Event Summary

Decarbonising the North West | The route to net zero

Local authorities and national Government alike are united in their ambitious talk of becoming carbon neutral within a few short years. How is the reality shaping up, a Place North West event asked.

Sponsored by Morgan Sindall, Hydrock and Devonshires, and using dedicated events platform Remo, Place North West publisher Paul Unger hosted two panel sessions looking at how efforts to decarbonise the region are going: first looking at new build development, then retrofit.

Decarbonising The NW Sponsors

Watch the full event video

Key questions:

  • What properties are more difficult to decarbonise: new build or retrofit?
  • How impressed is the industry with Government action and promises so far?
  • Is funding in place for radical investment in carbon neutral?

Main takeaways:

  • Planning requirements across the country need to be tightened to promote carbon neutral development
  • Developers and investors are increasingly interested in carbon neutral but still need big exemplars to follow
  • Skills are as big a concern as funding for making carbon neutral happen by the deadlines set

Presentation by Josh Bullard, divisional director of smart energy at Hydrock

Josh Bullard

“As the UK aims for net zero, most of the low-hanging fruit is already taken,” Bullard told event delegates.

“Where there has been failure so far is largely due to the need to further educate and upskill. We’re currently not able to do things at scale because we don’t have the knowledge.

“We now need the National Grid to be fully decarbonised, and then carbon-negative, which it has committed to by 2030 if carbon capture is adopted. Divestment from gas is a prerequisite, along with major changes in transport, ultra-low energy, and behavioural shifts.

“Things are definitely moving, we’ll see an acceleration in regulatory changes from 2022. Things we’d expect to see would include a gas ban, full rollout of electric vehicles, and large tranches of funding committed through the National Infrastructure Bank.

“In North West terms, Cheshire East and Oldham are committed to being carbon neutral in their own estates by 2025, and Liverpool as a city by 2030.

“There is a huge opportunity in the region with hydrogen: the Hynet project at Ellesmere Port could deliver 80% of the whole UK’s need, and 100% of carbon capture storage. Manchester’s ‘3 million trees’ and peatlands restoration schemes are also key.

“With buildings, we need to look at how we load-shift and adopt energy storage, primarily through batteries. How do we benefit from dynamic carbon and dynamic pricing?” he concluded

Panel one – new build

Alison O’Reilly, head of sustainability, Sheppard Robson

John Alker, director of policy & places, UK Green Building Council

Stuart McCrone, projects director, Glenbrook

Josh Bullard, divisional director, smart energy, Hydrock

Decarbonising Panel One

Clearly, things need to change right away on new development if zero-carbon targets are to be hit. Some developers are grasping that.

Glenbrook’s Stuart McCrone said: “Vox [the Castlefield residential scheme] is a key development for Glenbrook. Low-carbon development came sharply into focus early in 2020. It had been on our minds for some time but we’d not really understood the complexities. We needed to benchmark one of our latest schemes to get our starting point and plan a roadmap. The results surprised us, we didn’t appreciate the positive measures we were already taking.

“Funders are very much aligned. They’re getting pressure from their own investors to improve performance on net zero: the challenge is in explaining it and how it will affect viability, which can be tight enough already.

“I suspect the major cost issues are yet to hit the industry: the pending update to Part L [building regulations] will probably be a step change. Air source or heat pump technologies will be a significant cost. I’m not sure everyone’s got enough of a grasp yet to appreciate the full value of a net zero scheme.

“Success requires a full project team approach. We’ve now got a Glenbrook design guide, a principal document for projects in all sectors, that goes out to all design team members, underlining our aspirations and setting a standard.”

Vox Cornbrook Eye Level

Vox is Glenbrook’s ‘greenest’ project to date, the developer says

Sheppard Robson designed the Vox scheme. The firm’s Alison O’Reilly said: “Establishing the right team is key, and it’s important people recognise it’s not a case of picking a project from Shelf A or Shelf B. The right engagement process is the key. We’ve gone past the ‘why’ and even the ‘what’ – it’s now all about the ‘how’: testing and establishing pathways.

“More people are asking about zero carbon in briefs, which has to be a good thing, although we’re still in a place where we’re having to educate on targets and programme costs while still learning it ourselves.”

