Sustainability in Practice Retrofit C PNW

Sustainability in Practice: Retrofit as held on 4 July at Manchester Hall. Credit: PNW

Event Summary

Sustainability in Practice: Retrofit | Summary and photos

Is the greenest building the one that is already built? Can we refurb one home every 35 seconds, the rate that experts say is needed to meet environmental targets by 2050? And should carbon-dense buildings be protected?

They were some of the dilemmas that greeted delegates at the Sustainability in Practice: Retrofit conference at Manchester Hall. Held on the day Britain went to the polls, the sponsors were Morgan Sindall ConstructionArupTechnal UK, and Buttress.

Sustainability in Practice Horizontal Image for Event Listing

Addressing the challenges

Among the common problems of retrofitting both resi and commercial properties, the issues of daylight, permeability, and meeting the sustainability agenda loomed large. Will Lewis, director of transactions and asset management at OBI, said floor-to-ceiling heights are ‘always the biggest factor’, not least because they restrict how services can be provided.

Asked by event host Dan Whelan, deputy editor of Place North West, whether a refurb could ever be as operationally efficient as a shiny new office building, Fiona Lomas-Holt, director of sustainability and ESG at Turley said: “It depends on the level of retrofit you are going into. Strip it back to the structure and I don’t see why it couldn’t hit the same as new build. Obviously you are going to have challenges with orientation and form, but we are working on projects that have achieved EPC A with a retrofit and net zero standards.”

Future proofing was also discussed and Frances Hampson, associate director at Deloitte, said: “It’s important that developers and local authorities work together. If a building loses its purpose it will fall into disrepair.”

Meanwhile, Conal Spellacy, senior project manager at construction consultancy Walker Sime, added: “For the client, it’s weighing up the disruptiveness – they don’t shut their offices. Stakeholder management becomes a job in itself and you need to involve end users in the plan.”

Sustainability in Practice Retrofit C PNW

Walker Sime’s Conal Spellacy, Deloitte’s Frances Hampson, OBI’s Will Lewis, and Turley’s Fiona Lomas-Holt spoke on the first panel of the day. Credit: PNW

Money talks

Whelan asked if a ballpark figure of £40 per square foot was feasible in Manchester. Lewis said: “Rents are growing for prime grade A rebuild and refurbs at 5-7% per annum but the asset has got to be good enough. People will pay for a great workspace. We are not struggling with rental growth as a city.”

Regarding interest rates, he added: “It had a big impact and paralysed certain schemes. Viability is quite crippling at the moment.”

Sustainability in Practice Retrofit C PNW

Paul Nelson, senior architect at Buttress, delivered the first presentation of the day. Credit: PNW

The listed issue

Paul Nelson, senior architect at Buttress, says around 50% of his company’s work is in the heritage sector.

He showcased one flagship scheme, the grade two-listed Ancoats Dispensary. Built in 1874, there had been several unsuccessful redevelopment bids, then, when an application was made to demolish the community intervened. Manchester City Council took ownership and the derelict building has been reinvented as affordable rental accommodation.

“Viability was key,” said Nelson, describing how the building’s rear wall, which had little historical significance, was moved to extend the floorplates, duplex apartments created so as not to obstruct the structure’s windows, and a new steel fabrication constructed behind the historic façade.

“The reconstruction of the tower was one of the defining aspects,” he added. “It’s been described as Manchester’s biggest 3D jigsaw puzzle.”

And, aside from rescuing an iconic building, the Dispensary’s preservation has saved embodied carbon “equivalent to the manufacture of a Mercedes S Class S500”, according to Nelson.

Asked about policy to prevent demolition, Deloitte’s Hampson said: “In Places for Everyone it places an emphasis that we should be considering retrofit – however it’s one line in a 300-page document. I think the discourse is shifting and I would like to see it move forward because there are these really ambitious net zero policies that all local authorities are setting.”

Discussing whether there should be tougher protections for conversions done under permitted development, Ian Scott, group managing director at Livingway, said: “I think it would be a great idea to have a ‘best practice guide’. There should be an absolute stipulation if you don’t go through the planning process.”

Sustainability in Practice Retrofit C PNW

Onward Homes chief executive Bronwen Rapley spoke about retrofit in the social housing space. Credit: PNW

Rental retrofits

Bronwen Rapley, chief executive of Onward Homes, discussed the demands of improving the 35,000 social housing properties it owns and manages. Around 4,700 of those have EPC ratings from D to G. A “challenge with supply chain” and retrofitting “with customers in situ”, as well as the massive financial implications amid rent controls and increasing regulation, made for a challenging situation.

