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Cleveland Road, Crumpsall by Flickr user Mikey

Q&A: Robin Lawler, Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub


How are social landlords contributing to support the hub’s low carbon goals?

The main thrust of what we’ve been doing as a group has been about reducing emissions from domestic properties. It’s about reducing carbon but also about tackling fuel poverty. As social landlords we often house the poorest people in the community and with cost of living increasing all the time, it’s important that we try to help them manage that. Reducing fuel costs is clearly a key priority.

A lot of our work has been around retrofitting properties. Most social landlords across GM have done Decent Homes work, including new roofs, kitchens, bathrooms, windows. And when we’ve done that work, we’ve tried to build in more energy efficient measures, for instance more efficient boilers, increasing loft and wall insulations.

In many cases we’ve also gone beyond the standard of the Decent Homes requirements, and fitted additional measures to improve thermal efficiency. A good example is insulating homes that have concrete walls. These are very sound in terms of layout, but they’re cold and thermally inefficient, so we’ve done over-cladding of those – a new overcoat effectively. We’ve also put a new overcoat of insulation on a number of tower blocks, which has the effect of improving the visual appearance and improves thermal efficiency. All the reports we get back indicate that it’s made a big difference to people in terms of their comfort and how warm the properties are.

We’ve also been looking at generating energy. Northwards Housing has fitted 1,300 units with PV solar panels, on roofs of houses and tower blocks. That has the effect of reducing the amount of energy that people have to take from the national grid. That can make a difference of up to £200 a year in terms of residents’ energy costs.

There are around 25 social landlords across GM who work together on this agenda. We share experience, we do some joint procurement of work. And we’ve all been quite successful in bringing additional funding into place to pay for these measures; often that comes in a matched-funding basis. The energy companies have had the sense to put some money aside for energy efficiency works, so we’ve been able to bid back for some of that money.


How does the collaborative nature of GMLCH help you to achieve reduction of carbon emissions?

The hub brings together interested parties from across GM, including local government, social landlords, private businesses, universities, and community organisations. The hub has agreed a series of action plans and each plan is led by a particular subgroup.

As well as reducing CO2 emissions, a big element for us is helping people understand what their impact is on the environment. We have behaviour change programmes to get people to think differently about the buildings they live and work in.


How exactly do you do that – can you give me an example?

Northwards Housing has energy advisors who go out and speak to community groups, and also go to individual homes. They help people assess their energy and water usage, and show them how to use the boiler and thermostat more efficiently.

We also promote simple measures like closing the curtains at night to keep heat in; putting lids on pans to encourage more efficient cooking; not having every room in the house heated if you’re only going to use one room; wearing a sweater rather than going round in shorts and t-shirt all year round… that kind of stuff that people perhaps take for granted.


Do your advisors find that people usually aren’t aware of these measures?

They aren’t, no. The other thing they’ll do is sit down with people and work out their current energy tariff – and encourage them to get the best tariff they can. It’s complicated and there’s a lot of inertia; people often stick to what they know.

There are now 20 social landlords working together on a low carbon literacy programme. We want all our staff, board members, and potentially some residents to be carbon literate so they can understand their own carbon footprint. Then they can develop actions in their own life at home and in the workplace to try and reduce carbon. We’re developing that course at the moment, training the trainers. We hope that will have a big impact.

The Greater Manchester Low Carbon Hub’s buildings subgroup has very specific targets for 2015, including achieving a reduction of 220kt of domestic CO2 emissions through undertaking retrofitting measures in homes, and implementing a Green Deal programme in the region. 

Yes, we have a very detailed action plan. We’re trying to work across the buildings sector, including publicly owned and managed buildings, plus commercial buildings. And have done some awareness-raising sessions in the Arndale.


And are you on track to achieving these goals by next year?

We’ve set ourselves quite a challenging programme, and it will stretch us, I think it’s fair to say. We’ve set a series of metrics so we can understand how we’re doing, and measure it against those. It’s too early to say whether we’ll hit them all, but again we’re trying to give ourselves some very clear targets and objectives. Without those, things would stay as they are and we don’t want that; we want to change.


What are your plans for the immediate future, are there any major initiatives coming up?

A number of us [social landlords] are now talking about local energy generation schemes in the community. We’re working on developing a project to do a community hydro scheme in Hollyhurst. We want to look at local generation of renewable energy, and reinvest the profits back into community projects.


Update, December 2014:


Northwards Housing awarded Sustainable Homes Gold 


On 26th November, Sustainable Homes presented its bi-annual SHIFT awards, recognising the work member housing associations are doing to improve the sustainability of their homes through benchmarking and independent assessment. 

Northwards Housing were awarded a ‘Gold’ in the Sustainable Homes For Tomorrow awards, achieving the highest score of all social landlords.

SHIFT was developed in collaboration with housing associations and in partnership with WWF, HCA, DECC, Mayor of London, the Environment Agency and the UK Green Building Council and is the industry’s independent benchmarking and best practice learning network.

Every two years, members are analysed on their environmental performance, including their homes, offices and operations. Weighted questions measure aspects such as energy efficiency, water use, waste and adaptation to climate change. They are then compared to other housing providers and given suggestions on ways to improve. Organisations join SHIFT at all stages along their sustainability journey, from those with little experience, to those who are well on their way.

"In the face of our changing climate all organisations need clear environmental strategies to support action to reduce their impact. This needs to be supported by an independent assessment of their environmental impacts and the effectiveness of their response. Action needs to move well beyond recycling or one off programmes if it is to deliver meaningful change within a timescale that can make a difference.

Addressing environmental impacts is not just about the health of our planet when rising energy bills and poorly insulated homes are also causing significant hardship to families across the UK. Sustainable homes are quality homes.

I am delighted to see SHIFT members taking action to understand all their environmental impacts, including energy use, through independent assessment and then working to reduce them. I hope that all housing associations will follow their lead."

Lord Matthew Taylor - Chair, National Housing Federation

A number of other Greater Manchester Registered Providers also achieved Silver or Bronze awards, including Bolton at Home, Eastlands Homes, Wigan and Leigh Housing, The Regenda Group, Trafford Housing Trust and Contour Homes.

Main image by Flickr user Mikey published here under a Creative Commons licence.