How North East Derbyshire District Council upgraded hundreds of hard-to-treat council homes – lowering emissions and tackling fuel poverty. Retrofitting council-owned properties with heat pumps and high levels of insulation where possible is Action 13 in the 50-point Climate Action Plan for Councils.

23 May 2022

How is Action 13 tackling the climate crisis?

The overall energy efficiency of UK housing is poor and a major source of climate emissions. By retrofitting their own properties councils can cut emissions, demonstrate what's possible and help cut residents fuel bills. North East Derbyshire District Council is working with expert partners to install external wall insulation (EWI) at 324 council-owned homes in ex-mining communities, such as the Morton estate, in addition to the BISF (British steel framed) properties located on the Mickley Estate in Alfreton. The council views these social housing properties as "hard to treat" in terms of boosting energy efficiency, and the people living there are at high risk of fuel poverty. The work began in late 2020 and finished in December 2021, with each EWI taking about 5-7 days to complete.

The council aims to be net zero carbon by 2050, and the scheme is putting vulnerable communities at the heart of its climate response. The work is funded by the Government’s Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme.

What impact has this project had?

Emissions impacts

The scheme is expected to deliver carbon savings of 343 tonnes a year, which will be a significant boost to the authority’s efforts to cut housing emissions to net zero.

Social impacts

The council expects residents to save £92,700 – an average of £286 per household – through lower energy bills.

By prioritising hard to heat homes, the council is also protecting people’s health and wellbeing and reducing the potential burden on local NHS services. Residents have said that their homes are noticeably more comfortable.

Jobs and skills impacts

The project has also developed green skills in the area. Sustainable Building Services UK Ltd, the contractor that carried out the work, commissioned Think Construction to conduct on-site training for 10 workers, helping them gain NVQ Level 2 qualifications in external wall insulation. A site manager also gained training in NVQ Management of External Wall Insulation.

Sustainable Building Services also recruited two new local site managers, while the project’s quantitative surveyor has earned a retrofit assessor qualification and will soon begin retrofit coordinator training. Finally, site management teams have undertaken training on The Retrofit Academy’s NOCN_C Skills Awards Level 2 Award in Understanding Domestic Retrofit.

What made this project work?

A key enabling factor in this project was the partnership between the council and Rykneld Homes Ltd. Rykneld Homes is a council-owned social housing provider that has managed, maintained and improved about 8,000 properties on behalf of the authority. A close relationship was important, as this partnership utilised areas where properties are of a similar type of construction to create more dynamic delivery models, meaning the local authority can build confidence in local supply chains, crucial to supporting local employment and allowing for energy efficiency improvements to be rolled out at a greater scale.

The partnership with Sustainable Building Services was also key – the company had significant prior experience of working in social housing.

What resources were needed?

The council has used funding from the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, as well as its own resources, to develop the project.

The scheme was run in two phases, 1a and 1b, coordinating with (and named after) two phases of the Government’s Green Homes Grant Local Authority Delivery Scheme (LADS). In phase 1a of the council project, the authority spent £2.5 million of its own money, supplemented by £565,000 of LADS 1a funding, to carry out work on 115 homes. For phase 1b, the council is using £1.04 million of LADS 1b funding, supplemented by £7.2 million of council investment, to work on 209 homes.

Retrofitted council housing in North East Derbyshire
Retrofitted council housing in North East Derbyshire

Lessons from North East Derbyshire

National government funding is needed but can be difficult to manage

A large challenge for this project is coordinating and spending central government finance. LADS has offered significant funding, but it’s been difficult to manage the short funding cycles and time windows for awarded money to be spent. This means it can be more difficult to set up supply chains with contractors.

Action needed to secure supply of materials

The supply chain of raw materials has been inconsistent, which has posed significant long-term challenges to this project. A key action taken by the council to overcome aspects of this threat was to buy using a framework agreement through Energy Efficiency East Midlands, which allowed price freezes that meant supply chains could remain in place in times of raw material shortages.

“I am really pleased with the work. The house looks beautiful and so much better than before. The house used to be difficult to keep warm and the minute you turned the heating off it went back cold very quickly. As well as having the external wall insulation fitted we have also had new windows and we are definitely looking forward to having a home that is easier to heat this winter. We soon got used to having the scaffolding around – after a while you don’t even notice it – and in the end it was worth it. We have been very pleased with the work – the site officer Pat was absolutely lovely – she always kept us informed about what was going on which was really fantastic because then we knew what to expect.”

Social housing tenant in Dronfield, North-East Derbyshire

Friends of the Earth's view

North East Derbyshire District Council has navigated complex funding opportunities to make sure it prioritises energy efficiency upgrades for the council house residents in most need. This is important work that joins up the climate emergency with addressing fuel poverty. 

Councils should also make sure they enforce high energy efficiency standards in private rented homes (Action 15 in the Climate Action Plan for councils).

Friends of the Earth is showcasing specific examples of good practice in tackling climate change, but that doesn’t mean we endorse everything that a council is doing. 

This case study has been produced by Ashden and Friends of the Earth.

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