To meet the UK’s targets for carbon emissions, we need long-term certainty for retrofit

Alan Boddy, 12 January 2021

In February 2019 the UK Committee on Climate Change warned that UK homes were not fit for the future, and as a result they made a series of recommendations, including no new homes to be connected to a gas grid from 2025.

The Spring Statement followed in March, revealing plans for a Future Homes Standard, which will ban fossil fuel heating in new build homes by 2025. Then, in June, the government proposed a legal commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In an important step towards reaching the goals established in 2019, last year the government pledged £3.6bn towards a retrofit revolution. This a commitment to decarbonise our homes while stimulating the economy as part of our recovery from coronavirus – creating a new wave of green jobs along the way.

This is a positive step, but there’s no denying that achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 poses a considerable challenge to the social housing sector. Not only must we vastly improve the efficiency of existing stock, we must also plan ahead and ensure any development work is future proofed against the effects of climate change. Mitigation is key moving forward.

What’s more, we must balance the costs of decarbonisation against the costs associated with changes to building safety requirements.

There is no doubt that the social housing sector is well placed to deliver retrofit at volume (just look at what we achieved under the Decent Homes Standard), however the scale of the task ahead poses new challenges. Most notable are the significant shortfall in long-term funding, and the capacity to drive an efficient and effective supply chain.

The sector has seen, and continues to see, a wide range of grants and funding regimes that are inaccessible at volume. We need a consistent and sizeable amount of funding which is made available throughout the journey to carbon neutrality.

We calculate that the cost of retrofitting our stock to net-zero is somewhere in the region of £20,000 per property – this could mean a bill of up to £170m for our organisation alone. The Social Housing Decarbonisation fund offers us a glimmer of hope, yet this will still fall far short of the estimated cost of decarbonising UK housing, which is some of the least energy efficient stock in Europe.

While competitions and grant regimes are welcome in a bid to drive up innovation and collaboration, they are not a sustainable delivery model upon which the sector can confidently develop plans to scale up decarbonisation activity. We need solutions that can be articulated to lenders and provide confidence to secure finance. We need guaranteed future investment in homes, both new and existing.

The UK's approach to retrofitting homes needs a radical overhaul, work needs to be done at speed and at scale if we are to meet the government’s ambitious targets – we need a retrofit revolution.

The driver to a successful retrofit regime is to guarantee certainty for the future, achievable through working jointly with the government to secure long-term funding and to design an optimum roadmap of standards, targets and requirements. That’s why, alongside the NHF, I’m calling for a retrofit revolution.