“Following their involvement in our Resident Green Retrofit Conference we’ve been speaking to Northern Housing Consortium’s Senior Policy Advisor Karen Brown about the organisation is doing to drive forward the net zero agenda….

Q. How are housing associations and local authorities across the North of England incorporating carbon neutrality into their future housing plans?

The social housing sector has a good track record of managing and maintaining warm homes. The sector has experience of delivering huge programmes of work, like the multi-billion Decent Homes programme. That is why the social housing sector is ideally placed to lead the way in decarbonising housing stock and why achieving net zero by 2050 is becoming a major part of local authority and housing association long-term asset management strategies.

A retrofit revolution led by the social housing sector would not only cut carbon emissions, it would also create jobs, support local economies, cut fuel bills and help tackle fuel poverty.

It’s no longer about should we do something – it’s how to do it, and how to increase the pace. We know we need to move on from ‘business as usual’. 

But there are significant challenges to overcome if we are to retrofit at scale and pace and decarbonise our homes by 2050, not least building the skills and supply chain we need.

The social sector operates at a scale that it could develop large-scale decarbonisation programmes. This will send a strong signal to the existing supply chain, who already support a rolling programme of repair and refurbishment.  This means that the social housing sector represents considerable potential from which to build a green retrofit market.

With less than 30 years to the net zero target, we are at a critical point for the housing sector to reposition itself, evaluate current stock profiles and consider a long-term strategy.

Q. You set out a roadmap with the Institute for Public Policy Research North for a roadmap to retrofit over 5 million homes, what are the key aspects of the plan?

Regional analysis suggests the need for around 5 million homes in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber to be retrofitted broadly to achieve an EPC rating of C.  The North faces additional challenges in reaching Net Zero as our homes are older than the English average and one in four homes in the North were built before 1919.

Our plan would be to start with a home improvement plan within the social housing sector.  This could form part of the economic recovery for the regions and contributes to the Government’s agenda of ‘levelling up’.

A home improvement programme for the North would require commitment to a 10-year programme of targeted investment in decarbonising the North’s social housing stock which would develop supply chains to allow private housing to make improvement works. This would require a total investment of £2.36 billion a year over a 10-year period, half of which – £1.18 billion – we suggest should be committed, as a minimum, by government in grant funding. 

Considering the economic benefits of decarbonisation as a stimulus, and the importance of meeting emissions targets, we argue that at least 50 per cent of the investment required for the social housing sector should be Government investment to pump prime the stimulus, which could be part of the social housing decarbonisation fund.

Doing this work in the North of England helps the region recover from the impact of Covid-19 and contributes to levelling-up.

Q. Your programme also proposes to install 4.6 million Northern homes with green heat pumps and a further 1.1 million to heat networks, how could such a feat be achieved?

Shifting gears from small scale single-measure improvements to a holistic approach, across neighbourhoods will establish transformative retrofit programmes.  We believe there is a need for investment in neighbourhoods, with support for social housing providers to work across tenures where this would ensure a greater improvement.

We support a pathway that ramps up the use of heat pumps as the main source of domestic heating – with heat networks where household density makes that feasible. This is consistent with the measures to be set out in the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028.

Heat pumps are the available technology, are well-proven internationally, and as the UK supply chain grows the costs will come down.

Q. What is the potential economic and job growth that could be catalysed by retrofitting?

Hundreds of thousands of green jobs could be created by 2030 including in the housing sector for green retrofit.

Retrofitting existing housing stock is not only essential to meet carbon reduction targets, it’s important for economic recovery, and an integral element of levelling up. It is fast and labour-intensive. 

Installing insulation, heat pumps and heat networks require a range of skills and professions. Building on analysis by IPPR to scope the specific economic opportunity for the North of England, it is estimated that the North could see direct demand for approximately 77,000 jobs by 2035 with most retrofit jobs to be created early in the programme.

This means that the sooner a retrofit programme can begin at scale, the more jobs we could begin to create and the more impactful the economic impact could potentially be.

Q. How will firms interested in working on retrofitting in the North of England be able to win work on such schemes?

We believe that the job creating potential of housing retrofit will form part of the region’s economic recovery. There is absolutely no doubt that we need more installers to retrofit existing buildings with energy efficiency and clean heat measures.

There will need good collaboration at local level with the coordination of recruitment and procurement processes.

Many housing providers work closely with firms across the building industry. By working with firms in their supply chains, housing providers could help to raise awareness of opportunities in decarbonisation and routes to accreditation. For example, we sought collaboration from LHC forming a partnership organisation CPC which offers NHC members access to construction frameworks including MMC and traditional solutions for social housing.

Similarly, local and combined authorities could examine how their providers could be supported through the procurement process to become accredited through TrustMark.

In some areas, the planning system is being used to encourage this through the requirement for developers who have been granted planning permission, to develop a localised employment and skills plan. 

Q. Local authorities will still be able to set their own standards above national minimums under government plans, how are local authorities across the North planning to act on this.

It is welcome news that the Building Regulations will not restrict local planning authorities from setting higher energy efficiency standards for new homes. This would have held back those areas which want to be more ambitious.  New homes must be future-proofed and councils called on Government to abandon proposals to restrict their ability to set higher energy standards for new build.

The majority of local and combined authorities have declared a Climate Emergency, and many of these manifestos set more ambitious targets than are set nationally.  It is important to recognise that there should still be a degree of consistency with future national requirements – this just allows some areas to move faster than others if they are able to and everyone is still on track for net zero. ”  

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