From streets of terraced properties where each had a different layout to single-skinned bungalows which were “little more than prefabs”, she outlined how the agency could spend £30,000 to £40,000 on a home with no increase in rents. However, some of those projects are now award-winning and have been completed as part of wider schemes to improve their surrounding areas.

She added: “Many communities feel abandoned. Schemes like this can be very powerful.”

Download Rapley’s presentation

Sustainability in Practice Retrofit C PNW

Livingway’s Ian Scott said the group was ‘desperate for something in Manchester’. Credit: PNW


“Most build-to-rent clients are after nice, new, and shiny,” said Livingway’s Scott, who specialises in office to residential transformations. “We are different. We’re privately owned and make a beeline towards conversions, and a key driver is grade A microlocations.”

He listed “snobbery” as one of the company’s key challenges: “There is a concept that quality has to be new build. We think of cool, creative ways to make a building look better.”

And he said they are already “retrofitting their retrofits”, installing PV on roofs, for example.

He used a Liverpool scheme, Roco, as a showcase – with the quirky fact that all Livingway’s buildings are named after the team’s dogs. This city centre conversion has retained original features like concrete waffle ceilings but with a contemporary twist, such as co-working and private dining rooms, as well as a roof terrace, gym, and cinema space.

Outlining how their first development had just 12 apartments, and their latest has 116, Scott revealed: “We are desperate for something in Manchester.”

Election requests

Onward’s Rapley said: “What we want is long-term commitment. We need a level of government funding to meet what is primarily a government responsibility.

“There has been no funding for repairs and improvements for about 14 years and, at the moment, there is no long-term funding for retrofit. However, in contrast to investing in building new homes, there is no income stream because there is no ability to increase our rents.”

She also wanted more attention to be paid to the rental market and added: “The government, over 14 years, has focused on home ownership.”

Scott thought a change of political leadership could be good for his market: “A Labour government is going to be a positive thing for conversions.”

Sustainability in Practice Retrofit C PNW

The day’s final panel included People Powered Retrofit’s Immy Sykes, Greater Manchester Combined Authority’s Joe Crolla, Morgan Sindall Construction’s Kane Greenough, and Arup’s Tom Waterson. Credit: PNW

Rising to the challenge

Immy Sykes, operations manager  of People Powered Retrofit (Carbon Co-op), said her organisation was working in a “niche area” with an “able to pay” customer base. She said being early adopters gave challenges in training the supply chain and developing surveying software. She added: “People are really, really keen and have started to wake up to the challenges. Generally, the British public don’t know a lot about retrofit, but they are interested in living in more comfortable homes, they are aware of the health conditions, so though they might not equate those things to retrofit, the basis is there.”

Kane Greenough, supply chain sustainability manager at Morgan Sindall Construction, said part of his role was working with universities and the like to “upskill the future leaders of today and tomorrow”. He added: “Quantity surveyors, project managers – a lot of them come to us and don’t understand the basics of climate change and what they need to do in their job to help reduce climate change. It’s about empowering people to get better.”

And he did say the regional supply chain was on board with making changes like recycling products to lower embodied carbon, adding: “Manufacturers – yes. Some are at the forefront of this.

“What is coming is ‘competitive carbon’, looking not only at cost but also the longevity and performance of products.”

Tom Waterson, an associate at Arup, specialises in the electrical and mechanical side of historic buildings and large estate holders like universities. He said: “Building services, typically, don’t last anywhere near as long as the actual building. People often replace the services before the end of life – sometimes because of decarbonisation, sometimes because they don’t fit the look and feel of the space. How do we implement 21st-century building services to meet the decarbonisation needs into older buildings? Holistically, what are the most effective ways to reduce their energy consumption?”

Discussing upskilling, Joe Crolla, principal skills manager for employer engagement and insights at Greater Manchester Combined Authority, said things were going “reasonably well” and that efforts were being made to attract more people into the industry.

He added: “In Greater Manchester our construction workforce is about 86,000 people and we think 1% has the qualifications ready to fit a heat pump or attach solar panels to roofs. One of the biggest challenges is the perennial shortages across the whole construction sector. We are directly funding programmes and designing them with training providers, making sure they are as easy to access as possible for people who are already in the workforce to give them what they need to work on retrofit projects.”

Greenough expanded on this and said: “It’s not just about those skills – it’s about surveyors, project managers and our supply chain. Without the whole value chain improving, you are never going to get the green skills that we need.”

Walker Sime’s Spellacy added: “What people do forget is these projects are more than just fitting some PVs on the roof. It’s an actual construction job.”

What’s next?

Join Place North at one of our upcoming events:

Manchester Summer Social | 12 July

Greater Manchester Development Update | 5 September

Innovation in Property | 19 September

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