welcome the fact that nearly 7,000 children have benefited so far, and I want that number to be built on. However, access to bikes must go hand in hand with the required infrastructure. Will the minister outline the progress that has been made in investing in active travel infrastructure, including in extending on-street bicycle storage facilities to support my constituents who live in flatted or tenemental properties?

Patrick Harvie

Funding for active travel is now at a record level of £220 million for the financial year 2024-25. That supports our vision for active travel, where walking, wheeling and cycling will be the natural and easy choices for shorter, everyday journeys. We will continue to build on our record investment in active travel, including in infrastructure. Indeed, I visited some of the storage infrastructure that we have supported in Bob Doris’s constituency—and there will be many other examples around the country. I encourage all members to work with their local authorities and regional transport partnerships on the new roles that we have supported them to fulfil in delivering that active travel vision for Scotland.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The Scottish Government also pledged to provide a free laptop to every child in Scotland. Three years in, the data seems to suggest that fewer than 10 per cent have received them. When in the next two years will that pledge be delivered?

The Presiding Officer

I cannot allow that question, as supplementary questions have to be relevant to the substantive question in the Business Bulletin. [Interruption.] I have to respectfully disagree with you on this occasion, Mr Kerr.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

The minister just waffled in response to Martin Whitfield. There was a clear election pledge that every child in poverty would have access to a free bike. Can the minister avoid the waffle—do not tell me about the process—and tell me whether all those young people will get those bikes?

Patrick Harvie

I do not imagine that Willie Rennie thinks that I am responsible for any other political party’s manifesto. I am responsible for this Government’s programme of work. It is the most ambitious and well-funded approach to active travel of any part of the United Kingdom by a very long margin. It is investing in access to bikes, infrastructure and culture change on our roads. That is the way that we intend to achieve the objectives that I hope to achieve, and which I would like to think that everyone hopes all political parties share.

That concludes topical question time.