Greater Manchester is becoming a hub for innovation in net zero housing, supported by the Innovation Accelerator programme led by Innovate UK on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department for Science and Innovation (DSIT).

Greater Manchester was selected as one of three high-potential innovation clusters to pilot the ground-breaking Innovation Accelerator programme, alongside Glasgow City Region and West Midlands. This unique pilot is aligned with the Government’s levelling-up agenda and takes a new co-creation approach to investment, understanding that local leadership in Greater Manchester have the best understanding of the region’s strengths and how to develop them, with Innovate UK connecting these local strengths into national and global opportunities. By empowering local innovation, the programme is already driving regional economic growth and attracting private R&D investment.

Greater Manchester received a third of the £100 million funding and is already making major strides with 10 ambitious projects driving key innovation work. Now at their halfway point, the projects build on the ‘frontier sectors’ identified in Greater Manchester’s Local Industrial Strategy: advanced materials and manufacturing, digital and technology, health innovation, and clean growth.

As part of the programme, Innovation Greater Manchester, a business-led partnership that brings together the private sector, academia and local government, has worked with Innovate UK and DSIT to select the projects and co-design an Innovation Plan. The ripple effect of the Innovation Accelerator on the wider Greater Manchester economy is substantial, developing skills, attracting private investment, creating jobs, and stimulating growth.

One project being backed is ‘Future Homes’, led by the University of Salford. With £3.54 million of funding, the project will assess the performance of a variety of buildings and technologies inside the unique test facility, Energy House 2.0 at Salford. This facility is the largest of its type in the world and its climatic chambers can accommodate up to four full sized homes and subject them to temperatures ranging from -20⁰C to 40⁰C, including rain, snow and wind. The project will also address other important issues, such as indoor air quality, acoustics, sustainable construction materials, and the use of digital technologies.

Project partners  Bellway Homes and Barratt Developments (working with Saint-Gobain), have built two detached houses inside the chamber for testing. The work is already generating valuable  data for future home efficiency, as well as showing that low-carbon homes can be delivered at scale in the UK. It is anticipated that much of the technology tested in this project will be used in homes from 2025. These new homes will be significantly more energy efficient, bringing financial benefits to households through lower running costs and environmental benefits thanks to lower carbon emissions.

The Future Homes project aims to establish a globally competitive centre for research and innovation in net-zero housing, supporting innovators in bringing novel low or zero technologies to market.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “The Innovation Accelerator pilot is not just about more funding for research and development; it’s about piloting a new, place-based model for innovation-led growth. We’re already seeing a positive impact on skills, jobs and investment.

“Green industries are crucial to Greater Manchester’s future, and the Future Homes project is a fantastic example of this in action. It is a truly collaborative effort, making technological advances that will make homes more efficient and reduce costs.”

Indro Mukerjee, CEO of Innovate UK added: “This unique pilot has supported 10 projects in Greater Manchester to innovate at pace and in a way never seen before, fostering co-creation between business, academia and local Government.

“The Innovation Accelerator demonstrates how this partnership between Greater Manchester and the central UK Government provides synergy and catalyses stronger outcomes than a more traditional, top-down approach. Local leadership best knows their R&D strengths and how to develop them, and Innovate UK is able to connect these local strengths into national and global opportunities.”

Prof. Richard Fitton, Professor of Building Performance and Future Homes Technical Lead: “The Future Homes project is enabling some groundbreaking research that will enable the next generation of Net Zero homes and create a centre of excellence in Greater Manchester.

“Innovation is core to this and the partnership between academia and industry is enabling companies both big and small to bring their innovations to market, both creating economic benefits and cutting carbon emissions.

“Thanks to the unique facilities we have in Energy House Labs as part of the University of Salford, we are able to take a truly holistic approach to Net Zero homes. We will be looking at other key issues such as indoor air quality, the acoustic properties of lightweight buildings, potential noise issues associated with new technologies such as heat pumps, the whole lifecycle impact of houses and the use of digital technologies.”

The Innovation Accelerator pilot runs until March 2025, and full results and impacts will be shared later. For more information, visit the Innovation Accelerator Programme website. Innovate UK remains committed to pioneering solutions that strengthen the UK’s position in the global innovation landscape.