Social Renewal Housing System Policy Circle minutes: 22 October 2020

Minutes of the 22 October meeting of the Social Renewal Housing System Policy Circle.

Attendees and apologies


Jon Sparkes (Joint Chair)

Sally Thomas (Joint Chair)

Laura Caven

Craig Dalzell

Craig Spence

Nile Istephan

Shona Gorman

Mark Stephens

Marsha Scott

Karen Stevenson

Cassandra Dove

Hugh McClung

David Bookbinder

Christina Gaiger (item 2)

Chris Stewart (item 2)

Tony Cane

Naeem Bhatti, SG

Elaine Bell, SG

Amanda Callaghan, SG

Kuan Loh, SG

Margaret Irving, SG


Catriona MacKean, SG

Angela O’Brien, SG

Nina Ballantyne

John Mills

Cllr Elena Whitham

Tom Barclay

Items and actions


1. Welcome and review of last meeting 15 October

Sally opened the meeting and confirmed the papers that members should have. The note of the last meeting was agreed.

2. 2040 – Principle 9 – Carbon Neutral

Jon introduced this section outlining the 4 key principles identified by the group.  Chris Stewart, Convenor of the RIAS sustainable working group and Christina Gaiger, RIAS President delivered a presentation to the group to generate discussion on Principle 9 – Decisions around the quality, location and utilisation of existing stock and new build should be ambitious in enhancing biodiversity, promoting Scotland’s energy security, and be consistent with the target for Scotland’s emissions to be net zero carbon by 2045.

Action – presentation to be circulated to members.

Comments from the group were as follows:

