Ian Hutchcroft, Head of Local Delivery at the Energy Saving Trust explains how local authorities can retrofit for energy efficiency and deliver benefits for carbon reduction, health, jobs and growth
There is no doubt that the drivers for local authority action on housing energy efficiency are strong, and getting stronger.
With 22,500 excess winter deaths per year and many more avoidable winter hospitalisations, the economic and social costs of cold homes are significant and on the increase. One in five of us live in fuel poverty, and burdened with the oldest, least efficient housing stock in Europe, the single greatest driver for local authority action is health improvement.
There is a strong economic case to make for retrofitting because it creates real, local jobs and growth. A striking example of this is Energy Saving Trust’s ‘Ready for Retrofit’ programme in the South West which created 274 additional jobs and £50m for the economy, as well as many warmer and easier to heat homes. This is work that is done locally by skilled local businesses and there is a lot of work to be done. Indeed, the programme has just begun a new energy efficiency retrofit initiative in Devon, with a £725k investment.
But underpinning all of this there is a legally binding commitment to meet the targets in the Climate Change Act: a zero carbon housing stock by 2050, now less than 35 years away. Achieving this will overcome many of the health problems associated with cold homes and create thousands of long term, skilled jobs.
With the role of local authorities increasing as we approach the General Election, delivery has so far been difficult. Budget cuts and staff resource constraints coupled with the ever changing policy and funding environment has not helped. However, there are examples of local authorities taking a lead, forging ahead and delivering results for their communities.
Bristol is this year’s European Green Capital, an accolade that is underpinned by an ambitious housing retrofit programme backed by the Mayor. Further south, the Plymouth Energy Community has a large social housing retrofit programme, with Green Deal Communities funding filling in the privately owned gaps, and a Community PV programme funding provision of advice to householders through a new cooperative. Just next door in rural Devon, 10 local authorities are working on the Cosy Devon programme.
In the capital, the Re:new programme has moved from doorstep advice and referrals to insulation schemes, into a European Investment Bank funded programme to help landlords invest hundreds of millions of pounds in retrofitting their stock. The UK’s other major cities are all active and some, Leeds and Newcastle, are working with their neighbours in large regional programmes.
So, what next for local authorities?
- The big challenge needs big data.
To develop and deliver effective strategies for housing, health, economy and carbon, councils need to know which measures are required in which houses, the costs, impacts on bills and carbon, funding available and the investment business case. We have been collecting housing data for over 20 years and developing our Home Analytics database for all of the 27 million addresses in Great Britain, and this is available to every local authority. Our recent research has shown that access to clear, comprehensive data and analysis is one of council officer’s biggest barriers. Many officers joined our recent webinar where we showed how to access and analyse the many sources of available data.
2. Do everything, in the same place, at the same time, for a consistent period of time.
Many local projects have suffered from being just a partial solution, looking at one part of the problem: grants, supply chain or community engagement, and often constrained by very tight spending and delivery timescales. And no sooner have they got up a head of steam, then their funding runs out. Our Ready for Retrofit programme, referred to earlier, has shown the benefits of working on demand stimulation through grant aid, together with supply chain development and local business support, market development by supporting community groups and Open Homes events, and helping local authorities access longer term finance. Doing all of those things in the same place over 3 years has delivered real results and we believe should be the template for local programmes in the future.
3. We need catalysts to increase scale and reduce costs.
Could social landlords play a greater role in making trusted, well managed, good value retrofit schemes available to privately owned homes in their areas as well? Could the next big idea in housing retrofit have been developed in the Netherlands, called Energiesprong (Energy Leap)? This net-zero energy retrofit is built off-site to reduce costs and time on-site to 10 days, with guaranteed energy performance and maintenance, and funded by replacing energy bills with monthly service charges. Dutch housing associations have now come together and let a contract to Energiesprong to retrofit 100,000 properties, which enables the supply chain to move from prototypes to industrialised methods and significantly reduce costs.
Local authorities increasingly recognise that focusing on improving housing energy efficiency is one of the most effective ways to improve health prospects, create local jobs, reduce energy bills and cut carbon emissions. There will be many willing partners for the next government to work with.
Head of Local Delivery
Energy Saving Trust
Tel: 020 7222 0101