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Manchester Skyline by Flickr user Treevis

The long journey to low carbon

Cutting carbon and hitting our climate targets will mean making radical improvements across all buildings in Greater Manchester including the homes we live in, the public buildings we use such as schools and hospitals plus the commercial and industrial buildings so important for our local economy.

The scale is daunting, just taking the homes we live in, there are some 1.2 million on them in the region and by 2015 we have a target to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 220 kt. To achieve this target, we need action on three fronts: improving the fabric of new and existing buildings, installing renewables and changing behaviours.

For housing we now have some of the best energy efficient homes in the country and the draft GM Housing Retrofit Strategy sets out how we need to accelerate the transition into a low carbon world.

A key facility is the Greater Manchester Energy Advice Service (GMEAS). It is the last independent regionally based energy advice service in the UK. It enables the region to attract additional government funding and commercial partners to work together on housing retrofit. The facility helped us secure £6.1 million Green Deal Communities Funding from the government to retrofit 11,500 homes in some of our most deprived neighbourhoods and create 30 demonstration homes.

GMEAS's "Little Bill" marketing program is now attracting residents, helping them with a range of measures including replacing obsolete boilers, installing energy efficient glazing and doors, solid wall insulation and solar PVs.

And whilst they have been greatly reduced, ECO funds from GMEAS are still helping our most deprived households.

In the non domestic buildings there are examples of best practice in both the public and commercial sectors. Local councils asset managers have done much to improve the existing town halls. Some of our major commercial property owners are leading the move to a low carbon future with changes to their portfolios including their offices and shops.

The likes of the Coop, Peel Holdings and Bruntwood rightly deserve credit for the work they’ve done, but they are not alone, some of our smaller businesses are contributing such as Dave Armstrong's business units at Armstrong Point, Wigan. This is the UK's first zero-energy cost business park.

So far so good, but two changes are needed. First and foremost is our behaviour. Research reveals that if we become "carbon literate' and change our behaviour we can reduce carbon emissions by some 20%. The solution which needs accelerating is carbon literacy training so well done to Manchester City Council with its program for staff.

This is a start but we also need to get to the wider public and leaders and governing bodies both the business and public sectors. Improving buildings reduce energy bills, future proof assets and for those who rent out their assets they will find it an advantage to attracting new tenants who want lower energy bills. 

The second challenge is finance. We need large scale investment sustained over the next 30 years. Well done to the Greater Manchester's social landlords who are working with 30 year asset management plans for their 160,000 dwellings and have given priority in their plans for low carbon and fuel poverty, but they have a major shortfall in funds if they are to get to what is needed, an average EPC rating of "B".

They and commercial and public owners of buildings need access to low cost public and private finance and incentives to accelerate the retrofit needed. Home owners are no different, and whilst a good concept, a critical flaw with Green Deal was the cost of borrowing at seven to eight per cent.

Despite the great work done so far we have just begun this journey. Many have completed the easy measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation, but far more has to be done and if we are to make any real impact on climate change we have to accelerate improvements to our buildings. There are no significant technical barriers which would impede progress: the problems lie with us, but naturally of course, so do the solutions.


Main image courtesy of Flickr user Treevis published under a Creative Commons Licence.