Architecture and Design Scotland is a key partner in Retrofit Scotland, a collaboration of organisations established to disseminate best practice in refurbishment within Scotland. On Tuesday 6th May, Retrofit Scotland, in conjunction with the 2020 Climate Group, held a workshop at the Edinburgh Centre for Climate Innovation (ECCI). In the first half of the event, the delegates saw presentations of three different case study types: domestic, non-domestic and historic refurbishment projects. Lori McElroy of A&DS presented three domestic case studies looking at the opportunities and challenges in retrofitting post-war properties.
Following the presentations, the delegates were posed a series of questions about retrofit in Scotland.
- What are the main challenges in refurbishing Scotland’s built environment?
- What are the main challenges in identifying and accessing funding?
- Assuming finance is available, do we have the required skills and expertise to retrofit our building stock?
- What, if any, are the gaps in knowledge/research that can support a widereaching retrofit programme?
- What should Retrofit Scotland focus on in the coming year?
These questions spurred a great discussion about the need for refurbishment and the wider challenges of retrofit in Scotland. The main challenges highlighted included funding, with a feeling that there is too much reliance on Government grants, meaning that easy to treat properties are prioritised over the ‘hard to treat’. In addition, many felt that the grant system was too confusing, with many schemes administered by different bodies. A streamlined and clarified system would be of greater benefit, and would save money through less administration and bureaucracy. The average tenure of a property in the UK is only 7 years, so paybacks are often not a viable incentive.
Encouraging people to value energy efficiency through a similar scheme as the £0 tax disc was suggested – should energy efficiency lead to a reduction in council tax?
Another problem identified was the lack of value that the public (and estate agents/lenders etc.) place on energy efficiency. This could be addressed by ensuring that assessments are more reliable, to make the potential energy savings clearer and to ensure that only appropriate work is undertaken.
Another suggestion was that there should be a ring-fenced budget for Retrofit, possibly included in the NHS budget, as the links to health improvement must be made. This was trialed in Cornwall and studies have shown that the amount saved by the NHS makes this a viable approach. The issue of VAT on refurbishment projects also needs to be tackled. At present Scottish Government claim that this is not a devolved issue.
Specific challenges facing those who aim to access funding include overall reducing budgets, due to the economic climate. There is also felt to be too great a reliance on grants, rather than the investment of money. Potential solutions given by the audience were co-operative approaches, ESCO’s or bond models.
The delegates felt that there was a real gap in skills and experience, particularly in the renewables sector and in traditional construction methods. The unpredictable nature of grant schemes, and their imposed time limits means that companies easily go out of business, meaning that the skills are then lost. There is also felt to be a lack of accountability – there is a focus on getting rid of the money available, rather than how the money can be best spent.
Construction Scotland and other organisations such as the Carbonlite Programme were thought to be addressing this issue by focusing on future skills and embracing technology (BMS, innovative materials) into construction, making it attractive for young people. Overall however, there was a feeling that industry was not prepared to invest enough in training.
The approach taken by the Scottish Lime Centre was also thought to be useful, and Historic Scotland added that they will also be offering traditional building skills to address the gap. The Horizon 2020 scheme was also highlighted as a way of securing funding.
The workshop was a way to help Retrofit Scotland identify what their focus should be in the next year. Delegates felt that Retrofit Scotland should look to other countries and see what they are doing successfully. Life cycle and embodied energy assessments for refurbishment projects should also be investigated. Performance gap analysis was highlighted as another potential direction for Retrofit Scotland, as well as a look at the performance of retrofitted buildings over time.