Construction report: Fit for the future

By Ged Henderson

25 May 2023

Garstang Road West After

A multi-billion pound investment in energy efficiency retrofits to UK homes aims to cut household bills, help towards the journey to net zero and create new job opportunities in building and construction.

There is a growing acknowledgment that the country must address the issue of emissions from its building stock if it is to meet its climate targets as well as moving towards greater energy independence.

Retrofitting homes and other properties is set to play a big role in meeting those ambitions. Almost £2bn was allocated by the government in March to support housing decarbonisation and upgrade homes.

The focus is on energy efficiency upgrades such as the installation of air source heat pumps, solar panels, draughtproofing, and improvements to insulation, ventilation, and heating controls.

Announcing the funding, the government said the schemes have the potential to support around 20,000 jobs in the construction and home retrofit sectors.

Grant Shapps, the government’s energy security and net zero secretary, said: “The funding is a huge boost for job creation and economic growth, opening up new and exciting opportunities across the UK’s ever-expanding green sector.”

With that promise of jobs comes the need to have a workforce with the skills to deliver. The Federation of Master Builders is among those calling for investment in upskilling to meet the challenge of retrofit and low carbon homebuilding.

The North West is to get a large slice of the newly allocated cash. The region has received £233m from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF), the Homes Upgrade Grant (HUG), and the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme.

Lancashire has also done well out of March’s announcement. ‘Cosy Homes in Lancashire’ - an initiative which represents a large number of the county’s local authorities - secured a £41m funding pot, one of the largest in the country, to help people make their homes more energy efficient.

Blackpool Council led the consortium, made up of Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Chorley, Hyndburn, Lancaster, Pendle, Preston, Ribble Valley, Rossendale, South Ribble, West Lancashire and Wyre.

Blackpool also received £2.6m from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund. The money was secured in partnership with the Onward housing association. Onward says it will use it to retrofit properties.

As well as the benefit to its customers, James Hill, director of property at Onward, highlights the employment potential. He says: “This latest funding secured through the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund will allow us to build on the momentum of our existing retrofit programme.

“We will also create more jobs and opportunities for training for local people to take advantage of the investment coming in to the region.”

In total more than 115,000 homes across England are to get upgrades to boost their energy efficiency as a result of the latest funding.

On top of this, a further £409m has been allocated to help public sector buildings such as schools and hospitals drive down their carbon emissions.

The schemes all form part of the government’s commitment to reduce overall UK energy demand by 15 per cent by 2030, as well as supporting the ambition for greater energy independence.

While these new initiatives get underway, in Blackpool a £1.1m carbon-saving project on the town’s Grange Park estate, which includes retrofit work, is nearing completion and already delivering results.

Those behind the programme, which has been supported by a £660,000 contribution from the European Regional Development Fund, say it has been “hugely successful” and is forecast to reduce carbon emissions by 245 tonnes a year.

A key element of the work was housing retrofit and 75 homes on the estate have had measures installed to improve their energy efficiency. Work has included the installation of triple glazed windows and the installation of solar panels to provide lighting to communal areas.

And in addition, 30 new homes on Grange Park are being fitted with air source heat pumps and extra thermal insulation. The installation of those pumps is now underway.

Public building improvement work has also seen an air source heat pump and roof mounted solar panels installed at the estate’s community centre, providing low carbon sustainable heating for the building.

The construction sector in Lancashire is also looking ahead as it adopts new technologies and ways of working amid the national journey towards net zero and the sharp focus on carbon reduction and energy efficiency.

Guy Parker, managing director at Conlon Construction, based in South Ribble, says: “We are working towards a robust transition plan, setting high level targets, and plotting ambitious interim milestones on the path to net zero by 2050.

“We are transforming how we do business, working closely with clients, driving innovation and collaboration, and championing collective responsibility. Technology is on our side, and we are focusing our efforts on sustainable innovation.”

He adds: “We also adopt new building technologies at the earliest opportunity – promoting heat pumps as a first choice, driving improved ventilation and insulation design, coupled with on-site energy controls and new energy efficient appliances.

“What’s more, we are mindful of each building’s end of life, and design for disassembly with green steel and green concrete to reduce embodied carbon. We are also working towards the exclusive use of site generators which run on GreenD+ fuels, generating up to 90 per cent fewer carbon emissions.”

Guy believes the new landscape also brings new opportunities for the sector. He says: “We are discovering new technology constantly, and with this change comes the potential for new jobs and skills.

“From carbon emission analysts, energy assessors, low carbon technology managers, sustainability managers, carbon reduction managers and engineers, to renewable energy scientists, environmental engineers, and environmental and conservation scientists, we must support eco-innovation and green technologies by improving vocational training.

“There is a real need for a green labour skills-led market and the retraining of workers.

Fortunately, the labour market demands this too, and if we hope to attract fresh talent to the business, we must show robust green working practices and ambitions.”

Enjoyed this? Read more from Ged Henderson

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