The true measure of decarbonisation fund success: method over metrics

By Neil Warburton | 17 May 2023

Metrics, targets or key performance indicators are unquestionably necessary and hold any organisation accountable for their performance, but there are some things that supersede an imposed number or timeline.

The recent round of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) has once again sparked debate about the rate of delivery from round one, specifically on the need for extended deadlines and how we are going to fall short of hitting those net zero by 2050 targets.

The SHDF was a 10-year government pledge to retrofit social housing, minimise fuel poverty and cut carbon emissions.

Social landlords jumped at the opportunity to decarbonise and overhaul their housing stock and delivery partners were primed to take on the challenge of delivering viable roadmaps and implementing the necessary measures.

Unfortunately, the main gauge of success is derived from the number of homes that have successfully had work completed using the fund as opposed to looking at the true targets.

We could install any number of measures on any given property and take a one size fits all approach, completing thousands of properties in a tight timescale, but ultimately do little in the way of saving on fuel bills, cutting emissions, and improving lives.

Every home is different – from its building structure to its use as a home – and the PAS:2035 energy efficiency retrofit standard insists every home is assessed individually.

There is not ‘a one design fits all’ when it comes to retrofit, and it’s important to recognise even approved construction drawings/designs may not quite work when retrofitting, especially considering the interface with neighbouring properties.

It is imperative to work closely with the key competent roles to discuss solutions without compromising the proposed energy efficiency of the measures being installed.

Equans, in collaboration with Onward, is undertaking a programme of key decarbonisation and regeneration works across 132 properties in Murdishaw, Runcorn.

The project is part-funded by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority through BEIS’s Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund.

The scheme is taking a ‘fabric-first’ approach to decarbonising the properties, including external wall insulation, ventilation, replacement roofing, windows and doors and pre- and post-energy monitoring.

Residents will benefit from increased thermal comfort during what is a turbulent time with the cost of living.

More than £6m of investment will be made in the area on regeneration works.

For context, Equans has been working with Onward in Murdishaw since 2021, undertaking property surveys, gathering retrofit data and carrying out energy assessments, ensuring the works will be completed to PAS2030/2035 specification.

Equans’ specialist sustainability team has provided expertise, supporting Onward with a full turnkey solution and one that will thrive.

Modelling shows that the work will save 9,108 tonnes of CO2 over the next 30 years.

Onward and Equans worked together in partnership throughout this programme of works to agree the scope of the scheme, maximising the benefits for residents and ensuring value for money.

This is also extremely important during current market conditions where prices are constantly fluctuating.

Moving forward, completing even more monitoring of the stock will provide a better understanding of what the best solutions are, along with any challenges that might occur throughout the works.

A major positive to this scheme was early engagement with the residents and collaboration with Onward.

The extensive planning stage allowed us time to establish a presence on site and develop a resident microsite along with early rapport with people in the comfort of their own living environment before works began.

So while there are some hold ups on hitting targets focused on quantity over long-term effectiveness, we cannot underestimate how imperative SHDF has been to decarbonising not just the built environment; but establishing PAS standards and prioritising those that need it most.

The latest round of SHDF has seen yet more significant plans put in place to hit the targets we really need to address: fuel poverty and reducing carbon emissions.

We must remember this is a new fund in its infancy.

We have to continue tracking progress, be flexible with targets and share best practice across the industry if we are to see a true SHDF success story.

Neil Warburton is refurbishment director for Equans UK & Ireland

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