London housing retrofitting has long way to go to reach Mayor’s carbon neutral goal

London housing retrofitting has long way to go to reach Mayor’s carbon neutral goal

Sadiq Khan wants a carbon neutral London by 2030, 20 years ahead of the government’s 2050 target date enshrined in law – and that means a real focus on the homes we live in, which are responsible for a third of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions.

How’s that going? Not so well, according to evidence given to the London Assembly’s housing committee yesterday as it began its new inquiry into progress towards “retrofitting” the capital’s 3.5 million homes, to improve energy efficiency and achieve City Hall’s ambitious goal.

“Pretty much every home is going to need to have some form of retrofitting,” the Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy Shirley Rodrigues told the meeting. That includes 750,000 council and housing association homes and even some currently being built under the Mayor’s affordable homes programme.

The overall price tag for upgrading London’s infrastructure to net zero is currently estimated at some £61 billion, Rodrigues said, with most of that accounted for by housing, a rate of around £50,000 a home..

In Camden the bill for bringing the borough’s 100,000 homes up to scratch was £3 billion, said Adam Harrison, the local council’s cabinet member for sustainability. Barnsbury Housing Association has calculated a £7.5 million bill even for less comprehensive energy efficiency measures for its 300 homes, said it chief executive Susan French, who is also vice chair of the G320 group of small and medium housing associations.

French added that the National Housing Federation, representing housing associations across England, had estimated that 3,500 homes needed to be retrofitted every week “We are probably doing one per cent of that,” she said.

Rodrigues confirmed that City Hall’s £3.6 million Retrofit Accelerator for Homes programme, working with housing associations, London boroughs and the building industry, aims to retrofit 1,678 homes by mid-2022, with the Warmer Homes programme, currently closed to new applications, providing grants to improve a further 1,188 homes this year.

Khan is now seeking to boost the programme through his “retrofit revolution”, the committee heard, matching councils with pre-selected contractors in an “innovation partnership” forecast to create up to 150,000 jobs, plus funding for skills training and a national “retrofit centre of excellence” helping social housing providers get finance in place for major retrofit projects.

But progress has been slow, with government action and private investment needed nationally to meet costs and skill shortages, Rodrigues conceded. “The challenge is massive. But government will have to come on board with what we are doing because there isn’t another way. We might be doing small numbers now, but without doing the small numbers, getting proof of concept, we can’t get to the big numbers that are needed.” 

There were particular challenges in London too, she said. The capital’s predominantly Victorian and Edwardian housing is difficult to treat and its complex mix of freehold, leasehold, private rented and social homes and large numbers of flats, planning restrictions and even parking controls make retrofitting more difficult.

The new approach to retrofitting also goes beyond previous measures, to include solar panels and heat pumps replacing boilers where possible, plus comprehensive upgrades to walls, floors and roofs, meaning significant costs and disruption for occupants, Rodrigues explained. 

Labour Assembly Member Leonie Cooper highlighted risks to achieving the Mayor’s targets, including government delays in producing the promised national heat and building strategy. This is expected to include dates for the phasing out of gas boilers, along with new support for decarbonising homes. Cooper also cited the failure of “stop start” programmes, including the government’s Green Homes Grant Scheme, which was closed down after a year with fewer than 1,700 grants awarded in London.

With some 10 per cent of London households living in fuel poverty in energy-inefficient homes, the government should also “put its levelling up agenda into play” by ensuring poorer Londoners received a fairer share of Energy Company Obligation (ECO) cash levied to fund domestic energy efficiency, she added.

Speaking after the meeting, Cooper reiterated her concerns. “City Hall’s recently announced retrofitting revolution is a crucial step towards achieving net-zero, but if these schemes are to continue and expand, we need bold national strategies in place, backed by longer-term government funding,’ she said. “If we are to have any chance of hitting our targets, ministers need to ensure the wider industry is all on the same page and that there is a co-ordinated effort between public and private sector organisations and match-funding initiatives.”

Committee chair and Green Party AM Sian Berry told On London: “The evidence we heard during the meeting suggested we need to be retrofitting potentially thousands of homes per week to meet our carbon emissions targets. We’re a long way off that and the investigation will help us pinpoint where the gaps London needs to fill are and who can fill them.” Berry added that committee will produce recommendations in the autumn aimed at helping to meet London’s net zero targets on time.

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