The ‘Green Industrial Revolution’ – what does it mean for construction?


The government recently announced a Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, outlining a roadmap which includes a drive to develop greener buildings over the next decade and beyond.

The plan sets out a framework for homes built to the Future Homes Standard which will be ‘zero-carbon ready’ and will have 75–80% lower carbon dioxide emissions than those built to current standards. It proposes “the gradual move away from fossil fuel boilers over the next fifteen years as individuals replace their appliances and are offered a lower carbon, more efficient alternative.”

The government states that “funding and regulatory measures, delivered in partnership with industry, will stimulate near-term investment whilst supporting the most vulnerable.” A key pillar of the plan aims to deliver around £11 billion of private investment in the 2020s and “600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028, creating a market led incentive framework to drive growth, and will bring forward regulations to support this especially in off gas grid properties.” Green home finance initiatives will aim to improve the energy efficiency of around 2.8 million homes, including around 1.5 million to EPC C standard by 2030.

The government is injecting a further £1 billion to extend schemes announced earlier in the year, including the Green Homes Grant, providing further opportunities for homeowners to secure financial assistance for energy efficiency upgrades. Homeowners who live off the gas grid, particularly in rural areas, will receive funding for upgrades to their heating systems through the Homes Upgrade Grant.

Renters are expected to benefit from the programme’s strengthening of energy efficiency requirements for private sector landlords. It will also boost the green home finance market as the government consults on making the disclosure of energy performance mandatory for lending on homes, and the setting of voluntary improvement targets.

In reaction to the government’s plan, the construction industry has broadly welcomed its intent with the caveat that it needs to go further.

John Newcomb, Chief Executive of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF) said: “It’s excellent news that the [Green Homes Grant] voucher scheme has been extended but, realistically, we need to think much bigger to deliver a programme of works that will have the scope and scale to improve homes and level up housing conditions across Britain.

“We believe the route to achieve this is through a national retrofit strategy, to ensure the money spent makes a lasting difference to the quality of our homes. We need to work as part of a broad, long-term strategy in order to invest in the new initiatives and innovations needed to transform the way we live. That cannot be achieved if we just work to a one-off initiative; we have to think bigger.”

The BMF’s views were echoed by Brian Berry, Chief Executive of Federation of Master Builders (FMB), who said that “the extension of the Green Homes Grant for another year is very positive news, and shows that builders’ concerns have been listened to. This will give the reassurance needed to the building industry to invest in the scheme. However, the Green Revolution needs to be more ambitious about the built environment if the Government is serious about creating a low carbon economy.

“Our existing homes contribute 20% of all our carbon emissions and consume 35% of our energy. A long term retrofit strategy is needed over the next two decades to make all our existing homes more energy efficient. The start of the Green Industrial Revolution has huge potential to improve everyone’s lives but tackling all our homes to make them greener and more energy efficient has to be an immediate priority and this requires a long term strategy.”

Prior to the government announcement, Yorkshire had already demonstrated leadership on carbon reduction. In October, Leeds City Council announced a £24 million investment in green technologies as part of a transformational programme to improve council housing and cut the city’s carbon footprint.

It will deliver six new district heating networks that will reduce carbon emissions in 1,485 properties and help residents save money on their bills. The council is exploring a range of potential green technologies, including ground and air source heat pumps or biomass systems.

Around a quarter of the city’s carbon emissions come from energy used for heating and hot water in homes. The programme aims to save around 950 tonnes of greenhouse gases every year while also helping thousands of tenants save a typical 10% on their energy bills.

Leeds City Council is setting a regional example which needs to be followed on a nationwide basis. It requires investment at a time when public finances have been severely impacted by the pandemic, but strategic funding for construction activity has the potential to boost the sector and stimulate job creation in the medium term, in turn delivering wider economic benefits in the long term.

Recent research suggests that the UK population is increasingly receptive to proactive measures for carbon reduction. A survey carried out this year by Cardiff University and Climate Outreach examined social attitudes to the risks and impacts of climate change. Its findings “confirm and underscore what a raft of polls have pointed towards over the last 12 months: that concern about climate change has reached new heights in Britain. Strikingly, climate change was second only to ‘Brexit’ in the RESiL RISK survey as an issue of national importance for the future, and levels of worry about climate change have doubled in the last four years.”

Around 75% of those asked supported using public money now to prepare the UK for climate change. There was very strong support for a range of adaptation policies, including tighter building regulations.

That certainly corresponds with YDBC’s recent experience.  An increasing proportion of our building consultancy work includes projects involving major upgrades designed to improve energy efficiency. The demand reflects an environmentally conscious desire to reduce carbon footprint, but it’s also driven by the additional motivation to reduce running costs.

The growing sense of urgency for carbon reduction, combined with financial incentives and new regulatory requirements, will be vital in mobilising action. The government’s Ten Point Plan has signposted a way forward and encouraged the national conversation on green building, but it is hard to disagree with the conclusions offered by the likes of the BMF and FMB: in the context of the construction and property sectors, we need to implement a broader strategic approach on a much larger scale to  achieve a truly transformative legacy.