26 Oct 2021

Heat and buildings strategy needed for NI’s fight to reach net-zero

Ahead of the UN climate change conference, COP26, four housing and communities bodies have united to work towards a strategy to improve energy efficiency in Northern Ireland homes. It follows the UK Government’s announcement of a long-awaited heat and buildings strategy.

On 18 October 2021 the UK Government outlined plans within the heat and buildings strategy that will invest in a £3.9bn funding package for decarbonising buildings over the next four years which includes:

  • £5,000 grants for homeowners in England and Wales to install heat pumps through a £450m boiler upgrade scheme
  • An £800m social housing decarbonisation fund to help social landlords improve the energy efficiency of their homes
  • £950m home upgrade grant scheme, which will be used by councils to support low-income households in carrying out energy efficiency retrofits.

It is welcome to see the heat and buildings strategy incorporate announcements that mean people can access new funding to install low-carbon heating in their home; including an initial £800m allocated to the social housing decarbonisation fund which housing associations in England can bid directly for funds, as well as the commitments to bringing down electricity prices with heat pumps being the primary source of heat. Although the strategy is not without its limits, namely the issue of prioritising heating installation without making the necessary fabric changes, it is nonetheless a considerable step in right direction in the fight for net-zero and one that we must work to see initiated in NI.

Together CIH Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations, Supporting Communities and AICO are working in collaboration as part of, and as a result of, the Housing Safety & Wellbeing Taskforce. The four organisations are working jointly in order to provide the NI Executive and relevant departments with the information they need to make informed policy decisions on the future of energy efficiency across housing stock in Northern Ireland. The four leading organisations will be establishing an expert advisory panel in the coming weeks to address the following:

  • The lack of action on net-zero targets to date
  • The need to invest in and implement alternative heat sources that meet the needs of both new-build and retrofit properties
  • How we ensure tenants and residents are at the centre of this work
  • The current skills gaps by working to increase more opportunities for training and apprenticeships which will provide new jobs for a modern workforce for decades to come.

Commenting on the development, the four organisations said:

“Last week’s plans to help consumers in England and Wales finance low-carbon heating sources is yet another reminder as to how far Northern Ireland has to travel when it comes to actively decarbonising our homes.

“Decarbonisation of the housing stock is one of our biggest challenges with our homes contributing to around 15 per cent of carbon emissions; but working to decarbonise our housing stock presents us with great opportunities – not least to provide warm, comfortable and affordable homes for communities here.

“Together, our four organisations will continue to support our members and residents with any future transition to a mix of new and low-carbon heating measures. We are committed to working with our sectoral partners, including suppliers and the wider construction industry to ensure we are able to actively deliver homes for the future and create a modern workforce that offers well-paid and secure jobs for decades to come.”