'Ridiculous' EPC energy rating 'destroying' Cornwall communities

Most residents have the same concerns about Cornwall
Porthleven, which is struggling with a lack of homes for rent like so many other towns and villages in Cornwall -Credit:Darren Welsh / Unsplash

The pressure on getting an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating on old houses in Cornwall is forcing landlords into selling much-needed rental properties or turning them into holiday lets. People in Porthleven, where it is especially prevalent, say it is destroying Cornish coastal communities like theirs.

Government legislation, overseen locally by Cornwall Council, requires privately rented domestic properties to have a minimum EPC rating of E or above, but a holiday let doesn't require the minimum rating. Many old mining and fishing cottages in Cornwall tend to only receive F or G ratings.

Alec Short, chairman of Porthleven Food Festival, is also a carpenter who has worked on many houses in the town and surrounding area, and has spoken out on the effect the EPC policy is having on the harbour community. He argues it is this rather than the perception of "greedy landlords" making a quick buck out of the holiday trade which is the real reason why a lack of private rentals is adding to the Duchy's housing crisis.

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"I have worked on a lot of properties in the Porthleven area recently where the landlords have been forced into turning their homes into holiday rentals versus letting out to local people because of Cornwall Council's EPC policy, which is part of the wider Government's ridiculous Net Zero drive.

"The Government's scramble to do something with very limited environmental impact is actively causing the massive shortage of rentals to people in desperate need of housing in Cornwall, not greedy landlords cashing in on tourism.

"For example, there were two properties in the last two weeks in Porthleven where landlords couldn't get their EPC rating ... it was easier and cheaper to throw a couple of fire doors in and let it out as a holiday let, even though they really wanted to let to local people. It is destroying the cultural richness of Cornish coastal communities. It's awful here, so many friends are having to leave the village."

Alec Short tightens the letters on the sign for the new Shipyard Market in Porthleven
Alec Short at work in Porthleven -Credit:Greg Martin / Cornwall Live

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Mayor of Porthleven Mike Toy is also a carpenter, who will stand for Cornwall Council at next year's election with the EPC issue being one of his main campaigning policies. "EPC doesn't do anybody any favours, it just seems to be a box-ticking exercise for climate and zero carbon. I think they've pushed it too far. No costings have been done on how it will affect people.

"The problem is a national one, but we should get together as a single voice with Cornwall Council and our MPs, and highlight this is not a good thing for Cornwall. Our housing stock is mostly granite, cob buildings and very old stock, so it's very difficult to bring it up to these EPC levels. This is the problem. You get a row of terrace houses - old fishermen's or miner's cottages - built in the 19th century and you can't do anything to them. You can insulate the roofs and put in double glazing, but that's about it."

Both he and Mr Short said that housing charity Coastline Housing had been forced to sell some of its housing stock in Porthleven because of the issue, which had an impact on local people finding homes in the town.

"It's very difficult for local people in Porthleven to find any sort of accommodation, especially with Coastline being our main supplier of houses in the village for rent. Once they've sold it on the open market, it's gone. It's not just Porthleven, it's all coastal towns and villages in Cornwall - they're all being hollowed out, and this EPC rating is not helping," added Mr Toy.

The Government has previously said it wants all tenanted properties to meet EPC level C by 2030, though Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appeared to scrap this last September when he said: "Landlords will not be required to invest substantial sums of money during a cost-of-living crisis when many are themselves struggling financially."

Coastline Housing CEO Allister Young said the charity is working to ensure that all of its homes meet a level C rating by 2030. Currently, 83 per cent of its homes are at EPC level C or above, while across the South West only 45 per cent of homes are at that level. He said: "We have achieved this through many years of hard work and innovation, investing millions of pounds to improve the quality of homes and reduce energy costs for our customers.

“As a housing charity, at all times we have to ensure that we are spending our money responsibly and for the benefit of our current, and future, customers. As part of this responsible approach, we do sell some of our older homes when a customer moves out.

“However, while we do sell some of our older homes, this a very small proportion of the homes we own – typically less than one per cent of our total housing stock per year. All the money from these sales gets ring-fenced to be spent on providing new affordable housing, helping us build many more homes than we sell – over the last ten years we have sold 394 homes across Cornwall, and built 1,803 new ones. In Porthleven over the same time we have built 27 new homes and sold 19 (four of which were sold through the Right to Buy).

“Some of the properties that we do sell are physically not able to meet the required EPC level by 2030 without significant upgrades, but this is only about one in 20 of the homes that we sell, as our preferred option is to invest in homes and retain them. Where we do dispose of any older homes, we do so under an ethical sales policy which sees us working with local councils to prioritise selling these homes to local people.”

People in the building trade in Porthleven, including the town's mayor, think EPC ratings are having a devastating impact on housing
People in the building trade in Porthleven, including the town's mayor, think EPC ratings are having a devastating impact on housing -Credit:Getty Images

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A spokesperson for Cornwall Council said: "Regulation is our responsibility and we are proactive in ensuring landlords meet their energy efficiency obligations rather than leaving tenants to shoulder the burden. As a result, we have contacted more than 350 landlords and letting agents in the last 12 months and continue to raise awareness of the minimum standards.

"Where properties fail to meet the standard we offer support to landlords through our partnership with Community Energy Plus (CEP). They tailor advice on the most appropriate and cost-effective improvements, as well as explaining the various funding streams available to help fund improvements. The number of privately rented homes not meeting the required standard has fallen by over 50 per cent since the landlord service was launched in 2021.

"On our social housing stock we have a plan to invest £200m over the next eight years to improve our council homes. The funding will be spent on improvements including new windows, doors, boilers, bathrooms and kitchens. Alongside this we will also be spending £83m over the next eight years to deal with ongoing maintenance including issues such as damp and mould."

Landlords can register a valid exemption where improvements are not possible. For dedicated advice on exemptions landlords can contact the council at MEES@cornwall.gov.uk