06 MARCH 2023

Retrofitting the UK’s historic buildings could generate £35bn of economic output a year

While creating new construction jobs and supporting the country’s net zero ambitions
  • The National Trust, Peabody, Historic England, The Crown Estate and Grosvenor call for industry and government collaboration to build a workforce capable of meeting the UK’s climate goals and safeguarding the UK’s historic buildings.  

  • The UK has only half the skilled workers it needs to retrofit the country’s historic buildings.  

  • Retrofitting the UK's historic buildings will support £35bn of economic output annually.  

    Improving the energy efficiency of historic properties could reduce carbon emissions from the UK’s buildings by an estimated five per cent each year and generate £35 billion of output in the economy, while making homes warmer and cheaper to run, a new report commissioned by the National Trust, Peabody, Historic England, The Crown Estate and Grosvenor finds.

    The organisations have joined together to highlight the huge social, environmental and economic opportunities offered by building a workforce with the necessary skills and training to ensure the UK’s historic buildings contribute to a net zero future.

    The report, which will be officially launched at an event at The Palace of Westminster on Tuesday 7 March, highlights the vital contribution that historic buildings can make in the fight against climate change, and focuses on the scale of the opportunity to address the skills gap required to meet this challenge.

    The report shows that more than 105,000 new workers, including plumbers, electricians, carpenters and scaffolders, will be needed to work solely on decarbonising the UK’s historic buildings every year for the next three decades for the UK to meet its 2050 net zero target.

    Buildings in the UK are responsible for around a fifth of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, with historic buildings accounting for a significant proportion. 6.2 million UK homes - around one in five - and a third of all commercial buildings – around 600,000 in total - were built before 1919.

    ‘Retrofitting’ – such as ensuring windows and heating systems are more energy efficient – lowers emissions and can prolong the life of an older building. It avoids the carbon emissions associated with demolishing and building new - particularly the large amount of carbon emissions from cement and steel produced by construction.

    This process requires skilled workers, regardless of the age and construction of a building. But adapting historic buildings requires even more specialist skills and training. Plumbers will need to be able to work with heat pumps and hydrogen boilers, and many existing workers will need to be taught additional specialist skills to ensure heritage characteristics are protected and the work undertaken is appropriate to the type of construction.

    The coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and an ageing construction workforce have contributed to a skills shortage in the industry in recent years. An estimated 100,000 people currently work on historic buildings. But up to 105,000 new workers - including 14,500 more electricians and 14,300 more plumbers - will be needed each year until 2050 to focus solely on upgrading buildings built before 1919.

    Without urgently addressing the need for these extra skills and jobs, the report finds that the UK might face a backlog of retrofit projects in the 2030s and risks losing some of its cultural heritage if these building become uninhabitable. The additional skills needed, combined with a general shortage of skills in the construction industry, creates a perfect storm of a challenge.

    “As Chris Skidmore’s net zero review identified, we need to grasp the historic opportunity tackling climate change offers us,” said Tor Burrows, Grosvenor’s Executive Director of Sustainability and Innovation

    “The Environmental Audit Committee has called for a national mobilisation on energy efficiency. We believe this captures the urgency of the task. The UK needs a long-term national retrofit strategy, led by the government, positively bringing together training, funding, and standards to sensitively decarbonise our historic buildings. 

    “Only then can we truly seize this opportunity to tackle a significant source of greenhouse emissions while protecting our much-loved built heritage. 

    “The construction industry, businesses and training providers need support to scale up. That’s why we’re calling on the government to work with us on creating a national retrofit strategy that sets out a clear path for upskilling the current workforce while bringing in a whole new generation. 

    “Much of this will need to take place at a local level, with employers, local authorities and civic society helping to develop area-based retrofit programmes and training initiatives.” 

    The report encourages the government to make the apprenticeship levy more flexible, allowing unspent funds to be channelled into training more people in the heritage retrofit field. Grosvenor has pledged to transfer up to £50,000 of its levy each year to smaller businesses looking to bring new skills to their workforce.

    Levy money could also be used to fund six to eight-week bootcamps for people interested in joining the sector, or to help existing workers acquire the specialist skills needed.

    £3.3bn of unused Apprenticeship Levy was returned to the Treasury between May 2019 and July 2022.

    Lord Kerslake, Chair of Peabody, said: “The benefits of prioritising our historic buildings are economic as well as environmental and social. They are an important source of prosperity and growth, with the heritage sector directly contributing £14.7 billion to the economy in 2019.

