1 February 2021
Homes are a major source of CO2 emissions. To achieve the government and the council’s zero-carbon targets, as well as reduce fuel poverty, we need to carry out 'deep retrofit' energy improvements to tens of thousands of existing homes in Islington – comprehensive 'whole house' schemes, going far beyond a double-glazed window here and a solar panel there. This will create a lot of jobs but the high proportion of older, traditionally constructed or high-rise buildings in our borough makes the task more challenging and calls for a well-trained workforce who understand how to do the job properly, so that we don’t build in more problems than we solve. This, currently, is far from the case.
Professor Linda Clarke pointed out ("Retrofitting for the future" Islington Tribune, 8th Jan) that much building work is currently carried out by self-employed individuals or ‘micro-firm’ subcontractors, that numbers of construction trainees have declined dramatically, and that the industry faces a major skills shortage. The government’s "Each Home Counts" review, in 2016, recognised that inappropriate 'cowboy' insulation installations can actually lead to new problems, such as rain penetration, structural deterioration and black mould. The horror of the Grenfell Tower disaster raised the awareness of potential risk to a whole other level. Since then, a comprehensive framework of standards has been developed, to rebuild confidence and ensure that retrofit works are carried out by adequately trained workers, supervised from start to finish by qualified Retrofit Coordinators, so no shortcuts are taken.
Professor Clarke therefore argued that Islington Council should partner with unions, colleges and local organisations to develop its own skilled, 'energy-literate' in-house workforce, to retrofit the council’s own housing stock to the necessary standards – a powerful, practical and necessary suggestion, but one that could go even further. At the last census, around 42% of Islington’s homes were council housing, 30% owner-occupied and 28% private rental. A lot of new homes have been built since then but it’s the old ones that need the most retrofitting. If Islington is going to meet its zero-carbon targets, it certainly needs to 'deep retrofit' its own council housing but owner-occupiers and private landlords need access to a skilled workforce too.
In the early days of energy efficiency, Islington Council was at the forefront of the drive for warm, affordable homes, setting up one of the first Energy Centres, establishing one of the first systematic programmes to improve council housing, and also using its expertise to offer support and leadership to private householders too. Now Islington should urgently seize the chance of post-COVID 'recovery' funding to support training of the skilled construction workforce we need, to eradicate the evil of fuel poverty, create thousands of new jobs and retrofit both social and private housing to the standards required for a zero-carbon future. Now is the time for some more leadership.
Islington Green Party