Working together for a Green Recovery

Working together for a Green Recovery

Russell Smith, Director of RetrofitWorks, the growing, not-for-profit co-operative, established to improve the UK’s existing housing stock in an environmentally-friendly way through Trustmark accredited repairs, maintenance and improvement works, looks at why Local Authorities are in pole position when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. 


Already pushed to the limit in the wake of COVID-19, councils and local authorities are falling increasingly under pressure to tackle the climate emergency. The science shows the severity of the situation and now more than ever, we all need to subscribe to a policy of collaboration across all of society if we are to hit Net Zero by 2050. From manufacturing to construction, retail to education, we are all stakeholders, but the most important stakeholders of all? The ones who can affect significant change: the people responsible for our homes, be they homeowners, leaseholders or social housing landlords.


Translating national green ambition into effective localised action

In readiness for the 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), about 230 councils have declared a climate emergency. Councils are taking action to reduce their own carbon emissions and working with partners, local communities and action groups to tackle the impact of climate change on their local area. While it’s great that we’re seeing urban tree-planting, safer cycle routes, penalties for high emission vehicles and other community greening projects, one of the greatest negative impacts on the environment is still our homes. Our homes account for 20% of UK carbon emissions and 35% of energy use. To deliver on the Prime Minister’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, the construction industry must work with the Government and take action on reducing the environmental impact of our buildings. We believe this can only be achieved by adopting The National Retrofit Strategy which we published in conjunction with the Construction Leadership Council and the Federation of Master Builders.


A plan for every home

The National Retrofit Strategy is a white paper produced to help local authorities make green home upgrades accessible to all British households. This strategy has the potential to unlock 100,000 new jobs and save 2.53Mt of carbon dioxide in the first four years, in return for £5.3 billion of Government investment. This will support the levelling-up agenda, helping us to build back better and greener. The systematic approach suggested in the strategy is practical including a passport that will outline all the work required for that property to become net zero. This sets clear goals to make works more efficient and effective, minimise disruptions and make budgets clearer. (A link to The National Retrofit Strategy is available at the end of this article).



Place-shapers become green home makers

When it comes to implementing The National Retrofit Strategy, registered social landlords, housing associations and local authorities are in a uniquely powerful position to cascade environmental upgrades and retrofits across large numbers of homes – and by following expert blueprints they can do so quickly. Local authorities are also in a position to help create sustained demand by engaging homeowners through their own vast communication channels and local networking and connections that are already in place. The same applies to contractor engagement, with frameworks for social housing improvements often already cemented.


As significant asset owners, local authorities are in pole position when it comes to fighting the climate crisis. Traditionally councils have been intrinsic to transitioning our places and empowering and bolstering communities and businesses for change. They are the master planners, delivering environments where ideally, people have the right homes in the right places in safe and welcoming areas with the right infrastructure and services.


Local authorities are also professional procurers, with experienced purchasing and procurement teams who can translate bills of labour into innovative and creative offerings that attract collaboration between public and private sector, ultimately resulting in added value and new investment. For centuries, councils have demonstrated an ability to capitalise on local assets and opportunities to deliver local solutions to local challenges. These local solutions can then join up across the country, and step by step, we have national change. Just imagine if every council could refocus its strategy using existing skillsets and assets to create a net zero future.


This may sound like blue sky thinking, with cynics among you thinking how do we get buy-in from everyone to refocus our strategy to zero carbon? But here at RetrofitWorks we are seeing this happen. We are seeing how innovation means that new local housing policies not only deliver on climate change, but also meet a raft of other local priorities at the same time. The two do not, and in fact should not, be mutually exclusive.


As an example, we’ve done a lot of work recently through workshops and discovery sessions, with climate change charity partner Ashden, meeting local authorities to talk about best practice and learning, piloting one-stop-shop retrofit services, proving how to maximise stakeholder engagement, and helping organisations give homeowners, leaseholders and tenants access to the best retrofit advice and quality-controlled building professionals.


We’ve witnessed first-hand how A Plan for Every Home can empower homeowners to take better, more impactful decisions when retrofitting their homes. We’ve seen how the focus has shifted away from price towards quality with lower energy bills hardly playing a role. In turn our local authority partners establish or join local community groups with resources to influence their neighbourhoods; pull together teams of newly qualified, engaged, fresh retrofit coordinators with more experienced building professional background coordinators, and recruit motivated contractors ready to invest effort in training and doing things differently.


Whilst there is considerable uncertainty about future funding, it is clear that local authority strategy embracing partnership with independent experts like RetrofitWorks will be key to leveraging private sector funding and to raising climate ambitions that not only support our fight against the very real climate crisis, but which also provide innovative and sustainable commercial incentives.


PS – Recently released if you haven’t already seen it, check our #ThePeopleVsClimatechange, a powerful new documentary showing just what can be achieved when people work together.


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