  • Within the PRS, no one is monitoring whether EESSH 2020 is being met, so how will we ensure that EESSH 2032 will take place? Is the monitoring of PRS down to LA's but they don't have the resources available to do this
  • EESSH is for social housing landlords, there are separate targets for PRS. LAs monitor registered private landlord lets (and charge them a registration fee)
  • 1920s 4-in a block council (& ex council) housing in South Lanarkshire have been subject to extensive external insulation and now have problems with damp.
  • Condensation and problems with poor air quality are a known issue. In the social sector tenants have invested heavily in their homes and faced rent rises as a consequence. Most poor condition housing and most poor households are in the private sector.
  • Keen to hear from the policy group so we get a sense of experience on the overview on constraints and opportunities to get a better carbon focus to social housing in future. Have to consider how this translates to existing stock. We also need to reuse building materials.
  • Private housing condition is poor in flatted blocks and how do you address this if the roof is also in bad condition. This is not responsibility of social housing or EESSH but SG is reluctant to tell homeowners what they should be doing to their homes.
  • Any house that is rented has to have EPC of band E. Not sure this relates to RSL’s and owner occupiers. Will EPS be mandatory for all?
  • It is important to look at whole carbon lifecycle. Orkney is a net exporter of green energy. 100% green energy use on the island. Were told that they would gain 6 EPC points if they used fuel developed from wood pellets from Latvia. This does not fit with trying to reduce carbon footprint. It is not practical to follow all the guidance as it is contradictory. If use EPC to drive low carbon measures it would lead SG to remove gas boilers in Central Scotland and would reduce access to cheaper fuel and many measures are not practical for rural areas.
  • Difficult to discuss solutions without discussing poverty and what we know about community investment. Women's marginal propensity to spend means that they are more likely to invest in local, community resources and children. Unfortunately, place-based models tend to be gender-blind, and will then deliver less-than-optimal results.
  • Net zero carbon does not alleviate fuel poverty. We need to have a holistic approach on retro fitting existing properties.  We meet the 2025 targets by installing a new boiler but in 5 years we have to take out whole system to put in new measures. We need to assess all housing stock and assess its retrofit potential at the beginning rather than in steps. Do it once and properly the first time.
  • ​Is the key issue how much energy input/sqm it takes to achieve a particular internal temperature? Renfrewshire Council have been developing this as the driver behind their EWI programme.
  • Link to Commonweal EPC paper.
  • We also need to address issues of over consumption in the owner occupied sector. Just because you can afford to over consume energy and space and carbon doesn't mean that it's ok.
  • ​This holistic overview of a house should also include the wider matters of place and biodiversity- responding to the Place Standards.
  • Dispersed properties is a particular challenge in rural areas. Surprised that recent passive house scheme came in at level E but planners required back up gas boilers. Riddled with policy conflicts. Look at area based approaches and tenure based to address carbon and fuel poverty. We have started work with new economic development agency. Using the collective power of housing associations to remove barriers to employ across the region not just own stock. Take account of antipoverty and growth measures.
  • If work is on a local economy basis you save on transport, help local architecture, local materials, and help local trades to look after your housing. This was highlighted because of Covid restrictions.
  • Some energy savings ideas are flawed. Chinese photovoltaic cells have payback in 150 years although popularity of PV is driven by the extent to which they reduce bills.
  • It's not just policy conflicts that cause problems. The recent SG announcement of funding for retrofitting air source heat pumps looks like a response to lobbying from the industry rather than a discussion with the housing sector. Retrofitting air source heat pumps is problematic if it isn't linked to significant fabric investment to achieve high levels of air tightness. For local authorities, managing a stock that was almost all built pre 1980, much of it with coal fires this is hugely problematic. Air source heat pumps aren't a priority for the sector but we now have to find ways of spending £20m on a solution the sector didn't ask for.
  • Community Wealth Building, Circular Economy and metrics around embedded carbon in materials and the transport of them all intersect in this sphere.
  • Monitoring area based EWI schemes looked at the wider impacts of retrofits on the occupants – behaviour changes, comfort levels, temperatures and relative humidity, condensation/damp issues, impact on neighbourhood, actual savings vs savings predicted in EPC. More resource intensive to do but gives better insight into the effectiveness of the improvements.
  • Important to get money invested to work really hard at the micro end. The how is the difficult bit. Have to work with EPC and work out how can we supplement this and work alongside.
  • Retrofitting to improve insulation standards in existing private housing is inherently difficult due to high upfront costs, but benefits enjoyed over long period and costs of inefficiency and benefits improvements. Consequently, very difficult to devise schemes that are both efficient (to an economist) and have a high take up e.g. the last green deal.
  • May have to accept that subsidy will need to sacrifice efficiency to be effective. That is some people will benefit from subsidy who would have improved their houses without it, and some well off people will benefit.
  • There may be other ways to achieve the desired result, e.g. through equity loans.SG could pay upfront for insulation improvements/ more efficient heating and the owner does not repay until the house is sold. Or SG could take a share in the house.
  • A further problem is that some of the technology is not unambiguously green - heat pumps need electricity; wood pellets have been linked to deforestation and need to be transported. Or reliable as heat pumps can be problematic and insulating old houses can result in damp.
  • More needs to be done to monitor EPC's and not left to the LA's. E.g. When PRS landlords are registering, the EPC must be presented. Secondly, there is no formal education of tenants into what an EPC means.
  • Public subsidy for domestic energy efficiency is fine but we need to be clear on issues of fairness and equity. To date social housing tenants have received very little subsidy for the £100m a year that has been spent from rents on EESSH. I'm not sure there is a case for supporting owners where tenants have self-funded.
  • If the private sector benefits from public subsidy for retrofitting, one way to recapture this is through a better system of property/ land value tax.
  • Unlikely property/land value tax will happen soon. As things stand social housing tenants continue to be disadvantaged, the possibility of fairer tax in the future which for some reason never materialises because tax policy is made by property owners.

Jon thanked Chris and Christina for their input and that they have helped the group identify policy direction that can be translated into clear comments for government.

3. Lived experience update

SG gave a brief update on the work taking place on lived experience and equalities.

Continuing to collate lived experience work including the questionnaire responses and mining existing details.

Member commented that it was useful to have the data collected but it needs to be analysed. Sally noted that we are trying but great pressure on resources. Analysis is, of course, key - the questionnaire results summary is providing information that is available just now.

COSLA were keen to share this with the Wellbeing Board for information.

The group were asked if there were no objections the information could be shared. No objections were received.

4. Equalities update

SG is still trying to get something further on gypsy travellers. COSLA trying to get something shortly that can be circulated to the group. 

 5. SRAB final report and HSPC final report

The group were asked to provide comments on the HSPC outline of final report by end of Monday 26 October.

6. AoB, next meetings and close

At next week’s meeting the topic will be Principle 4 – affordability. The group were asked for volunteers to lead the discussion. There will be 3 further meetings with the final meeting on 12 November at around which point there will be a final report. Members will get copies for their comment and broad consensus.

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