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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

#OurNorth – Rising to the challenge of Net Zero


Our homes have never been more important to us than they have been during COVID-19. Everyone deserves a safe, secure, comfortable place to call home. Not just in the middle of the crisis, but always. That’s why we’ve launched Homes at the Heart, a national campaign and coalition calling for a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing. This week, our focus is homes at the heart a greener country, centring on decarbonisation, tackling climate change and retrofitting homes. In this blog, Brian Robson, executive director from the Northern Housing Consortium shares more about how the North of England is rising to the challenge of net zero.

Five beautiful national parks, two fantastic coastlines, numerous vibrant cities and towns: there are lots of reasons to love the North of England. But the best aspects of living and working here are the people. We’re an optimistic, can-do bunch – give us a challenge, and it’s not a question of if we tackle it, but how.

That’s certainly the spirit in which the North’s housing sector is approaching climate change: committing to meet the challenge and developing the plans we need to make the difference.

The determination to rise to the challenge is all the more impressive when you consider that we have a steeper hill to climb: the North’s homes are older and colder than the English average, and as a result housing accounts for around a quarter of the North’s carbon emissions. That means decarbonising our existing homes must be at the heart of the North’s plan to reach net zero.

It’s happening. Over 60 of our local authorities have declared climate emergencies – often setting more ambitious targets than the national 2050 net zero deadline. In Greater Manchester, the target is 2038, and in North of Tyne they’re working towards 2030. It’s not just big urban areas either, rural districts like Craven are putting ambitious plans in place.

Our housing associations are similarly ambitious. At a webinar to kick off the NHC’s #OurNorth Net Zero programme in July, we heard from three:

• Broadacres in North Yorkshire see tackling fuel poverty as an important aspect of their ambition to be the best rural housing association. 40% of their properties are off the gas grid, which means they’re already embracing the electrification of heat – installing over 100 heat pumps so far as they work towards their properties reaching EPC C by 2030.

• Magenta Living, on the Wirral, have set out a zero carbon road map, making clear the year-on-year progress they intend to make towards net zero: starting with an initial focus on ‘fabric first’ improvements.

• Livin in County Durham are integrating sustainability into their strategic plan, with an initial aim to bring their 3,500 properties currently below EPC C up to that standard by 2030. They see the potential of sustainability to impact on other corporate priorities: for example, tackling fuel poverty through energy efficient upgrades may reduce tenancy failures.

That recognition of the wider benefits of investment in net zero is vital. There’s huge scope to improve health – Age UK estimate that cold homes cost the NHS in England £1.36bn every year in hospital and primary care, due to their impact on older people’s health, and retrofit schemes elsewhere in the UK have been shown to save the NHS 42p for every £1 invested.

For Government, housing decarbonisation provides an opportunity to deliver on three of their top priorities: net zero, levelling-up and economic recovery. Some estimates suggest that housing decarbonisation could create 20,000 jobs across the North – supercharging our economic recovery. The NHC is currently working with IPPR North to understand the nature of the jobs we can create and the skills pathways required to ready the North’s workforce for these jobs of the future.

To enable us to go further and faster, we want early certainty on the £3.8bn Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund pledged in the Conservative manifesto. Releasing that fund at the autumn Statement would enable our councils and housing associations to lead the way in decarbonising the North’s homes. It’ll create skilled jobs and establishing supply chains that will deliver in other tenures too.

There’s so much potential – and here in the North, we’re adopting our usual can-do attitude: rising to the challenge and keen to deliver.

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