New government must back retrofit strategy, BRE chief warns

The two Conservative leadership candidates must set out a fully funded national retrofit strategy to keep net-zero ambitions on track, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) chief executive has urged.

In an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, Gillian Charlesworth (pictured) said that the new prime minister would need to “publish credible and effective plans” to decarbonise homes and buildings.

Charlesworth, who has been in post since May 2019, said current government policies did “not go far enough” to address the “two biggest issues” of rising energy costs and decarbonising the built environment, and implored candidates to pledge their commitment to net-zero targets.

Failure to do this, she said, would be “sentencing families, businesses and communities to an even more costly and bleak future”.

In the letter, she added: “We are calling on candidates to reaffirm their commitment to tackling climate change and reaching net zero by 2050, by setting out a fully funded national retrofit strategy to roll out efficiency measures to all UK households.

“This should include cost-effective solutions, such as insulation that will reduce demand for natural gas, address spiralling energy bills and, ultimately, make Britain’s homes fit for the future.

“Setting out a clear, long-term strategy to retrofit the UK’s buildings will not only ensure we continue to deliver the net-zero strategy, but it will also bolster our energy security by lowering demand for natural gas.”

Charlesworth argued that the future government should also establish clear directives on how to train, or retrain, the hundreds of thousands of workers required to retrofit the UK’s 29 million homes.

She added: “Decarbonising our homes and buildings is a priority which we cannot afford to ignore, and we look forward to continuing to work with the government to support the UK on its path to net zero.”

Both Sunak and Truss have insisted that they will stick with the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, announced last October, despite taking aim at solar and wind energy in recent weeks.

Construction News reported earlier this week that the two hopefuls had promised to either halt or reverse certain renewable-energy schemes, such as onshore wind or solar, if they became prime minister.

Truss, who is widely seen as the frontrunner in the leadership race, has said that she would amend planning rules to ensure farming is prioritised over new solar projects. She would also increase North Sea gas extraction.

Her counterpart, Sunak, has said that he would also restrict solar developments on farmland, and stated in July that he would also scale back onshore wind schemes.

The retrofit industry represents big business for contractors, with firms being alerted to a £2bn framework by Advantage South West housing association earlier this month.

Construction and services business Equans was also recently appointed by Birmingham City Council to retrofit 300 houses as part of a pilot scheme with a view to decarbonising the council’s 60,000 properties.

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