With COP26 fresh in the memory, it’s no surprise that decarbonisation has so far dominated the agenda at HOMES UK 2021.
Day One of the annual conference saw discussions range from retrofitting and energy efficiency to renewable energy and sustainable methods of construction.
In a session looking at how housing providers can work with their residents to create sustainable communities, Donna Williams, director of Sustainability and Climate Change at Sanctuary, spoke of the importance of tenant engagement.
She said: “Anyone who thinks engagement is a choice might be in for a bit of a shock.”
A question from the floor presented the issue from the tenant’s perspective.
“How do we make it tiktok-able, Instagram-able?” they asked, highlighting how green initiatives such as retrofitting might not interest them as much as other issues such as improving their kitchen or bathroom.
Elsewhere at the conference, Sarah Daly, associate director of Sustainability at Turner & Townshend, provided insight into the Social Housing Retrofit Accelerator, a BEIS-backed service aimed at helping providers develop high-quality bids for the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF).
Daly urged housing providers to be proactive on retrofitting and decarbonisation: “If you’ve got any responsibility whatsoever for retrofit, think about what you’ve got to do now.
“Don’t worry about the funding…the funding will come.”
On Wave 2 of the of the SHDF, Daly said the £800m in pledged funding will likely be spread out across the three years to 2025.
She could not confirm whether this would actually be the case.
Bids for Wave 1 of the SHDF closed in October, with a total of £160m being made available.
Daly also touched on the skills that are needed to enact a large-scale retrofit programme, saying there is still a “big gap” that needs to be addressed.
She added: “There’s no way we can deliver quality programmes, no matter how well they’re designed, if we’ve not got the right skills out there.”
The conference also touched on fuel poverty and how the issue links in with the decarbonisation agenda.
Home Group’s Abbie Peel was keen to point out that, although social housing properties are the most fuel efficient of any tenure, the average energy rating is D – i.e. not efficient enough to help the UK meet its goal of becoming a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
She added that, when a survey conducted within Home Group found that 93% of its customers were at risk of fuel poverty, their response was to treat all customers as if they were at risk of fuel poverty.
This meant looking at ways to improve the energy efficiency of all homes and engaging with tenants in discussions about fuel poverty.
Peel was also keen to point out that people from non-white households are more likely to experience fuel poverty and suffer from damp and condensation.
Ruth London, a founding member of Fuel Poverty Action, spoke passionately about the need for housing providers to do more to tackle fuel poverty.
She said: “I sometimes wish social housing landlords are as listening as BEIS [department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy] is.”
She added: “To eradicate fuel poverty and achieve decarbonisation, we need real accountability.”
During the same discussion, Stew Horne, head of policy at the Energy Saving Trust, urged landlords to encourage eligible tenants to sign up to the Warm Homes Discount.
He added: “The number one thing I would say to social landlords is to think about how you improve your housing stock.”
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