Why we need a retrofit revolution in the south west – and beyond

Selina White, 19 November 2020

Many organisations already have sustainability at the top of their risk register, and most others have it rapidly rising the rankings. It is no longer considered an emerging risk to be watched.

Climate change, increasing carbon emissions, managing waste and the impact of our activities on the environment are all linked to the way we live and work.  We have a collective responsibility for ensuring that the change that is needed actually happens.

At Magna, we recognise that every measure – big and small – will help, and that as a successful business in south west England we can make a difference to our local environment and, importantly, to our customers. We also want to support our local authority partners in meeting their own climate priorities.

We are more than aware that many of our existing homes have poor energy efficiency and living in a cold home can lead to poor health, especially among children, older people and those living with long-term sickness and disabilities. And this is particularly worrying in our region, south west England, due to our ageing population.

In Dorset and Somerset, there is an increasing and ageing population, with the number of people over 65 set to increase from 25% of our local population this year to 33% by 2040. This is significantly higher than the national average. Especially significant is our population of people over 80, which is set to increase by 77% (from 97,000 to 172,000). In addition, south west England has a higher than average number of people with complex health conditions and disabled people. Over the coming years, we know that we will see an increasing number of older residents living in our general needs homes.

With this context in mind, I was pleased to join other housing leaders at a recent roundtable event with Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, hosted by the NHF. It was an opportunity to make the case to the government on a sector-led retrofit revolution ahead the Treasury’s Spending Review in November. 

And it is a very compelling case. Tackling decarbonisation by retrofitting homes not only creates warmer homes, it also creates jobs and give a much-needed boost to the economy – at a time when both are very much needed.

The data on job creation that supports the call for the retrofit revolution is impressive. The NHF has outlined how investing in energy efficiency measures alone could create 34,000 full-time jobs within the next two years. On top of this, raising the energy performance of every home in the UK to EPC Band C would sustain around 100,000 new jobs annually over the next 10 years. By 2035, the IPPR claims that over 325,000 jobs could be created across the UK in the low-carbon heating sector.

The growth of a highly skilled workforce would bring a significant economic boost to south west England, a region which struggles to offer younger people employment opportunities.

Housing associations are well placed and ready to offer these opportunities. Many of us have large in-house maintenance teams that are already looking at the new technologies and skills we will need to fit and maintain greener components in our homes. We have well established apprenticeship schemes aimed at attracting young talent into important trade roles, offering opportunities to train in the latest technologies.

From attending the NHF roundtable, I get a real sense that the government are in listening mode, so I call on all leaders in the sector to support the NHF and make the case for a retrofit revolution.

The communities we work in will benefit from both warmer, more efficient homes, and the economic boost that will be generated by the growth in highly-skilled jobs.