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Do we need a National Retrofit Strategy?

The Construction Leadership Council is currently consulting on the need for a National Retrofit Strategy. Homes use 35% of all energy in the UK and emit 20% of the carbon dioxide emissions. The decarbonisation of heat will undoubtedly help, but retrofit remains necessary to keep bills affordable, homes healthy and energy supplies secure. 

The proposed strategy addresses many of the lessons we have learned on the home front of the climate emergency response, and there are three new elements that would provide a strategic framework to pull the multiple levers and interventions together. 

TLDR, we need a strategy from UK Government. And if you have a bit longer, here’s how such a strategy pulls earlier policy asks together.

A Retrofit Delivery Agency 

A central Retrofit Delivery Agency will be needed to provide oversight, a drive for continual improvement, the opportunity for learning between areas, and to ensure that all stakeholders are fully enfranchised. 

At present the Government’s role in retrofit and wider smart homes delivery is spread across Whitehall and its funded partners. BEIS governs energy and MHCLG homes; data collected on energy efficiency measures is lodged in different places according to legislation and/or the funding stream; smart meters have a £40m communications budget, but the bigger challenge of decarbonised homes has none; and complaints may go to Trustmark, Citizens Advice or others more distant from the policy-makers that need to hear them. All these need to link to an authority who can concentrate these powers, skills and datasets into a cohesive engine for delivery. 

Such a central body is needed to provide the leadership, governance, consumer confidence and data-processing a £500bn infrastructure challenge requires, but it will need its roots in every locality. Energy Hubs are a starting point, but the scale of the challenge suggests the Strategy should go more ‘local’ still, so that delivery partnerships can respond to the local demographics, climate, skillsets and other factors we find affect our partners’ delivery schedules. 

Building Renovation Plans 

An evidence-based pathway to decarbonisation through fabric and water efficiency and zero carbon heating technologies, that can be delivered according to opportunity and budget.  

Two significant barriers to delivering retrofit are home-owners not understanding the potential for their home and the finance community lacking the confidence to invest at scale. A Building Renovation Plan, such as the Whole House Plan delivered by Parity’s Ecofurb service and medium-term fabric first plans under PAS2035, provide a pathway to full renovation and in doing so address both these barriers by showing home-owners and landlords the potential for measures and their cost/benefits. 

The data platform to support these appears straightforward – the building data sat behind Energy Performance Certificates is cost-effective to capture and process, and could be supplemented with detail as retrofit and other housing professionals gather data on a home. 

It could also be extended to capture all building related data from the design through to the demolition stage. This would meet the recommendation from the Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission (BBBBC) in 2018 for the implementation of “digital building passports” in order to encourage the production, collection, and maintenance of digitised records for each building. 

Returning to the call for a central Authority, the development of another building dataset in another arm of Government could be costly and/or cumbersome. Developed with a specific aim to provide data to inform the retrofit market, and collate data on improvements made, it would be a powerful data source with immediate and widescale benefit.

Simpler Stronger Consumer Protection 

During the 2020 Climate Assembly, 92% of assembly members ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that ‘simpler consumer protection measures’ should be part of how the UK gets to net zero.  

How much do you agree or disagree that each of the following policy options should be part of how the UK gets to net zero? (%)
Fairness and consumer protection: How much do you agree or disagree that each of the following policy options should be part of how the UK gets to net zero?(%)

There appear to be three ways to protect consumers: by setting their expectations on how and what a service should deliver, by embedding protections in the market, and with services that act systematically and robustly where issues arise. 

PAS2035 is designed to deliver the first two of these to a large degree – by requiring the involvement of a Retrofit Coordinator to work with the home-owner to determine the suitability of measures, and the production of a Whole House Plan that sets out – independent of manufacturers and installers – a route to maximise decarbonisation that best meets the needs of the home and its residents. 

But we still lack communications that set home-owners expectations of what is required of homes in the 21st century, and visible action against the fraudsters who bring the retrofit industry into disrepute. Such action needs to be a cornerstone of a National Strategy to build confidence and momentum in the delivery of housing fit for the 21st century. 

Comments are welcomed by the CLC on the need for a National Retrofit Strategy by 1st March.