Associate Feature: Turning up the heat
It has been over a year since the Scottish Government publicised its Housing to 2040 vision. The plan sets out a route map to its ambitious strategy to house everyone in good quality and affordable homes that meet individuals’ specific needs.
In the same year, the government announced its heating buildings strategy which expects to see one million Scottish homes convert to zero-emission by 2030, as the nation strives for its overall target of net zero by 2045.
Ambitious targets for meeting higher levels of Energy Performance Certificates in homes in Scotland have been set and the Scottish Government has shown further intent to future-proof homes by bringing the review of the Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing (EESSH2) forward from 2025 to 2023.
With this in mind, Holyrood and Aico hosted a roundtable event, bringing together industry experts, politicians and residents to discuss the changes needed to meet the government’s vision for housing that will affect people living in Scotland.
Beginning proceedings, the chair of the roundtable, Tony Boyle, Aico’s Relationships Manager, began by saying: “Following the Scottish Government’s publication of Housing to 2040 and the heating buildings strategy in 2021, this roundtable is going to focus on tenants and homeowners, and how they can be at the heart of the decarbonisation of Scotland’s homes.
“This discussion will centre around how the deployment of zero-emissions heating systems and their energy efficiency measures will affect citizens, and reality from cost implications and behavioural change.”
Paul McLennan, SNP MSP for East Lothian, emphasised the importance of understanding the difference in housing types in Scotland and gave some insight into the cost of training workers and improving the supply chain to decarbonise homes on a massive scale. “I think the important basis is understanding housing in each of our areas because it’s going to take local solutions. The solution in East Lothian is going to be different to the solution in Glasgow, as it is to the Highlands.
“Understanding our local housing mix is important. That piece of work can be getting done now, and we are in the process of setting up a retrofitting East Lothian group.”
He added: “On tenants’ rights, I think understanding the tenure mix and the new deal for tenants has to be the base that we can start to build on.
“We [in this room] are all aware and we all understand the public engagement strategy. If you went out to the general public, 90 per cent probably wouldn’t. So, there’s that level I think we need to build up.
“The Existing Homes Alliance are very supportive of looking at a local approach.
“Now, whether that’s local authority or that’s regional; I think that’s a really important part we need to discuss and get down to.
“The skills and manufacturing side of things is important - I know SNIPEF and Energy Savings Trust and the University of Edinburgh and Construction Scotland and Innovation Centre put out a report last week talking about what we need to look at and do just now.
“We do need to build it up, because as part of the committee, as Miles knows, we got an estimate for the cost being £33 billion.
“If you’re talking about East Lothian and Ayrshire and its population, the cost would be about £600 million.”
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights was asked about the decarbonisation of homes and how changes can be made without adding financial burden to tenants and homeowners if things are moving fast enough.
“Are we moving fast enough? No.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re doing enough, and I wouldn’t say that anything we do in this session of parliament will be enough because this should have started in a dramatic way 20, 30 years ago or more.
“Scotland has poor energy efficiency standards which haven’t begun substantially in previous decades.
“The shift away from fossil fuels, and we’ve also allowed issues about affordability to come through on the rental side as well, which a lot of other countries in Europe have had rent control systems in place for decades, and, not to say that it’s perfect, but they’ve managed to retain affordability.
“Everybody knows that we have the national climate targets; we cannot meet those without decarbonising homes and buildings.
“In this decade, we must move at least a million homes and tens of thousands of non-domestic buildings as well on to zero-emissions heat.
“To get the most out of that, we also need to be investing in the energy-efficiency side.
“Both with the heat and building strategy, which sets out the schedule for when we’re going to apply those new standards, both to new build and to retrofitting our existing homes to bring up the energy efficiency standards.”
Anne Rocks, a local authority tenant in Fife and volunteer of the Fife Federation of Tenants and Residents’ Association questioned MSPs about new legislation on multi-owner housing blocks.
“I live in a multi-tenured block, so basically, when I moved in, I thought we had a front door with a button entry.
“It turned out that we didn’t.
