The big disappointment was the absence of a national retrofit programme, says Alan Fogarty

The government’s latest budget included a lot of promising green statements, with buzz words like carbon capture and offshore wind, but ultimately under delivered on solid commitment to funding for sustainable initiatives for the built environment.

Alan Fogarty

Most disappointing was the absence of a national retrofit programme, which if included, would have signalled a significant move toward reaching the UK’s ambitious goal of achieving net zero carbon by 2050.

Its absence is also notable following repeated calls from the industry for a national retrofit programme, most recently after the publication of the Future Buildings Standard consultation. The consultation is seeking feedback on future trajectories and is proposing a challenging carbon emissions reduction of between 75% and 80% compared with current standards.

> Also read: CLC to push for national retrofit strategy after Budget silence

Budget 2021 summary: What it means for construction

These stringent targets are a necessity if the UK is to have a hope of achieving net zero carbon by 2050, and without question the biggest challenge we face is retrofitting the thousands of homes and businesses in our existing building stock so that they meet these standards.

As of now, we need to be retrofitting 20,000 homes per week in order to achieve net zero carbon by 2050

As of now, we need to be retrofitting 20,000 homes per week in order to achieve this, and at the moment, not only is there no standard in place for how that should be achieved, but the onus and financial responsibility for carrying out the retrofit sits squarely with the owner. The reality is that many householders just cannot afford to retrofit their homes and businesses without government incentive to do so.

Converting from gas fired heating to efficient electricity-based heat pumps is the most obvious solution. However, without a substantial upgrade to homes including upgrading to double glazing and higher levels of insulation, heating homes would become unaffordable for many. Currently, retrofitting your home to the standard required will only be achieved by those that can afford it.

The introduction of the sovereign green bond has the potential to boost the UK’s credentials as a centre for sustainable finance, which aligns with the government’s plans to make London a hub for green finance. The money raised could be used to help fund investment in wind and hydrogen power.

Furthermore, the home of the UK’s first ever infrastructure bank will be in Leeds and could also be a source of funding to solve the national retrofit conundrum. The bank will launch with £12bn in capitalisation and aims to attract up to £40bn of private investment into green projects. However, while we can reasonably expect that the infrastructure bank will invest in some sustainable projects, there is nothing that expressly commits it to solely funding sustainable infrastructure and technology.

Having said that, we are seeing a push for zero carbon coming from the investment market with many investors seeking zero carbon assets and portfolios and rushing to decarbonise in order to avoid their assets becoming stranded. We hope that the added incentive from the budget to invest in the green economy continues to help drive the built environment toward a greener future.

Alan Fogarty is sustainability partner at Cundall

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