Report by five big industry names including Peabody and Grosvenor calls for more investment in decarbonsing historic buildings

Unspent apprenticeship levy funds should be used to train people to decarbonise Britain’s seven million heritage buildings, the government has been advised.

A new report commissioned by housing association Peabody, developer Grosvenor, Historic England, The Crown Estate and The National Trust said energy efficiency retrofits to buildings dating from before 1919 would reduce the UK’s annual carbon emissions by 5%.

The report, which will be launched in Westminster tomorrow, calls for ministers to funnel some of the £3.3bn in apprenticeship levy funds returned to the Treasury between 2019 and 2022 into training schemes in the heritage retrofit field.

Levy money could also be used to fund six to eight-week bootcamps for people interested in joining the sector, or to help existing workers acquire the specialist skills needed, the report said.

Grosvenor has pledged to transfer £50,000 of its levy each year to smaller businesses looking to bring new skills to their workforce.

Victorian terrace

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More than six million UK homes were built before 1919 and require specialist skills to retrofit

Some 6.2 million UK homes, around one in five, and 600,000 commercial buildings, a third of the total, were built before 1919.

The UK is already facing a severe skills shortage for energy efficiency upgrades on homes built more recently, but carrying out the work on heritage buildings requires specialist skills to ensure historic features are protected and the changes are appropriate to the building.

The report found that more than 105,000 new workers, including plumbers, electricians, carpenters and scaffolders will be needed to work solely on decarbonising the UK’s historic buildings every year for the next three decades for the UK to meet its 2050 net zero target.

If this is not urgently addressed, the UK could face a backlog of retrofit projects in the 2030s and risk losing some of its cultural heritage if historic buildings become uninhabitable, the report found.

Peabody chair Bob Kerslake said improving the energy efficiency of these buildings would “transform the lives of the people who live and work in them, reducing household energy bills and improving health and wellbeing.”

He said it would also stimulate spending in the construction industry, support around 290,000 jobs in supply chains and boost heritage-related tourism and hospitality.

Grosvenor executive director of sustainability and innovation Tor Burrows said the government needed to lead a long-term national retrofit strategy to bring together training, funding and standards to sensitively decarbonise historic buildings.

He said much of the upskilling work would need to take place at a local level with employers, local authorities and civic society helping to develop area-based retrofit programmes and training initiatives.

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Hilary McGrady, director general of the National Trust, added: “From Georgian town houses to the mills and factories that kick-started our industrial revolution, our historic buildings play a significant role in society, connecting people and places – one of the key pillars of the government’s levelling up strategy.

“The stewardship of our built heritage is in our hands, and we must ensure we prepare it for the challenges of climate change. 

It’s a significant task, but it’s one we can achieve through co-ordinated action. But that action must be taken now.”

The launch of the report will come after the government appointed NatWest boss Alison Rose as the co-chair of its new energy efficiency taskforce, a group of experts which will advise ministers how to make the UK’s buildings more energy efficient.

The government has already committed to reducing the energy consumption of the UK’s commercial buildings by 15% compared to 2021 levels by 2030.

The taskforce, which will meet for the first time this month, will include members from a range of sectors along with people from academia, business and local government and report to Grant Shapps, secretary of state at the newly created Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ).

Objectives for the group outlined by DESNZ last month include finding ways to reduce skills gaps, accelerating pathways to accreditation for installers of energy efficiency kit and tackling installation challenges.

These issues have been blamed as a factor in the failure of several previous government schemes for improving energy efficiency, including the Green Homes Grant which was scrapped in March last year less than a year after it launched.