Jocelyne Fleming: Retrofit - we never said it’s going to be easy… but it is crucial
The 2019 Scottish House Condition Survey found that just over half of homes in Scotland have disrepair to critical elements. The widescale retrofitting of Scotland’s existing buildings and homes is non-negotiable if we are to meet our necessarily ambitious net zero targets and ensure that everyone in Scotland has a home that is safe, warm and affordable to heat.
I recently had the pleasure of joining colleagues from across the industry and parliamentary chamber to discuss Scotland’s retrofit challenges and work together to find solutions at the CIOB’s Retrofit Roundtable event, sponsored by Gordon MacDonald MSP.
It was clear from the breadth and depth of the discussion that Scotland’s retrofit challenge is a complex issue, spanning several government departments, with no ‘silver bullet’ solution. Achieving our retrofit objectives will require joined-up thinking from policymakers and industry stakeholders to develop a long-term, cross-portfolio retrofit strategy and a toolbox of measures to support it.
Getting the funding right is essential. We know that public, private and consumer funding will all be required to facilitate widescale retrofit work. Striking the right balance and ensuring that funding is available – and accessible – is one of many considerations. We will also need to establish how much funding is necessary to optimise retrofit projects, identify the parties to whom funding must be allocated, and establish what types of projects and measures are eligible. We need to address the current uncertainty and fragmentation of funding streams. Further, we will need to develop ways to incentivise consumers to undertake retrofit projects, and ensure that they have access to the information, expertise, and people they’ll need to deliver projects from start to finish.
There are also the projects themselves. Industry showed clear support for adopting a fabric-first approach to retrofit projects, taking a whole-house approach wherever possible, and the need to foreground repair and maintenance as the first step in retrofit (and energy efficiency) projects. However, the argument was also made that, given the unique characteristics of each project, consideration must be given to what counts as ‘good’ retrofit work in a particular context. Similarly, in light of concerns raised during the discussion about the efficacy of EPC ratings, we’ll need to think about how best to measure the energy-efficiency of buildings if current standards aren’t fit for purpose.
Finally, we will need to take action to ensure that we have the right people with the right skills in the right places to undertake this work. At the moment, we simply do not. Policymakers will need to examine the skills gap carefully and implement initiatives to address the barriers to recruiting and retaining the workforce we need to deliver these projects. We need to speak to young people to build awareness about careers in the industry and challenge existing perceptions. We need to encourage – and fund – adults to retrain and upskill throughout their careers. Fundamentally, we need Government to commit to long-term, robust funding for apprenticeships and training programmes.
The retrofit puzzle is one with many different pieces. Each one of these pieces needs to be carefully considered if we are to complete the puzzle successfully. Alongside colleagues, the CIOB takes the position (and will continue to do so) that this holistic approach would be best facilitated by the development of a joined-up National Retrofit Strategy as a key infrastructure priority for the Scottish Government.
We know that this won’t be an easy policy problem to solve. Very happily, the Roundtable highlighted that enthusiastic, knowledgeable and collaborative partners exist across the built environment sector that are willing, able, and ready to work with policymakers to take action and guide policy to get us where we need to be.
- Jocelyne Fleming is the policy & public affairs officer – Scotland at the CIOB