This article was first published in 24 Housing Magazine – May 2018
The UK is the most successful G7 country at both growing its economy and reducing its emissions in the last 25 years.
This puts to bed the idea that there can’t be green growth. Unfortunately the housing sector can take little credit for helping to deliver on this. The last set of records showed a 4% increase in emissions from buildings, whereas the power supply grid, waste and industrial sectors all managed to reduce their emissions significantly in the four years to 2016.
The release of the Industrial Strategy, 25 Year Environment Plan and Clean Growth Strategy have been largely met with a collective shrug by the sector, despite the clear messages that a post-Brexit Britain will be on a low carbon pathway.
Already lagging behind, the housing sector runs the risk of having to play catch-up unless it does the following:
The failure of leadership across the sector to begin to tackle climate change is staggering. Many landlords still build to building regulations, citing costs whilst not recognising their approach will lead to many properties being retrofitted before 2050. There has been no industry response to the Clean Growth Strategy five months after its publication and landlords are training too few staff to deal with complex technology.
Plans for a post-gas future
The sector is over-reliant on gas and has failed to embrace new technology, such as heat pumps, at scale. Here is a wake-up call: the government wants to phase out our reliance on gas by 2030. This is 12 years away and yet we still talk to landlords providing boilers for their new-build and retrofit projects, with little regard for their signposted obsolescence.
Embraces the electric vehicle (EV) revolution
Schemes should first and foremost promote alternative methods to private car use given the UK’s poor record on air quality. The plan to phase out diesel and petrol engines is due by 2040, but it is likely the industry will have moved to EV long before that point. Housing associations should be making plans for fleet investment and demand for rapid charging now to avoid a capital shock in the next 20 years.
Invests in batteries and solar
Solar panels are an established technology, and the revolution in battery storage allows for possibilities to reduce fuel poverty and housing energy demand from the grid. However the uptake from housing associations remains low. The practical implication is also around design – where do you put a battery?
There is no way around it: we need to acknowledge climate change and how the sector can actively and positively contribute towards action. We need leadership, long-term vision and action. Time has run out – the housing sector must get its hands dirty now.