John Alker said: “We’re starting to see action. Appetite among businesses has grown exponentially over the past year, at a time you might expect an insular focus. The leadership we see in some places is great, but the industry as a whole is so broad, that what we need to see is a level playing field and a raising of the bar. It’s critical that national policy and the regulatory framework is there to support this.

“The various methodologies and rating systems can be initially confusing, but when you get into it the component parts they make sense, and we are now seeing convergence. Things like the London Energy Transformation Initiative are super-ambitious.”

Josh Bullard added: “There are quite a lot of benchmarking exercises, and in terms of cost uplift we’ve seen anything from 5% to 10% on capital expenditure. There are operational savings, a rental stream on energy assets can be built into the economic model, there are opportunities to demonstrate the payback and look at it with a portfolio approach.

“The property sector’s ahead of occupiers in understanding net zero, and we’re looking at a campaign focused on large occupiers to match the ambition and abilities of landlords. In the Internet of Things era, there’s no reason we can’t control all aspects of energy use.”

Panel two – retrofit

Wayne Bexton, head of energy services, Nottingham City Council

Bev Taylor, director of energy and environment, Bruntwood Works

Hannah Langford, partner, Devonshires

Ryan Jude, associate, Green Finance Initiative

Decarbonising Panel Two

Compared to tackling the UK’s estate of existing buildings, new build is straightforward, agreed the second panel.

With a 2028 deadline, Nottingham has the most ambitious live programme of domestic retrofit yet attempted here. Wayne Bexton explained: “Our domestic retrofit, which takes in 27,000 properties under the Nottingham City Homes banner. We’ve got a programme of around 900 properties currently.

“Retrofit is a complex landscape, and we need to simplify it and offer an obvious route to funding for projects of scale. One live project is a £7m scheme to train SMEs in retrofit skills. Getting the skills is as important as the funding.

“One thing we should factor in from the outset is improved health outcomes: if our interventions reduce the number of people visiting GPs with respiratory issues, that’s a benefit: linking these areas is important in making the business case.

“Our monitoring and feedback show it is working. A further benefit has been improved neighbourhoods: pride in place and use of space, there’s a definite wellbeing angle.

“Improving standards will only come with planning requirements, and with the Core Cities group, we’re trying to attain a level of consistency across England.

Bev Taylor said: “As we look to retrofit, we’ve also usually got customers to work around, so have to do things floor by floor. As a commercial entity we also have to ask ‘when is the right time to do things? How does it affect service charges? Is a green lease the answer?’ Research says customers are now ready to pay a premium, and we do need to move the needle on this.

“The policy framework is changing, but it has changed so much in the past it can be difficult to get the supply chain to buy into it, rugs have been pulled from under firms before and they may hesitate to get involved in the next programme.

“There is a concern that measurement is not always transparent or accurate, and getting past that is really important. The Energy White Paper talked about an operational energy metric, that could be huge in driving agenda if we can see what buildings are doing day-to-day.”

Marsland House Reception CGI

Marsland House in Sale, one of Bruntwood Works’ buildings undergoing a green-tinged renovation

Hannah Langford said: “Alongside the issue of hitting targets on carbon neutrality, we also have tenants in fuel poverty with a desperate need for warm houses. Where do we start? There has been a policy vacuum, although it’s starting to fill now, Boris Johnson’s ten-point plan and the Budget were encouraging. We now know the big goals, but need more on how that filters through.

“There’s a vast range of housing associations, with different funding access, different availability of support and levels of activity from local authorities. The availability of grants is key.”

Ryan Jude said: “Financial products are emerging to support retrofit, and the National Infrastructure Bank is a positive. We need to be constantly asking how do we innovate? Net zero as a whole needs to be rephrased as an investment opportunity rather than a cost.”

The case needs to be made better, he added: “Every pound spent from the public purse on retrofit saves 42p in energy costs – we’ve got to improve how we make the argument on this.”

The key with green leases is overcoming the impasse between landlord and tenant over who pays and benefits, said Jude.

“The Building Renovation Passport is essentially a data handbook on a property, providing a clear path on what a property can achieve. It looks to overcome the problem of lack of awareness – if people don’t know what the issues are, change won’t happen.”

Video by David Booth | david@placenorthwest.co.uk

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