Bridging the Market Gap for Low Carbon Housing
THFC was pleased to attend the “Bridging the Market Gap for Low Carbon Investments in Social Housing Conference” in Manchester, which was hosted by Liam Turner, Editor of Housing Digital, and sponsored by Homes as Energy Systems (HAES). The event took place at the Mercure Manchester Piccadilly Hotel on the 26th of April.
Bringing together dozens of social housing and retrofit professionals under one roof, the conference focused on discussing both the financial and technical aspects of retrofitting the UK’s social housing sector.
The event commenced with an opening presentation from Pedro Rivera, Economist and Project Manager for HAES. In his presentation, Pedro discussed the necessity of both public and private sector funding in delivering large-scale retrofit works, as well as the importance of effective tenant engagement and communication throughout the retrofit process. He later commented on the “agility” of private finance and its unique ability to spur innovation when compared to public funding.
John Allison, Deputy Director for the Net Zero Building Strategy within the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), gave the morning keynote speech, in which he gave an overview of the UK’s landscape for clean heat in buildings. He reiterated the government’s target for all homes in the country to reach EPC band “C” by 2035 and mentioned that DESNZ are looking at the UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB) as a means of attracting more resources into the market.
John also emphasised the role of heat pumps in the transition to net zero, describing the technology as “absolutely critical” with a “very, very significant role” to play as the UK works toward decarbonisation. He said that much work is being done within DESNZ to grow the markets, supply chains, and manufacturing capacity for heat pumps.
In terms of policy, John stated that the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, which was launched in 2022 to help property owners cover the cost of heat pump and biomass boiler replacements, will continue through 2028. He also mentioned that any government policy decisions regarding hydrogen will be made in 2026 once more research has been carried out on the controversial energy source.
In the first panel discussion of the day, which focused on closing the funding gap for low carbon investments, Graham Rothwell, CEO of RPS Group, underscored the need for proper retrofit training and apprenticeships, highlighting the industry’s current lack of formalised education programmes.
Elliot Simm, Commercial, Design and Delivery Manager for Manchester City Council, discussed the multiple competing priorities the sector is currently facing (e.g. fire safety and damp and mould issues) in addition to the race to decarbonize. He also advocated for the sophisticated use of data to increase the quality of tenant engagement, calling out the effectiveness of Switchee smart technology.
In the afternoon keynote session, Wendy Osborn, Head of Engagement – England at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), presented on the array of challenges that have contributed toward the retrofit skills gap across the country and advocated for greater education on viable retrofit career paths. “We’ve got young people who are finding out about this by accident,” Wendy stated. In addition to emphasising the need for more new entrants into the retrofit sector, Wendy also pointed out the importance of retaining skilled retrofit experts within the workforce long-term.
In the second and final panel of the day, titled “Bridging the skills gap for the growing low carbon market,” panelists discussed how businesses can upskill their employees for retrofit works. It was widely agreed that more must be done to make young people aware of the careers and realistic salaries that the retrofit industry can provide, including emphasising the significant role that these jobs will play in the wider transition to net zero.
The event concluded on a note of hopeful urgency. Speaking about the pressing need to upskill, Jenny Pierpoint, Chief Operating Officer at The Retrofit Academy, remarked: “We’re not going to achieve our net zero targets if we don’t address this now.”