Minister turns the disco lights on to sell eco home upgrades

Government's new Green Deal pushes virtues of LED bulbs, but critics say the sums won't add up
  • @MattChorley

A nationwide home-makeover programme is promising hundreds of pounds in savings on energy bills, a chance to preserve the planet and the added bonus of what is being described as an "instant disco in the kitchen".

From this autumn, all households will be offered the chance to improve the look and feel of their property with no upfront charge. The cost of new windows, doors, cladding and hi-tech culinary light effects will be paid back from savings on energy bills.

Some will pocket the savings and do their bit for the environment. Others will "switch the dial round to 24 degrees and Hoover in their knickers," according to Greg Barker, the Tory climate change minister who is desperate to prove that the Green Deal programme will not mean higher bills, as some have warned, but will instead inspire a generation of eco-interior designers. In all, 15 million homes in Britain are not fully insulated and ministers expect the Green Deal to trigger £14bn-worth of private sector spending in the next decade.

Keen to prove there is more to having a low-energy house than lagging the loft, Mr Barker enthuses about LED mood lighting, which can change colour, create different moods and even switch off automatically when the last reveller has left the party. Ugly houses could also be reclad to stop heat escaping, while new doors and windows would improve the look of a property.

"There are a large number of people out there who just want to make their homes nicer," he said. "That goes to the heart of what Britain is about. It was that ethic that drove the privatisation of council housing in the 1980s and extended opportunity to millions of people under Margaret Thatcher." The Green Deal is "very much in that tradition" and will help people "improve their home and actually get a rung up the ladder".

The scheme has attracted criticism from consumer groups, MPs and think tanks, who warn a lack of planning and lukewarm backing from energy firms and providers will leave families struggling to make the sums add up. There are also doubts about whether assessors and installation teams will be fully trained in time for a major launch in the autumn. A connected policy, to force homeowners embarking on improvements to invest in green measures, was branded a "conservatory tax" and triggered calls for the entire project to be scrapped.

But Mr Barker promises a "whole range of exciting gadgets and technologies". Heralding the death of the early low-energy light bulb, he added: "Long gone are the days when you had to sit round a low-energy light bulb and strain your eyes to read the newspaper, in a mist of grey."

Instead, LED lighting could be offered to homes and businesses with big lighting bills. Mr Barker enthused: "The great thing about LED is that it doesn't just save you money, but actually comes in several colours, moods. In some cases, it's almost instant disco in the kitchen. These are fun, attractive products that people are going to want."

He wants to tap into Britain's "home improvement ethic" and believes that, once one or two properties in a street have benefited, the "keeping up with the Joneses effect" will drive demand. The changes will be paid back over 25 years through reductions in bills. Tenants will also be able to benefit, because landlords reluctant to invest in improving their properties will not have to pay for the changes.

But consumer groups claim the scheme will fail to produce the promised savings. Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, accused Mr Barker of being "out of touch" with consumers, adding: "People tell us rising energy bills are their number-one financial worry, so, while we support efforts to make homes more energy-efficient, the minister is in cloud cuckoo land if he thinks people will take up thousands of pounds' worth of debt for eco-gadgets and coloured lighting."