by Jack Wilkinson-Dix
The Welsh government announced their Optimised Retrofit Programme (ORP) on 19 August as part of a series of measures aimed at cementing housing as a key vehicle for a green economic recovery. The announcement accompanied the fourth iteration of the Innovative Housing Programme (IHP4), which promotes modern methods of construction, the provision of affordable housing, and encouraging placemaking and the creation of beautiful spaces.
Both policies target improvements to social housing in Wales, aiming to make it more comfortable, secure and warm, while reducing its carbon footprint. While IHP4 is focused on new build social housing, ORP will support registered social landlords and stock retaining local authorities in retrofitting existing social homes.
The Optimised Retrofit Programme will see almost £10m, a mixture of grant and loan funding, go towards improving the energy efficiency and overall emissions of social housing, through the trial and testing of optimised retrofit approaches. We expect ‘intelligent energy systems’ to feature strongly in ORP-funded projects. These will go beyond standard smart meters and offer real-time energy usage metering, which opens up the potential of flexible tariffs and demand side response solutions.
The Optimised Retrofit Programme is a welcome investment in improving energy efficiency and decarbonising Welsh homes. Energy Saving Trust has long made the case that investing in retrofitting should be a core plank of any economic recovery, as it is labour intensive and geographically spread. We are encouraged to see the high level of support for the programme from across the different Welsh ministries.
Retrofitting existing homes can significantly improve the comfort, health and wellbeing of their occupants and provides significant decarbonisation potential. This funding will help secure green jobs and training in Wales, while improving its outdated housing stock. It will work alongside existing schemes and funding sources to provide invaluable gap funding.
We would urge that the Optimised Retrofit Programme should be the first in a series of supportive measures to promote the retrofitting of homes and the installation of low-carbon heating. ORP will primarily be available to those living in social housing through their social housing provider.
People living in these homes are the least likely to be in fuel poverty and on average have the most efficient homes according to recent Welsh Government statistics. The rate of fuel poverty in social housing in Wales is around 9% compared to 11% for owner-occupied, 20% for the private rented sector, and 12% overall.
We recognise that the aim of this scheme is to optimise retrofit processes and use it as a test bed to develop this kind of approach and strengthen the supply chain. However, we would welcome similar support measures being made available to those in the private rented sector and owner occupiers. Particular attention should be paid to addressing the policy gap around the able to pay market in private sector housing. We hope that the findings from this programme will inform future policy in these crucial areas as well as the future of the Warm Homes Programme and Welsh Housing Quality Standard.