National leadership and locally empowered delivery
Any overhaul of an existing system carries with it considerable risk. The context in which we are working is evolving quickly with the statutory targets for climate change and fuel poverty existing alongside other, long-standing, obligations and ambitions to reduce and lift people out of poverty, so that we can create a more equal and fairer Scotland. Recognising the changing context, we wish to preserve the strengths inherent in our current approach which enable landlords to harness personal enthusiasm, commitment, and voluntary effort to excellent effect, and at the same time achieve outcomes that best meet the needs of their tenants while contributing to national priorities. Going forwards, it is important to retain as a fundamental principle the concept of local planning and empowerment, complemented by a clear national framework that enables locally led change.
We noted the SNP Manifesto commitment to develop a new dedicated national public energy agency and recommend social landlords are engaged in the design and delivery of this national project to maximise the benefits to social housing and tenants.
At the heart of this is an aspiration to see our housing stock managed in a manner that optimises the benefit to tenants as we seek the transition to zero emissions social housing.
Scotland benefits from a diverse social housing sector, from small to large, rural to urban and specialist to generalist. Some will have more capacity and resource for the journey to net zero than others. It is therefore important that landlords within a local area are able to come together and form strategic partnerships in order to design and deliver solutions that best meet the needs of their tenants and housing stock. Combining their efforts can also increase their power and influence in the market. We will be looking to national and local government to support, enable and, where appropriate, participate in such arrangements.
Empowerment should not be taken for granted. We depend on bringing together a wide range of individual interests and motivations to deliver a social benefit. Success comes from careful design and governance, combined with sensitive relationship management. A decentralised and locally empowered housing improvement delivery mechanism can work well in Scotland only if social landlords and partners – including local and national government – come together to co-design a system that operates within a wider strategic framework and keeps the public interest at the forefront of thinking. This must be underpinned by a funding platform which is supported by the Scottish Government.
A Just Transition
ZEST took the view that in order to achieve a just transition, it would need to achieve both a successful economic transition alongside a socially just one.
The issues of both climate change and fuel poverty traverse local, regional and national borders. While there are some regional variations in the characteristics of social housing stock in Scotland, common archetypes can be found.
A central concern is to ensure that social tenants do not face the double jeopardy of increased energy bills and increased rents as a result of decarbonising their homes. To support decarbonisation and ensure it is a fair and just transition, landlords are already coming together to determine and develop open-source solutions that work both financially and practically – so that those least able to pay are not disadvantaged by unaffordable rent or energy bills. This work should continue and inform the development of the strategic pathway to change at scale in Scotland, with support from local and national government.
Modern standards of energy efficiency require upgrading of existing houses with materials or technology that were either unavailable or not normally used when they were built and has created a retrofit market to provide solutions that landlords can draw on. The work that the social housing sector can undertake over the next decade has the potential to change how this retrofit market works for everyone, and for the better, but it cannot lead this change without the private sector and other parts of society alongside it.
Individual consumers of retrofit works are unlikely to change the offer from the market. However, social landlords with their combined power as a bulk consumer of products and services have an opportunity to change the dynamic through the design, specification and delivery of high standard retrofit works. This is likely to help support market innovation and achieve better outcomes for everyone.
Working with people, especially tenants, will be critical in ensuring they are part of driving the change rather than having change imposed on them. Many of the emerging technical solutions for zero emissions heat are complex technologies and it is important that the end user is able to operate them to optimal effect, to achieve the intended benefits.
Focus on outcomes and manage the risk
Few people will argue with the idea that our approach to improving the condition of our housing stock and zero emission heating should be based on the best available technological solutions. Difficulties can arise, however, when technical understanding is incomplete, and where some knowledge is held by practitioners on the ground who do not normally regard themselves as policy experts. The importance of taking a risk-based approach to retrofitting while recognising the uncertainty that exists is a necessary part of the solutions. The place of technical solutions as the enabler of good management rather than as an end in itself should be the guiding principle over the next decade. Given the scale of the challenge, doing nothing or a ‘wait and see’ approach is not an option if we are to successfully reduce emissions by 2045.
We must recognise that different solutions will be required in different areas, and it is particularly important to ensure the effects on rural, remote and island communities are considered. In particular, when considering the types of technical solutions available it is clear that some of the products, services and approaches may not work as well in our rural, remote and island communities. These areas already face disadvantages, including generally higher living costs, limited fuel options and a high proportion of hard-to-treat stock. There is also a disparity in electricity prices with the North of Scotland paying higher unit costs than the rest of the country while also experiencing colder temperatures and a longer heating season. It is important there is not a one size fits all approach taken and the distinct needs of rural, remote and island communities are integral to all stages of planning, design, and delivery. Innovative solutions will be needed.
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