It was back in June 2021 that Sadiq Khan declared a “retrofit revolution” aimed at making London’s homes and workplaces, which between them contribute some 75 per cent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, more energy efficient.
But progress has been slow – “incredibly slow”, according to a critical report released last month by City Hall Green Party representatives. Now, more than two years on, a stark analysis for the Central London Forward (CLF) group of 12 inner and central London councils is prompting calls for a fresh injection of revolutionary spirit, particularly from central government.
Retrofitting work can range from draught-proofing to installing extra wall and loft insulation and new windows and doors to wider low carbon measures such as fitting solar panels and replacing gas boilers with heat pumps. It’s a “win win win” proposition, according to CLF, which would bring about reductions in carbon emissions, cut energy bills and create new green jobs.
But it is also significant challenge. The CLF membership area, altogether covering Camden, the City of London, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Wandsworth and Westminster, contains 1.39 million homes and 176,000 non-domestic properties, most of which require some form of retrofit to meet net zero commitments.
Domestic properties need the most attention, particularly in the form of internal solid wall insulation and glazing – just 18 per cent of homes in central London have an energy performance certificate (EPC) rating of level B or above. Most significantly, getting the work done by 2030 would see a peak demand for 27,500 skilled workers.
The report estimates that to retrofit all buildings in the area would require “around 163,000 person-years of labour demand”. As well as retrofit specialists and construction supervisors, that total includes plumbers, heating, ventilation and air conditioning tradespeople, and roofers and scaffolders. For retrofitting those properties currently rated EPC band C and below, the figure is 148,000 person years of labour. “There may be challenges in recruiting to these roles,” the report says.
While the CLF analysis does not cover the likely costs of retrofit, London Councils, the cross-party group representing all of the capital’s 33 local authorities, has recently put a price tag of £49 billion on the work required to bring all of Greater London’s 3.8 million homes up to EPC band B. Separate research suggests the cost of upgrading the more than eight in 10 central London offices currently not meeting proposed new standards could be £5 billion.
It is clear, as London Councils points out, that the “cost of achieving net zero and effectively adapting to a changing climate far exceeds the current funding available to local government”, with central government subsidy and private investment needed simply to deal with the boroughs’ own stock.
An announcement last week from Haringey Council about its ambitious plans to retrofit all of its 15,000 council homes illustrates the point. It highlights detailed work underway on some 300 properties, while officer reports suggest that even with some £100 million allocated from the council’s housing budgets over 10 years for retrofit, significant extra cash will be needed from government and other sources to see the full programme through.
Nevertheless, Haringey argues that its first project will “act as a showcase and catalyst for social homes and private housing alike”. The CLF report makes the same case, pointing out that the potential new jobs on offer provide even more grounds for extra government investment, both in skills and in council programmes, to get council home retrofit underway and in so doing also “prepare the market for further work across the private sector”, where most of it is needed.
Armed with the new jobs analysis, CLF is now calling on government to increase the money available to councils through Whitehall’s social housing decarbonisation fund and to support councils in setting up new training partnerships. It’s a call backed not only by Mayor Khan and London Councils but also by the capital’s business group BusinessLDN – with all eyes on the Chancellor’s autumn statement, due on 22 November.
“We need urgent action to ramp up training, so we have the skilled workforce needed to deliver warmer, greener homes,” said CLF chair and leader of Southwark council Kieron Williams. “Government must invest to pump-prime the market. The stop-start approach to funding over recent years has not worked.”
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