This Earth Day, we examine the latest developments in climate policy and what it means for social housing

Rory Hughes, 22 April 2022

Earth Day 2022 falls on Friday 22 April so I thought I’d take the opportunity to summarise some of the recent developments for the UK and for housing associations in the field of sustainability and decarbonisation. 

It’s been a busy period since our last update in January about the NHF’s work on climate change and sustainability.

Electric heat pumps – your questions answered

In February, we recorded a webinar to answer some of your questions about electric heat pumps and their installation, given that they are likely to be the dominant solution to heating our homes in a net zero future.

Decarbonisation briefing for smaller housing associations

In March, we published a briefing examining the specific challenges for smaller housing associations when it comes to decarbonisation and the support we have put in place This is an ongoing piece of work and we will continue to engage with smaller housing associations on these important issues throughout the year. For example, in June, we will be running a webinar for smaller housing associations on the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund

Political engagement

We are continuing to work with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the policy design of Wave 2 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund worth £800m between 2022-25, which will launch later this year. Further announcements on other government funding streams are summarised here.

We also joined NatWest and others who signed a letter to the Secretary of State Kwasi Kwarteng MP detailing measures the government should take now to ensure housing associations can deliver energy efficiency this decade.

In April, we responded to the government’s Biodiversity Net Gain consultation, which proposes that planning permission should only be granted where natural habitats for wildlife are measurably healthier after a development.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report

At the beginning of April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the third instalment of their sixth assessment report, which explores the mechanisms available to our planet for radically reducing carbon emissions. It follows a first section published last August that warned human changes to the climate were becoming irreversible and a second section published at the end of February warning of catastrophic impacts if we continue on our current trajectory, which very simply was called ‘a fast track to climate disaster’ by the UN Secretary General.

Energy Security Strategy – what’s in it?

These renewed calls for a swift energy transition are further emphasised by the Russian war against Ukraine, which is exacerbating both price shocks and potential shortages of fossil fuels. Shortly after, the UK government published their Energy Security Strategy which had some interesting medium-term proposals that housing associations should be aware of.

The government is planning to develop local partnerships for a limited number of ‘supportive communities’ in England who wish to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for guaranteed lower energy bills. Where housing associations are key anchors in communities, supporting such schemes could aid nationwide decarbonisation of the energy grid and offer ongoing financial support to residents in the coming years.

The government is also looking to increase the UK’s current 14GW of solar capacity, which could grow up to five times by 2035. They are aiming to liberalise planning permission for solar projects particularly on domestic and commercial rooftops, facilitate low cost finance from retail lenders to drive rooftop deployment and designing performance standards to make installation of renewables, including solar (PV) panels, the presumption in new homes and buildings.

The Energy Security Strategy also renewed the government’s commitment to bring down the price of electricity and improve distribution networks to make the necessary transition to heat pumps easier.

Also included was confirmation that a new energy advice website will be launched in June of this year. This website will focus on signposting a range of stakeholders to information, finance and tailored advice on energy improvements for homes, and will be complemented with national digital and telephone support, alongside specific local advice projects. This is something the NHF has been calling for so we welcome this announcement.

Energy Security Strategy – what’s missing?

Something sadly missing from the Energy Security Strategy was any new money to support the vital work of housing associations in improving the insulation of our homes. This would reduce the amount of energy needed to heat homes, which would bring down bills for residents and contribute to the UK’s target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. It would also reduce the need for Russian gas imports and provide a lasting solution to fuel poverty. However, the government’s commitment to the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund remains strong and we recently attended the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Energiser conference in Manchester, which brought together all those who had benefited so far. This includes almost 90 housing associations.

Finally, the decarbonisation of our homes remains a core part of the NHF’s new three-year business strategy. We will soon be receiving the results of our research into the issue of hard to decarbonise homes, which will inform our next steps in our work in this area.

Climate Change and Sustainability in Housing 2022

24-25 May 2022

Join peers from across the housing association sector and beyond to define how we can work together to decarbonise our existing homes and ensure that new homes are built to much higher environmental standards.

Find out more