Traditional products like wool and slate will be trialled as part of a major drive to decarbonise 7,000 homes across Gwynedd.
According to business leaders, the ground-breaking Tŷ Gwyrddfai eco-project in Penygroes will put “rocket boosters” under the county’s economy as well as making the properties more energy efficient and cheaper to keep warm at a time of soaring energy costs.
The scheme is being championed by housing association Adra in partnership with Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, which runs three colleges, and Bangor University.
There will be an update about the progress at Tŷ Gwyrddfai at the next meeting of the Net Zero North Wales Network at the Conwy Business Centre in Llandudno Junction on Thursday, December 14.
Delegates will also hear about the £45 million redevelopment of Theatr Clwyd in Mold which will become the first carbon positive theatre in the UK, possibly the world – and will have created 60 new jobs in the process of reinvigorating the flagship arts complex.
In the meantime, the £1.5 million refurbishment of Tŷ Gwyrddfai has breathed new life into the former Northwood tissue factory which was the beating heart of the local economy in Penygroes for generations, before it closed down with the loss of 100 jobs five years ago.
The dilapidated 120,000 sq ft factory has now been transformed into a centre of excellence for green technologies.
The development is particularly timely after the Welsh Government decreed that all social housing would need to meet much higher environmental standards by 2030.
It’s a huge challenge for the likes of Adra who have 7,000 homes to manage – 80 per cent of them were built more than 50 years ago, with many of them being in conservation areas.
Depending on the location and condition of the properties, they will have to be retro-fitted with energy saving measures, including exterior insulation, solar panels, air source pumps and heat recovery systems – all designed to combat climate change and fuel poverty.
Until now housing associations like Adra have often been forced to procure contractors from outside the area because the necessary skills aren’t available locally – and that’s where Tŷ Gwyrddfai comes in.
Grŵp Llandrillo Menai will be training young people, staff from local companies and Adra’s in-house contractor, Tim Trwsio, so they can gain the qualifications they need.
That will enable local companies to compete for lucrative contracts and have a trained workforce that’s ready to go.
Dafydd Evans, Chief Executive of Grŵp Llandrillo Menai, said: “It’s one of the most exciting projects we have ever been involved with because we will be making a real difference to our communities.
“For example, the majority of solar panels in Gwynedd and other parts of North Wales will have been installed by companies from outside Wales.
“What we want is for these panels and other green products to be fitted by young people and companies from this area, as well as Adra’s in-house team, Trwsio.
“This project has the potential to totally transform the local economy, increasing skills and creating jobs and opportunities for local contractors who would otherwise have missed out. They will now be able to compete for work right on their doorstep.”
As part of the project, Bangor University will be building what they describe as a Living Lab inside Tŷ Gwyrddfai where locally produced materials like wool and slate can be tested.
Lauren Bate, the University’s Senior Commercial Development Officer, said: “It’ll look like a two-storey garage with two doors where we can get various materials in and out. It will have two chambers – one will emulate conditions outside and the other will emulate inside.
“This facility will enable us to turbo charge R&D in the region,” explained Dr Rob Elias, Director of the BioComposites Centre at Bangor University.
“We have a track record at the Centre of helping companies develop new materials for the construction sector, and key to this success is demonstrating how new products will meet the demanding standards of the construction industry.
Access to the Living Lab will help speed this process up – we’ll be able to simulate a whole set of environmental conditions from wet and cold winters to wet summers.
“The performance data we can gather will be critical to helping develop the specifications of these new materials”.
According to Adra Chief Executive Iwan Trefor Jones, they’re also practising what they preach at Tŷ Gwyrddfai where they’ve used Welsh wool for insulation and installed heat recovery systems, along with plans for air source pumps and solar panels on the roof.
The development has already boosted the local economy, with more than 50 staff relocating to offices on the first floor of the building.
Iwan Trefor Jones said: “Grŵp Llandrillo Menai are creating a new curriculum based on the skills needed for retro-fitting, concentrating on upgrading properties for environmental purposes.
“If you’re a young person, that’s an exciting field to get into because it is a sector that’s growing and one that is going to create lots of opportunities.
“In the past, we have had to use large companies from outside the area and what we want to do now is to develop the local supply chain
“This isn’t speculative. This is going to happen and it’s an opportunity to transform the economy in the communities we serve, Welsh-speaking communities that have suffered from low incomes and deprivation.
“This project offers hope to those communities and shows young people that there are careers for them closer to home so they don’t have to leave to find work that pays well.”
Ashley Rogers, Chief Executive of the North Wales Business Council, who run the Net Zero North Wales Network, said: “This is a perfect example of a virtuous circle, the innovation group has feedback from the training team, which then helps to develop products supporting net zero, which then go into commercial use by local suppliers and contractors on the local housing.
“With most major projects you do not have the level of certainty that we have here. Work is already happening and will continue for the next 10 to 15 years’, so that means contracts and jobs. This level of certainty is unparalleled. It’s going to put rocket boosters under the Gwynedd economy.
“For our young people, there couldn’t be a better career path because of the importance of getting to net zero and it works on every level, in terms of the economy, local employment and the environment.”
The Net Zero North Wales Network has received £126,000 from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund and is supported by Gwynedd Council and Conwy County Borough Council.”
To book a place at the Net Zero North Wales Network session on December 14 go to: https://forms.office.com/r/RYkvEX2mr6