Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council and Leeds Sustainability Institute, Leeds Beckett University: Property and People

Barnsley Council declared a climate emergency in September 2019 with targets to achieve net zero carbon emissions in its own operations by 2040 and across the wider borough by 2045. The council’s Sustainable Energy Action Plan affirms the council’s commitment to embed a carbon reduction culture across the organisation. The council has a housing new-build programme, but energy efficiency measures included in properties have varied with no standard energy specification. The council wanted to work with a “critical friend” to review the specification and Leeds Sustainability Institute (LSI) have carried out this role.

The Project

What was your challenge?

The challenge is to build highly energy efficient, fossil fuel free, wholly affordable council homes to respond to the council’s Zero 40/45 Strategy and set the blueprint for the standard of homes to be delivered via the council build programme in the future.

The existing traditional construction housing designs and specifications had to be reviewed and improved to meet aspirational carbon emission targets.

The revised specification, developed with reference to the latest research and innovation in insulation and renewable energy, would then be used on a pilot scheme of sixteen houses. It was important to agree a specification that was affordable and transferrable for future schemes and not just used once for a pilot – a specification that addresses the council's Zero 40/45 Strategy in reality, not just on paper.

As well as building and managing its own housing stock, the council has a leadership and influence role. Key to this is the ability to demonstrate to other housing developers how they can achieve the net zero carbon targets in housebuilding. 

We also identified challenges for later stages of the pilot scheme that could occur during construction and occupation. These included:

  • appointment of capable contractor
  • quality of construction
  • set up of technology e.g air source heat pump and battery storage systems
  • resident buy in.

What was your solution?

Three phases of work were identified:

  • Design Review
  • Construction Evaluation
  • Post Construction Testing and Monitoring

The first step in the process was a Design Review. The existing construction specification was adjusted to meet the required air permeability and SAP values. A key aim was that the properties could be constructed using conventional building techniques by traditional building contractors.

What are your top three lessons learned?

  • Make decisions based on the best available technology at the time – start a project instead of waiting for the next innovation. The result of inaction can sometimes create more issues.
  • Engage early with key stakeholders to encourage buy-in and support for the project throughout the council.
  • The change in working practices imposed by COVID-19 did have some benefits and we took advantage of meeting more often virtually than we would have managed face to face pre-COVID.

Project Impact

What have the outcomes of the project been so far?

The project team have agreed an energy specification and changes to construction specification for the pilot scheme at Billingley View.

Knowledge sharing and collaboration has encouraged buy-in to the Billingley scheme from key stakeholders within the council and has increased aspirations for the new housing.

Appointment of the building partner was identified as key to the success of the pilot scheme. A market engagement session was held with building contractors before the tender process started.  

The procurement process is underway to appoint a building partner for the pilot scheme, estimated to start on site in January 2022.

How will these outcomes be sustained?

The energy specification used for the pilot scheme will be the base for all future new build projects, subject to review and adjustments as a result of the detailed monitoring to be carried out at Billingley View.

What is the anticipated longer term impact on progress towards net zero?

Barnsley Council directly delivers a small number of new homes but also has a major role to play in influencing other housing providers and develops working within the Borough.

A demonstration project will show developers, through a practical example,  how they can work towards achieving net zero carbon targets in housebuilding.

Lessons learnt from the Billingley pilot scheme will be shared through developer and Housing Association forums.

Further work is planned to look at whole life-cycle carbon  emissions which covers carbon emissions resulting from the materials and construction of a building over its entire life as well as emissions from the use of a building.  

How has this project evolved your approach to net zero?

The council does not have all the knowledge required in house to tackle its net zero ambitions and will consider other opportunities for collaboration. LSI have shared not just academic information but practical knowledge of construction methods that will be vital to the success of the pilot scheme.

Make a start – the team have taken a pragmatic view to agree a scheme that can be delivered rather than a perfect scheme that is unachievable.

Who will benefit from your project?

Barnsley Council – results of the pilot scheme and examples of good practice will be shared with other council departments, initially through the Sustainability Forum, a group of climate “champions” from across the council.

LSI – proven ability to transfer technical knowledge to find practical solutions to achieve robust energy efficiency targets.

Building Partners – information and support can be provided by the council to encourage good practice and commitment to tackling climate change within its sphere of influence.

Residents – the Billingley View scheme will provide additional affordable housing to help meet the housing needs in the area. Building more and better homes helps to tackle the income and health inequalities that exist in the housing market.

Partnership Development

Describe how your partnership developed over the course of the project

The council already had a team of architects and Mechanical and Electrical (M&E) engineers working on construction schemes. LSI were initially introduced as a “critical friend” to improve the new build specification and this was explained clearly to ensure that there were no misunderstandings or concerns about roles and responsibilities. Clear points of contact were agreed from each partner to avoid mixed messages.

A clear brief was agreed so that the project team were clear about the parameters and to avoid project creep. The partnership was definitely seen as a collaboration with advantages to be gained by both partners.

Key members of the team from the council and the LSI also committed to the Net Zero Innovation Programme. This enhanced the partnership due to the amount of time spent working together  but also because of the scope of the discussions which were directed and encouraged through the workshops and sandpits.

How will the partnership be sustained in the medium and longer term?

LSI will be involved during the construction phase of Billingley View and in monitoring the performance of the properties once occupied. The information gathered will then be used to finesse the specification and ways of working for the next construction scheme.

The collaboration to date has been a very positive experience and will potentially lead to further opportunities for the council and LSI to work together.

Contact details

Below are the email addresses for both partner organisations.