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Green Deal: Where There's a Will There's a Way?

Posted on: 2011-10-17 17:57:12

If we have the determination to do something, we can always find the path or method to do it. Wise words, but is the social housing sector taking heed by responding positively to the Green Deal challenge?

With some of the worst performing stock in terms of energy efficiency, and the largest proportion of householders in fuel poverty; social housing has more reasons than other sectors to embrace the Green Deal, and in doing so, to significantly contribute to the UK's ambitious carbon reduction targets.

But has the sector got the 'will' and the 'way' to take on the Green Deal challenge?

Without a doubt, there are lots of reasons why social landlords should invest in green growth and the Green Deal. A new era of affordable green homes would improve the sector's image, reputation and customer attraction.

Social housing could play an important role by co-ordinating the Green Deal across the UK's communities. With extensive and successful community engagement models, and some powerful tools that cut across all tenures, a route towards low carbon neighbourhoods would be very achievable.

Social landlords reach into the very core of our communities and understand mixed tenures and cohesive communities better than any other sector. They have well established communication channels, such as residents' associations, newsletters and tenant social media. All these channels could raise awareness of the Green Deal to increase interest and bolster take up of low carbon measures in homes.

This, together with Green Deal funding from October 2012, would be the perfect vehicle to drive a programme of eco-retrofits across whole neighbourhoods.

Through existing procurement frameworks, estate-wide retrofit programmes would achieve savings of around 20-30% from economies of scale. It is pertinent to add that local authorities may be given a co-ordinating role to deliver the Green Deal on a borough-wide basis - this would further enhance take up and ensure greater savings and cost effectiveness for all tenure types.

The increasing confidence within the construction industry to prepare for installations of renewable technologies demonstrates there is another 'way' to fully embrace the Green Deal. The concern that the industry is lacking the skills to deliver Green Deal is now being addressed - there are signs of re-invention away from traditional trades towards low carbon measures.

With evidence of companies up-skilling and re-skilling their workforces, many will be ready to meet the demands of the low carbon decade. Social housing could be the driver behind these changes by supporting and influencing their contractors to gear up ready for the Green Deal and encourage and support them through the necessary series of accreditations.

We have clearly demonstrated so far that social housing could have a leading role in implementing the Green Deal. This in turn would trigger many benefits. Resulting supply chains could potentially create up to 100,000 jobs within the next five years, the skills gap could be addressed, the UK's housing stock would be improved, carbon reduction targets may be met and above all, money would be saved for millions of householders.

Whilst this demonstrates that social housing has more than one 'way' for Green Deal success, where is the 'will'?

Numerous debates, articles and blogs state that the sector is very cautious about how it can deliver the Green Deal. Pilot schemes have not overly convinced the sector and it is felt that more guidance, more detail, more legislation and more confidence are required before it can start to respond.

But is all this red tape really needed to kick start new 'green neighbourhood' ventures? Social housing has the ability to make real change, to innovate and to pioneer low carbon neighbourhoods without the urgency for more legislation and regulation as a pre-requisite.

Quite true, further legislation and guidance is needed, but the sector has the power with its own lobbying arms to influence statute on an on-going basis. For example, it can take the steps to minimise blockages in terms of stock type for an estimated 3.9 million terraced homes and block flats. Some social landlords have already been successful with their own 'go green early' schemes which pave the way for others to follow.

The Green Deal is certainly a challenge for social housing, but it is also a great opportunity. Using the existing frameworks together with a considered approach, social housing is key to securing new developments, boosting the construction industry, addressing fuel poverty, social inequalities and unemployment. And with the resulting carbon reduction, the sector is an all out winner.

My message to the social housing sector is: Yes there is a will! Yes there is a way!

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Phyllis Boardman is Company Director and Founder of PB Energy Solutions and is a Board Member for a leading housing organisation where she is active in Decent Homes, Green Deal, governance, strategy and performance.