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The retrofit challenge is huge. Time for a cash injection

We need to put the kind of energy we put into the vaccine programme into the efforts to retrofit our housing, and that begins with the chancellor making it a priority, writes Tracy Harrison

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If we are going to install tens of thousands of heat pumps, retrofit must be an urgent priority (picture: Vaillant)
If we are going to install tens of thousands of heat pumps, retrofit must be an urgent priority (picture: Vaillant)
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We need to put the kind of energy we put into the vaccine programme into the efforts to retrofit our housing, and that begins with the chancellor making it a priority, writes Tracy Harrison #UKhousing

It is a little over nine months since the first jab in the UK’s mass vaccination programme was administered.

Since then, more than 87 million doses have been delivered across the UK.

It is awe-inspiring what we can do when we combine forces in pursuit of a common goal – I suspect none of us would have believed that the logistical feat of delivering nearly 90 million vaccines in nine months would be possible if you’d asked us just 18 months ago.

It’s that kind of spirit that we’re going to have to bring to the challenge of housing retrofit. The Northern Housing Consortium’s Northern Housing Monitor – published today – sets out fresh evidence on the scale of the challenge we face across the North to get our homes net-zero ready.

Just to get all homes to Energy Performance Certificate C – the first staging post on the road to net zero, we need to retrofit two-thirds of the North’s homes. That’s over four million homes across the North.

If we take the 2035 target for the government set in the Clean Growth Strategy as the deadline to get homes to EPC C, that means retrofitting 270,000 northern homes per year from the 2020 baseline the most recent data gives us.


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It’s a massive challenge – and breaking it down further doesn’t make it any less daunting.

It’s equivalent to 737 homes per day, 30 homes an hour: a home every two minutes in the North – just to meet the government’s own target (and remember, that target needs to be reached five years earlier for low-income households).

But a quarter of the North’s carbon emissions come from our homes. If we take anything away from last week’s IPCC report, it’s that we can’t shy away from this. It’s code red for humanity. As UN Secretary General António Guterres said: “If we combine forces now, we can avert climate catastrophe.”

So, let’s channel the COVID jab spirit and combine forces on this – housing associations, ALMOs, local and central government. The BEIS select committee told government that the social housing sector could be ‘flag bearers’ for housing retrofit, and the NHC’s members are certainly up for that role.

We can use the scale that owning or managing one in five homes in the North brings to develop supply chains and skills – capacity that can then be deployed in other tenures over time.

That’s our offer. What we need from central government is a cash injection. At the multi-year spending review due this autumn, Rishi Sunak must bring forward the £3.8bn pledged in the Conservative manifesto for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund, and confirm the £2.5bn Home Upgrade Grant programme for the private rented and owner-occupied sectors.

It’s that long-term funding certainty we need to build a programme that can meet the scale of the challenge.

If the chancellor can deliver that, then we can deliver not just on the government’s own 2035 retrofit target, but also on its vital levelling-up agenda. We know that green home upgrades can create an estimated 77,000 direct jobs across the North by the 2030s. These are good, green jobs: 53,000 working on retrofit, and another 24,000 working to install heat pumps and heat networks.

Carrying on as we have just isn’t an option. The IPCC report shows that. At the current rate of progress, the monitor estimates will take us 17 years just to eliminate EPC E homes from the North’s stock. And with more than half of the North’s homes currently EPC D rated, that would leave us way off the pace.

This is shaping up as an autumn of decision on climate change. The eyes of the world will be on the Glasgow summit in November, but closer to home, the chancellor faces choices too.

The North’s eyes will be on his spending review, to see if he seizes the opportunity to deliver on net zero and levelling-up with a home upgrade programme that matches the size of the challenge. Over to you, chancellor.

Tracy Harrison, chief executive, Northern Housing Consortium

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