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Embrace the Retrofit Revolution

Early in June the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan declared a “retrofit revolution”, to make the capital’s buildings more energy efficient.

London’s homes and workplaces are responsible for three quarters of our carbon emissions and virtually all will need some level of retrofitting if we are to reach the mayor’s net zero target by 2030.

Working with councils and social housing providers, this programme will not only tackle the climate emergency but help upgrade cold, damp, homes, create tens of thousands of jobs, and tackle London’s growing fuel poverty problems – the third highest in the country.

This scale of activity, however, will need support from every sector of the community if it is to succeed, but at the moment most people don’t even know what retrofit means, never mind understand or welcome the changes it will make to their homes and neighbourhoods.

A massive awareness campaign is needed, to inform and encourage us all, council and housing association tenants, owner occupiers, private sector landlords, and so on, all to play our part.

Islington’s aging housing stock raises its own challenges here, particularly as more than half of the borough is covered by conservation areas.

The design guidelines for most of these were written decades before the council declared a climate emergency and phrases like carbon emissions, external wall insulation, triple glazing or solar panels don’t even appear in them. So they need to be updated urgently.

We want the value of our historic neighbourhoods to be protected but it’s possible to achieve this while still insulating back and side walls, raising roofs a fraction, or fitting solar panels on them, replacing windows, and so on, as we have to do to make our homes ready for a zero carbon future.

This will all cost money, of course, and it’s very much hoped that the government will demonstrate leadership and commitment, ahead of The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP26 – summit it’s hosting in November, such as by establishing the country-wide retrofit strategy we need urgently and removing VAT on retrofit so that it stops being cheaper to build new homes than improve old ones.

But, in the meantime, Islington Council should be preparing the ground, here, so that we’re ready to go as soon as the funding comes available. For example, our workforce needs apprenticeships and upskilling, to be able to benefit from the opportunities.

Residents and council officers should be brought up to speed on the programme. And Islington Council’s own policies and design guidelines ought to not just allow but actively encourage homeowners to implement the retrofit measures we need.

Islington Green Party