Published:

Kevin Hollinrake is MP for Thirsk & Malton

Political discourse can focus too much on the ‘high-level’ – from macroeconomic theories about the bounce back from recession to the impact that our ambitious net zero targets will have on the real economy.

The real challenge in politics is taking big ticket items, understanding how they impact – for example, a local brick manufacturing company in my constituency that is heavily reliant on natural gas to power its kilns, and finally transforming them into tangible policies.

One such high-level term that needs substantial unpacking is ‘retrofit’.

The word has been around for a long time, but more recently it has come to define the opportunity we have to tackle emissions from the built environment – which make up 40 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions. Older housing stock with a number of improvements that comprise a ‘retrofit’, could see total energy use in those buildings reduced by 25 per cent.

A deep whole-house retrofit takes a holistic approach to a property improving insulation in the walls, windows, floors and roof, as well as improving the heating system with heat pumps and solar panels. The act itself is rectifying a historic gap in technology and awareness of how to build an energy efficient home.

But we need to be sure we are moving forward, not backwards. The word retrofit looks back at what we have created and makes adjustments accordingly based on the understanding we have now. We need to ensure we have the right level of investment in world-class technologies which look forward and ‘future-proof’ as well as ‘retrofit’ our homes and community buildings.

Reducing total energy use by 25 per cent by 2030 would lead to average energy savings of roughly £270 per household per year. This could make a huge difference to those experiencing fuel poverty. Energy poverty causes avoidable hospital admissions, and an increased use in non-primary health care services, as it increases the risk of a number of serious health conditions. Therefore, in turn, retrofits can save the NHS £0.42 for every £1 spent on energy efficiency measures, reducing yearly costs of around £1.4 billion in England alone.

Housing is a precarious policy area – after all, home is where the heart is – and that makes talk of change all the more sensitive. This is not to mention reports of huge bills to pay in order to reap any individual benefits – which include an enhancement of property valuations, and a cost saving on energy expenditure of £7.5 billion per year. Ordinary people are not likely to invest without clear incentives, assuming they have the capital to invest in the first place.

But the bill doesn’t all have to land at the feet of Treasury.

I’ve spent the bulk of my time in Parliament fighting for the rights of small business, often (and unfortunately still to this day) against some of the biggest financial institutions in the UK. The threat of climate change, now coupled with the impact of over a year of Covid-19 restrictions, pose a great challenge to all parts of society, including the banking industry.

Learning from past mistakes which left small business owners in damaging and unfair situations, the APPG on Fair Business Banking was instrumental in setting up Bankers for Net Zero. Working with the banking industry, we know that with the involvement and inclusion of the right groups we can find a way to deliver a ‘Just Transition’ for small business. We need to ensure the backbone of our economy is put at the heart of any well-thought through transition to zero, and serves the interests of society as a whole.

The banks are primed and ready to invest in this market, awaiting the Government’s much-anticipated Heat and Building Strategy to be published in due course. The document must contain a bold national retrofit strategy to push the market to a tipping point, alongside the finance sector, where costs will go down and uptake increase exponentially.

It will be manufacturers, bricklayers, housebuilders, who deliver the rollout of a Retrofit Revolution. We all need to play our part to support these essential small businesses to deliver change from the ground up. Without the proper financing from Government and the banking sector that simply won’t happen.