Green Housing Needs to be Wales’ Priority

Our green recovery from the Covid recession should focus on house-building and retrofitting, argues Sophie Howe.

Wales’ recovery from the pandemic is an opportunity to enact change and build back a better and fairer economy, and the way the Welsh Government allocates its budget will send important messages about whether we are taking this opportunity.

We have a once in a generation opportunity to remedy past failures and put in place bold and collaborative solutions to issues governments have struggled to tackle for decades. 

My recent Future Generations Report sets out a number of key recommendations for Government to achieve the aspirations of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, including chapters focusing on Housing and on Decarbonisation. 

In May this year I highlighted the importance of decarbonising housing in my statement on priorities for Government investment. The Welsh Government should develop an economic stimulus package that leads to job creation and enhances the energy efficiency of homes, through building new low carbon affordable housing and investing in a national retrofit programme.

“£4.2 billion is needed to retrofit the 230,000 homes in the social sector in Wales.”

I welcomed the comprehensive report on Decarbonising homes last year (Better Homes, Better Wales, Better World) and recent analysis by Community Housing Cymru (CHC) into the level of investment needed to decarbonise homes in Wales. 

A recent report by CHC in partnership with Altair estimates that £4.2 billion is needed to retrofit the 230,000 homes in the social sector in Wales, and it is important to note that more funding will be needed to deliver such a programme across the total of 1.4 million homes in Wales.

The benefits of investment in the decarbonisation of homes can be mapped across all of the seven well-being goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations Act. 

This includes preventing and reducing fuel poverty. If housing associations are successful in delivering Welsh Government’s vision for decarbonising homes, this would save tenants over £1billion on their fuel bills and see their well-being increase by a value of nearly £200million, while also creating new industries and jobs.

Meeting an ambition to build 75,000 new homes by 2036 will support £23bn of economic activity across Wales: 50,000 jobs in the wider economy and 19,500 training and apprenticeship opportunities. 

My Future Generations Report includes a recommendation for a National Wellness System, which would include consideration of costs to the NHS of treating illness caused by poor housing; and a recommendation for the UN Right to Adequate to Housing to be incorporated into Welsh housing policy. CHC’s report demonstrates how creating comfortable homes for people to live in can improve their health.

There is also scope to explore how approaches to retrofit could enhance green infrastructure and community cohesion while supporting the foundational economy and Welsh companies through developing local supply chains for materials. 

The Welsh Government’s recently announced Optimised Retrofit Programme is investing in testing the types of retrofit that work best in the many types of home we have in Wales – getting this right is complex.

Syniadau uchelgeisiol, awdurdodol a mentrus.
Helpwch ni i gryfhau sffêr gyhoeddus Cymru.

Once the optimal approaches have been identified it will be crucial for Welsh Government to work with housing associations and the private sector to set out a plan for long term investment in retrofitting all homes in Wales.

This must be implemented at the pace and scale needed to meet the climate emergency including through developing the skills and creating the jobs that will be needed. Government needs to be clear about what the supply chain looks like, how it can be developed through longer term investment and how we will ensure we have the skills in Wales to deliver. 

We have a huge opportunity to target the creation of jobs for those who most need them, keep investment in local communities in Wales, take people out of fuel poverty and meet our decarbonisation targets if we get this right.

However, this will require concerted and joined up action from Housing, Economy, Skills, Environment and Communities Departments in Government as well as buy-in from across the housing sector.

Community Housing Cymru is bringing people together from across the housing sector and beyond, to identify the changes we need to see to tackle climate change and the barriers to decarbonising homes in Wales. More information on this can be found here.

All articles published on the welsh agenda are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

You can read Re-energising Wales, the IWA’s report on how Wales can meet its projected energy demands entirely from renewable sources by 2035, here. 

Sophie Howe is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

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