Abri, Anchor Hanover, Home Group, Hyde Group and Sanctuary Group, which count more than 600,000 customers between them, have together formed the ‘Greener Futures Partnership’ (GFP).
Over time, the organisations – whose joint turnover exceeds £2.3bn – intend to collaborate on procurement, building skills and expertise, and creating solutions for developing more affordable and sustainable homes while lowering emissions in existing homes.
The partners have signed a collaboration agreement for an initial 12 months, and over the period will consider future structures and vehicles to support their medium to long-term aims.
In the first instance, the focus will be on engaging with key stakeholders and in particular consulting with customers.
Peter Denton, chief executive of 48,000-home provider Hyde, who will chair the partnership in its first year, told Social Housing that recognising the unique relationship HAs have with their residents would be key.
“We are there to create sustainable tenancies for both communities and for customers individually, and crucially customer insight over the next 12 months is important. We need to understand how we can reduce fuel poverty, improve living conditions and improve lifestyle.”
Mr Denton said that the five-strong partnership had been formed in recognition that if decarbonisation goals are to be met, organisations cannot wait for grant but need to be “on the front foot of so many different areas”.
“For us [in the partnership], doing it with £2bn-plus turnover, 600,000 customers, 300,000 homes and probably £7bn to £7.5bn [combined] spend to 2030 on EPC – those are numbers and scale that make us sit up and think, ‘This is quite cool,’” he said.
Estimates for the cost of UK social housing reaching 2050 net zero targets are in the billions of pounds, with research by Social Housing’s sister publication Inside Housing last year suggesting a potential combined cost of £104bn. Meanwhile, most landlords are yet to factor costs into their business plans.
Partnership member Abri, which manages 35,000 homes in the South of England, formed from the merger of Radian and Yarlington in 2019. Chief executive Gary Orr said that during early merger talks the decarbonisation of housing stock had emerged as “without doubt the biggest risk” facing the sector.
Referring to GFP, he said: “What brought Abri to the table was that this called for a national response and understanding the problem in its entirety – and then not being at the mercy of other organisations and other sectors fixing it for us.”
He added: “This absolutely requires collaboration – there’s no room for competition here.”
In this regard, the partners are creating a data-sharing agreement that will allow teams across the organisations, including strategic asset managers, to work together to design best-practice pathways for the different “archetypes” of stock.
Making a market
The partners’ homes are spread from the South Coast to the North of England and into Scotland, and span many different build types and tenures, including the specialist care settings at Anchor Hanover and Sanctuary.
Mr Denton said: “It’s a national framework, we’ve got Victorian street properties, we’ve got care homes, we’ve got post-World War II estates, we’ve got modern homes; they are urban, rural, suburban… We have almost every archetype in the country.”
GFP has outlined a five-point strategy (see box below), including plans to see “a simplified low-carbon grant framework for HAs to retrofit their properties” and to “welcome the design of new financing options to support a low-carbon transition”, alongside using collective might to negotiate better deals for residents.
Mark Henderson, chief executive of Home Group, which manages 55,000 homes in England and Scotland, said there is a need to create a “proper marketplace” for technology. “We don’t have technology in big enough scale, or modern enough to actually meet the 2050 targets, so we need to make a market – and we can’t do that with everybody acting piecemeal.”
He said it was important not to leap into interventions, but to create “sustainable technologies that will last 40 years”. In the absence of the right marketplace, he said, there was a “very real risk, almost a probability that [organisations] will be investing in stock now until 2030, and then removing, replacing, doing something else with exactly the same homes to get it ready for a 2050 rating”.
One of GFP’s goals is to create a “single, credible approach to assessing the sustainability of [its] homes” and ensuring the wider green agenda beyond EPC ratings is met.
Mr Denton said: “We’ve decided that we’re going to focus on making our own proposals for common standards and targets – not waiting for government but actually proposing what we think the targets should be.”
This includes a desire to pull together different approaches being taken by other organisations, he said. “This is about realising that ground zero is really about rating the position of your existing stock, and we better talk the same language pretty quickly.”
For Mr Orr, there is an opportunity for the partnership to become a trusted voice to government, particularly when it comes to ensuring that decarbonisation does not come at the expense of new supply.
“Government is effectively looking at this time for solutions and means in which they can invest public money into R&D and into the creation of markets, and I think what we’re offering is the ability to say that this is an environment and a safe haven in which that investment can flow, that thought leadership can be engaged in,” he said.