Improving the energy efficiency of our housing stock is a difficult challenge but one we must rise to. That’s why we have formed our new partnership to achieve it, writes Peter Denton
The sustainable retrofit of homes, along with a more sustainable approach to building new ones, has been identified as one of the best ways of helping the UK transition to a low-carbon economy.
For housing associations, which own and manage about 17% of the UK’s housing stock (about five million homes), meeting these targets will be a significant challenge, but one with the potential to transform the lives of millions of people at the same time.
‘Bricks and mortar’ improvements are inextricably linked with residents’ well-being. The benefits of reducing fuel poverty and lowering energy and water bills, for example, are far-reaching – it’s been shown to make tenancies more sustainable and make residents healthier, reducing the burden on health and social services and increasing employment and school attendance.
Doing nothing is not an option. Inefficient buildings, unprotected from climate change, will attract higher insurance premiums, will be more difficult to let and will have higher fuel bills, which could lead to an increased risk of rent arrears.
So, ensuring homes are climate-resilient and energy-efficient, and providing a healthy environment for everyone living in them, will also help protect the long-term sustainability of housing associations as social businesses.
Demonstrating stability and resilience is crucial, particularly as housing associations look to third-party investors to help pay for improving sustainability and safety, while continuing to build more desperately needed homes in the future.
On the face of it, many people are open to changing the way the live. Research by the Institute of Customer Service, titled Green Goes Mainstream? and published in January, found that environmental sustainability is a key factor for customers when buying from or engaging with brands. Researchers found that customers are looking to organisations to demonstrate a credible commitment to sustainability and to help guide them to make sustainable choices.
Housing associations have unique relationships with their customers, which puts them in a strong position to develop a deeper understanding of how people live and support a transition by providing the right services in the right places.
The Greener Futures Partnership
Doing good by customers is what has driven the creation of the Greener Futures Partnership, a new initiative consisting of five housing associations focused on delivering a successful low-carbon transition for its residents and building knowledge to inform the sector on the options to overcome the challenge of decarbonisation.
We believe that only by truly working together can housing associations benefit from the immediate financial, technological and energy-efficiency gains sustainable housing brings, as well as giving us the opportunity to maximise benefits for our customers and wider society.
The partners – Abri, Anchor Hanover, Home Group, Hyde Group and Sanctuary Group – own and manage almost 300,000 homes in England and provide services to more than 600,000 people, from the South Coast to the North of the country. Our homes range from Victorian street properties to post-Second World War estates and modern developments, with homes in rural, suburban and urban areas. As such they represent a complete cross-section of UK housing stock.
Agreeing standards, accelerating action
Of course, each of the partners already has an energy and environmental strategy and could find its own way to meet these challenges. But we believe that by working together we can not only help to agree a common set of environmental targets and sustainability standards but also plan the work needed to meet these standards, quickly and efficiently.
For example, there are many ways to measure energy ratings of homes. By working together we can create one credible approach to assessing the sustainability of our homes, ensuring they meet the wider ‘greener’ agenda, not just energy performance certificate (EPC) ratings.
“Only by truly working together can housing associations benefit from the immediate financial, technological and energy-efficiency gains that sustainable housing brings”
Additionally, the advice housing providers receive from specialists can be ad hoc and technologically diverse. By aligning with one another and sharing best practice and information, the partners will be able to develop a clear way forward to find and deliver the best solutions for our diverse stock. Our ultimate aim is to help the wider sector and beyond, so that the work we do in the months ahead will benefit everyone.
We know that improving our homes will require unprecedented levels of investment. We estimate it costs somewhere between £13,000 to £25,000 to bring an energy-inefficient home up to an EPC rating of C, not considering the investment needed to develop the new skills and technologies to match our ambitions. Having a common approach, which could include procuring work together and combining resources, will not only speed things up but will also deliver cost savings that can be passed on to customers.
Investing in our homes, customers and communities for the long term
As landlords with a long-term vested interest in our homes and communities, we must find solutions to meet the sustainability challenges which also consider our maintenance obligations and costs that ensure our homes continue to be affordable.
While we take on the sustainability challenge over the coming years, we will also have to respond to a changing regulatory landscape on building safety. Any solutions used to improve sustainability at a component or construction level must also meet all relevant safety standards and guidance, to ensure we are able to keep our residents safe.
The sustainability challenge is both daunting and exciting.
Embracing innovative technologies to improve the sustainability of our homes will play a significant role in reducing the country’s carbon emissions.
Developing skills and employment opportunities through our own programmes and throughout the supply chain will deliver real social and economic impact. And, ultimately, we will be able to build more greener, safer homes that benefit people and the communities in which they live.
Peter Denton, chief executive, Hyde Group
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