Resetting the relationship between local and national government. Read our Local Government White Paper

Hard to Treat Housing Retrofit, Intake Suburb, Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council

Housing retrofit is a highly important and effective programme of work and Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) has been undertaking insulation work over the last two decades in response to government funding.

The challenge

Housing retrofit is a highly important and effective programme of work and Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) has been undertaking insulation work over the last two decades in response to government funding. However, there remain hard to treat properties in the council’s stock, as non-traditional building forms including mixed or cavity walls and less typical architectural design.

Doncaster MBC identified a total of 1,800 homes that needed to be treated and upgraded to at least an EPC C rating to help reach Doncaster’s net zero aspirations for 85 per cent reduction from the 2005 baseline by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2040. This project was also framed by the need to tackle a high-level of fuel poverty, being around 17 per cent of homes and with more entering fuel poverty; and to support residents’ wellbeing and satisfaction with their homes.

The solution

The retrofit work schemes have been delivered on a hyper-local and collection of streets basis. A whole street approach has been employed by considering the social homes (right to buy and council owned) and neighbouring privately owned homes together as part of a street scene. The council has attempted to avoid gaps by smoothing and combining Local Authority Decarbonisation (LAD) and wave 1 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF) as best as it can.

Homes were retrofitted with combinations of solid wall insulation and wall updates, new roofing, loft insulation, window glazing and door upgrades, and heating controls. The design has been hyper-local in considering the specific building archetypes and the local nature and style to ensure in-keeping designs such as mock brick effects.

The work is driven by an effective stakeholder engagement approach, including Neighbourhood liaison officers. This is important as external work can take in excess of 5 weeks. The approach includes:

  • individual and community meetings, with all receiving information on the designs, scaffolding work, street access needs, timescales, waste approach etc
  • full community consultation where benefits are presented by the council and contractor, including residents’ comfort, health and wellbeing, and thermal performance and savings
  • talking to people about energy saving more ‘in the round’, asking about energy use and costs and providing advice to support reductions in consumption
  • a holistic and wellbeing-based approach with a ‘one hit’ approach, so that other council service teams can be brought in to address issues beyond the primary insulation work
  • the use and presentation of a ‘no refusal basis’ with the works being on an inclusive basis – where people have initially refused or been unsure, the council have been sympathetic and understand residents’ concerns
  • ongoing liaison with communities whilst the council and contractors are on site.

Funding streams were combined for this work, including the council’s capital and housing revenue, the Local Authority Decarbonisation (LAD) funding and wave 1 of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF). This funding has been critical, where costs have risen including a near doubling of costs for solid walls since 2020 and with the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) standard of 2035 requirements (e.g. from additional surveys, staff time and specification changes).

There have also been challenges with the nature of the funding landscape, its uncertainty and with the need to combine funding streams. For example, it has not been clear if further LAD (LAD4) funding would materialise and enable gaps to be in-filled on a street basis, especially given the presence of different tenures and ‘able to pay’ markets within neighbourhoods. The combination of LAD and SHDF was important to address both private and social housing together, but this needs to be carefully planned for creating an effective pipeline of work and can cause street level gaps. There has also been uncertainty with the ending of the Green Homes Grant ending, which had provided a complementing approach between those who can and cannot afford upgrades.

Doncaster are now working on a ‘Sustainability Pack’ to be able to go to residents with clear advice, links to the available grants and energy saving tips. It is recognised that having a trusted source of information in this space is very important.

The impact

Doncaster MBC are capturing fuel bills data before and after, undertaking heating performance checks and looking at electricity consumption given their provision of wider energy saving advice. The outcomes have been affected by the energy cost crisis such as anticipated cost savings, in the order of £400-500 per annum, instead becoming cost avoidance as energy bills increase. Residents’ ratings of their wellbeing is also captured, alongside their views and feelings on fuel bills and comfort in their home.

So far, the council are starting to realise benefits at the start of the streets that they are working on and wider street scene impacts are realised later. The standard of work has been high through the use of contracted commitments. More private residents are coming forward to see how much the work may cost and how they can access it.

Doncaster MBC have also been working with the University of Sheffield to provide insights into whole-life energy characteristics of buildings and thermal profiling. This uses a purpose-built mobile infrastructure imaging vehicle to obtain data at neighbourhood-level scale with a drive-by data collection – the Multispectral Advanced Research Vehicle (MARVel) which has been developed by the university’s Urban Flows Observatory. The current work program aims to develop this scalable methodology for characterising building envelopes and estimate thermal energy efficiency of the domestic building stock to identify a tailored and bespoke suite of retrofit measures needed for each building and examine the value of these interventions, both in terms of occupiers’ health and well-being, and also the savings in health service expenditure.

By collecting and analysing data on homes’ energy performance, occupants’ use of their homes, and their wider experiences such as their health, the work will add to the literature exploring the relationship between housing and health, and quantify the potential benefits of the sorts of retrofit programmes that this technology will enable.

Lessons learned

  • Significant challenges require collaboration at the higher level, for example to address the skills need with the sub-region to realise the economic opportunity, and to successfully obtain funding and work with financial institutions.
  • There are supply chain issues to be resolved - there have been a lack of committed suppliers and this impacts costs and timelines, materials are also in high demand but there has been a lack of production from manufacturers.
  • A whole house and one hit approach should be aspired - to address all energy and sustainability issues once would be ideal as tenants can be vulnerable and the work is disruptive. For example, where there is roof work solar panels could also be fitted, and it would be best not to have to revisit in a few years with heat pumps.