6 April 2021

I think everyone agrees that the last 12 months have been challenging and the way we live and work has completely changed for most of us. One thing that has emerged is the way we react to a crisis. Whether that be standing on our doorsteps to celebrate the NHS, helping Sir Tom raise millions for charity or even the way the government agreed that borrowing is essential in an emergency.

In the current climate emergency we all need to react. For housing providers, we need to begin to understand the scale of the task in front of us and first begin to plan and then start to deliver some large-scale projects. In doing this we can begin to generate the economy to kick start the development of a work force that have the skills we need as well as a supply chain capable to support.

I know this is a daunting task, but every journey starts with a first step, so I wanted to share ours at Thirteen. We have started by completing a holistic stock condition survey and asset managers reading this will say, I have that, but my question would be “do you really?”. We wanted to understand the costs that would be associated with maintaining our assets and then incorporate future costs such as decarbonisation, the Building Safety Bill, Decent Homes 2 and improving the areas outside the footprint of our homes.

It may come as no surprise, but the costs went up, largely due to the cost of decarbonising our homes with a price tag of more than £1 billion. So how will we afford it? Well we first refined our approach to maximise efficiencies by breaking the work into three phases – reduce, balance and generate. Adopting this approach along with detailed analysis of energy performance for each of our property design types allowed us to create a bespoke action plan for each of our 34,000 properties, This reduced the ask by half, but that is still a big bill. It is also difficult to show a return on your investment when most of the financial benefit will be appreciated by the occupants of the homes.

So how do we pay for it? That is the billion-dollar question. I have seen schemes that suggest customers are charged against potential cost savings they receive but this raises questions about affordability for families. We could look at new ways of securing finance against the uplifted market valuation of our assets or, and this brings me back to the start, the government realise that we are in an emergency and more funding is needed. In the meantime, I believe we need to have greater collaboration within the sector to develop the skilled, value for money supply chains needed. If we can agree an approach, then we can use this to drive down cost through combined purchasing power and create new modern methods of retrofit.

Mark Arnold

Mark is Head of Technical - Assets at Thirteen Group, and will be speaking at Climate Change and Sustainability in Housing 2021.

Pathway to decarbonisation: the first steps