Close search

Steve joined Yorkshire Housing in autumn 2021 as our first Director of assets and sustainability. He’s passionate about taking our sustainability efforts to the next level. Here he talks about our plans for existing homes and, much to his own excitement, the Terminator. 

Like many other housing associations across the UK, sustainability is high on our agenda for 2022. When we’re planning our homes of the future, achieving net zero by 2050 is at the forefront of our minds. Existing homes present a particular challenge as we seek to ensure our homes achieve an Energy Performance Certificate Band C rating by 2030. At the moment less than 50% of homes in the UK have an EPC C rating or above, whereas 96% of newly built homes achieve the same rating. 

The fact that I’m joining the business as the first ever Director of Assets and Sustainability shows how serious we are about upping our game when it comes to tackling climate change. We’re already making great progress with our new homes. We’ve created our own ‘YH standard’ which goes beyond the government’s Future Homes Standard. This means starting to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels from this year (three years ahead of the government target). Plus, making use of green technologies in our new homes, such as air source heat pumps, solar panels, underfloor heating and super insulation.  

But what about our existing homes? Well, that’s where the challenge lies. We need to take a close look at our existing homes and how we reduce their carbon emissions without increasing fuel poverty. This means embarking on a delicately balanced, sector-wide retrofitting programme which is going to be a mammoth task. Pace is an issue; this is a climate emergency after all. That said, the history books will look back on this time as a period of gross inefficiency if we get this wrong. The baseline is important, and the customer is centre stage.  

To put the challenge into perspective, homes in the North make up one-quarter of the region’s carbon emissions. In Yorkshire, the percentage of carbon emissions coming from homes is 24% and it’s likely that most of the region’s 424,054 social housing homes will require some form of retrofit. 

On top of scale, we’re up against other challenges like building safety and funding. The £800m the government has allocated to the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund offers opportunity for progress but unfortunately this amount alone isn’t enough. We need to remember that we must continue to build more affordable homes alongside the retrofitting programme. We’re here to solve the housing crisis and to do so, means decent funding and being ambitious in our approach to asset management.  

We also need to ask some hard questions about poorly performing stock. It’s an emotive subject that requires us to ask questions about things other than finance. What does the Yorkshire Housing portfolio of the future look like? What do our existing and future customers want? When the answer to some of these questions align with homes that are expensive to heat and nigh-on impossible to retrofit, the subject becomes less emotive. After all, we’re here to provide affordable, secure homes for people. 

I think the Decent Homes Standard review is an opportunity to create consistency across the sector and make sure certain standards are met. I hope that the outcome of this review is a defined, holistic standard across all areas of investment, decarbonisation, building safety and compliance that the sector can adhere to and customers can understand and buy into. It should serve as a catalyst for transparency and help building trust between landlord and tenant. Anything less is a missed opportunity.  

Alongside building homes fit for the future, we’re keen to shift from a reactive to pre-emptive way of working. This means creating smarter homes and using technology to prevent problems before they happen, rather than reacting to them when they do.

We’ve already won funding through the Inside Housing Innovation Award for a smart homes pilot to get started with this approach. The pilot will use smart technology to introduce remote boiler monitoring in people’s homes. This shift is also a natural way to rebuild trust with customers. We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to live in a quality and sustainable home that they can afford. We want our customers to recognise this too and believe in us to deliver it.  

As well as tackling climate change, the retrofit programme also offers various benefits for customers. It will help customers save money and reduce fuel poverty, as well as boosting the economy and creating new jobs. In light of the pandemic, these are all really positive steps in the right direction. 

For retrofitting to be a success, we need buy-in and cooperation from our customers. Retrofitting works can be disruptive – we could be removing a heating system that customers have been using for much of their lives and replacing it with something many know little about. We’re aware of this and plan to work closely with our customers to keep them in the loop with what’s happening. As ever, good communication will be key to ensuring the benefits of retrofit are well understood by all parties. 

Last year six of our customers took part in the first of its kind Social Housing Tenants’ Climate Jury. This involved social housing customers from across the North of England coming together to create a set of recommendations on how we can work together to tackle climate change. The report has provided us with some really useful insight into what customers want and how we can continue to get their input in our plans for sustainability.  

The housing sector faces a long road ahead on the journey to net zero. In some cases, we need to acknowledge that the future in this area is notoriously difficult to predict. Indeed, the solutions to this climate emergency may lie in solutions that have yet to be invented. If that all sounds a bit ‘Skynet’ from Terminator 2 then, good. Add Cyborgs onto the to-do list. 

Here at Yorkshire Housing, we’ve got the right people, passion, and skills to make it happen. It’s going to take a collaborative approach, with housing associations and the private sector working together to reduce the cost of retrofitting and speed up its rollout. We plan to play a key role in this and use our involvement in the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership to its full advantage.  

It’s our responsibility to make a notable contribution to tackling climate change. Rather than just aiming for the government’s targets, why not aim higher if we can? The YH standard is just the start for us. I’m looking forward to sharing more about our ambitious plans over the coming months. 

I’ll be back.