    “Making these buildings energy efficient will stimulate spending in the construction industry, support around 290,000 jobs in supply chains and boost heritage-related tourism and hospitality.

    “And where needed, making older homes more energy efficient will transform the lives of the people who live and work in them, reducing household energy bills and improving health and wellbeing.”

    Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust, added: “From Georgian town houses to the mills and factories that kick-started our industrial revolution, our historic buildings play

    a significant role in society, connecting people and places – one of the key pillars of the government’s Levelling Up strategy.

    “The stewardship of our built heritage is in our hands, and we must ensure we prepare it for the challenges of climate change. It’s a significant task, but it’s one we can achieve through co-ordinated action. But that action must be taken now.”

    Notes to editors

    Historic England
    We are Historic England the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. We protect, champion and save the places that define who we are where we’ve come from as a nation. We care passionately about the stories they tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work and play among them. Working with communities and specialists we share our passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all. 

    This year Historic England (HE) is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the National Heritage Act, which established the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, as HE was then known. The Act sets out the organisation’s duty to protect historic buildings and archaeological sites, as well as to enhance the public’s enjoyment and knowledge of the historic places that surround us all.

    160 years after it was established, Peabody is one of the oldest and largest not-for-profit housing associations in the UK. Following a merger with Catalyst in April 2022, the Peabody Group is responsible for more than 104,000 homes and 220,000 residents across London and the Home Counties. We have 20,000 care and support customers.  

    Our new purpose is helping people flourish. We do this by providing great homes and services, by making a positive difference to the communities we serve and by providing an inclusive and inspiring place to work. 

     National Trust
    The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people: Octavia Hill, Sir Robert Hunter and Hardwicke Rawnsley, who saw the importance of the nation's heritage and open spaces and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. Today, across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, we continue to look after places so people and nature can thrive.

    The challenges of the coronavirus pandemic have shown this is more important than ever. From finding fresh air and open skies to tracking a bee's flight to a flower; from finding beauty in an exquisite painting or discovering the hidden history of a country house nearby - the places we care for enrich people's lives.

    Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 780 miles of coastline and 500 historic properties, gardens and nature reserves. In 2021/22 we received 20 million visitors. The National Trust is for everyone - we were founded for the benefit of the whole nation, and our 5.7 million members and over 44,000 volunteers support our work to care for nature, beauty, history for everyone, for ever.

    The Crown Estate
    The Crown Estate is an independent commercial business, set up by an Act of Parliament, to manage land and the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    The Crown Estate is a unique business with a diverse portfolio that stretches across the country. We actively manage our assets in line with our purpose: to create lasting and shared prosperity for the nation. 

    We return 100% of our net revenue profit to the Treasury for the benefit of the nation, contributing £3 billion to the public purse over the last ten years.

    Our portfolio also includes some of central London’s best places to work, shop, live and experience, as well as regional retail and leisure destinations across the country, a number of mixed-use and strategic land opportunities, a substantial rural portfolio, and the Windsor Estate, including the world-renowned Windsor Great Park.  

    We manage the seabed, natural marine resources and much of the foreshore around England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In this capacity, we are responsible for awarding seabed rights for offshore renewable energy projects as well as marine minerals, gas storage, carbon capture usage and storage, cables and pipelines, and playing a unique role in developing and helping sustain UK energy supply and infrastructure in a sustainable way.

About Grosvenor

LinkedIn     Twitter     Instagram     Website

Grosvenor is an international organisation whose activities span urban property, food and agtech, rural estate management and support for philanthropic initiatives.

We are a values-led business which represents the Grosvenor family and share a common purpose - to deliver lasting commercial, social and environmental benefit - addressing today’s needs while taking responsibility for those of future generations.  

With a track record of over 340 years, we work to improve urban property and places in many of the world’s leading cities, promoting sustainability within the built environment and enhancing the wellbeing of customers and communities. 

Our UK property business supports c1,000 businesses and tens of thousands of residents and workers across London’s West End each day. We also invest in, create and manage sustainable neighbourhoods in Liverpool and across England. As a 1.5oC aligned company, pioneering change and new ways of thinking about property we aim to ensure our places benefit both people and the planet over the long term.

Heritage and Carbon: Addressing the Skills Gap

Click here to read the full report

Related content

Heritage and Carbon: Can historic buildings tackle climate change?

Read more

Our £90m retrofit programme

Read more

Environmental Leadership

Read more
Group 2