“We still don’t have one because we can’t get permission from the other landlords.
“Is that one of the things that they’re going to try and tighten up?”
Patrick Harvie confirmed: “We are looking at legislation on multi-owner, multi-use, multi-tenured blocks.”
Sanne Dijkstra-Downie, the Scottish Liberal Democrats net zero spokesperson, is opposed to gas boilers being fitted in new homes and put emphasis on getting homes ready for new renewable heating systems. “It’s crazy that we’re still building new buildings with gas boilers.
“I think that we should try and get rid of that as soon as we possibly can.
“And the retrofitting is going to be a big challenge, but we can also do things to make homes net-zero ready.
“Even if we’re not putting in the net zero heating systems at this point, there are things that we can do.
“For example, when we changed our heating system to a heat pump system, we had to change the radiators, we had to change the size of the pipes because you’re running a lower heat system.
“But there are things that you can do in both new buildings and existing buildings so you can get yourself ready so that doesn’t all have to be done at the same time.
“I think we need to look at that as well.
“What you don’t want is a situation where the changes that have to be made come as a massive shock and disruption to something they experience as something they hadn’t prepared for.”
A point that Molly Shevlin, a private rental tenant involved in member defence cases with tenants in the private rental sector, put across: “I’m speaking to my experience, it is estimated that 47 per cent of homes in the private rental sector don’t meet repairing standards.
“The Scottish Housing Commission, in a recent report, found that one in two homes had considerable disrepair to essential parts of the home.
“Things like that mean that homes aren’t as wind-tight and watertight as they should be.
“It means that they’re draughty, it means that you must turn the heating up more, people can’t afford to do that, it means that you’re having health issues.
“That puts pressure on local health services, it means that people are missing work, it means that kids are missing school.
“It has this whole ripple effect, and it needs to be looked at quite urgently.”
She added: “We’ve just got a new boiler put in our flat, and our boiler was discontinued, I think, just before 9/11.
“It’s amazing, our energy use has gone way down as it’s a Category A boiler, and we live in a tenement as well, so fitting a multi-heat pump would be difficult.
“It is a ‘don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’ sort of situation.”
Miles Briggs, Conservative MSP for Lothian, warned of how installations of new heating systems can superfluously lead to people being plunged into fuel poverty.
“On the social justice committee we did a private roundtable. I was quite shocked, a lot of people, mainly Glasgow constituents, were saying that they had heat pumps fitted and the bills had gone through the roof.
“They were all concerned about being driven into fuel poverty by this and felt completely like their rights had been taken away, feeling that this had just been done to their homes.
“I think there is a real need early on for us to consider that and how people are taking on that journey in the social rented sector.”
He also touched on monitoring energy efficiency of people’s homes. “Most people are adapting their homes on their own to be some version of a smart home, whether that is Alexa doing your lights, or whatever that is.
“I think it is down to individuals whether they want to be monitored or not, but if the data is safe and secure I can’t see many people being against it.”
Jake Mace, general secretary of the Student Renters Union at Dundee University, shared concerns that tenants in the short term will rent cheaper properties with worse energy efficiency due to renting costs. “When we talk about landlords being able to increase rent, combined with the energy efficiency that we need to solve our planet’s crisis, what you are going to see is that you are going to freeze tenants out in the short term.
“They’ll see these properties are energy efficient but have the higher rents but will go for the less energy-efficient ones, particularly if you are a student in a short-term situation where you are looking at it for a year.
“I think that freezes out some of the energy-efficient stock. We should be advertising that there will lower energy bills in a property because right now I believe that the only restriction is that the landlord needs to display their energy performance certificate either on the advert or when they move into the property.”
Jean Charlsey, a homeowner in Glasgow and former chair of Glasgow’s Factoring Commission, agreed with Molly Shelvin but also emphasised landlords must not be driven out. “We must not be driving landlords out of the market, 40 per cent of the population of Glasgow live in rented accommodation. Some landlords are there because they can’t sell, and they are moving away and maybe you need to look at how you can assist that kind of landlord.”
This article was sponsored by Aico