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

LB Sutton: Transformation Programme - responding to the climate emergency

The London Borough of Sutton has adopted an ambitious Environment Strategy and Climate Emergency Response Plan. Supported by the council’s Transformation Programme, they are taking action to increase domestic retrofit, develop a zero carbon technical standards guide for all council led developments, and prevent the physical impacts of climate change through increasing access to green spaces.

The challenge

In 2019 the council declared a climate emergency and committed to an ambitious target to achieve net zero carbon emissions across the borough. This was integrated into the council’s Environment Strategy which sets out our vision for cleaner air, a greener borough, achieving net zero carbon, creating a circular economy and tackling climate change.

Data tells us that domestic properties are the main source of borough carbon emissions. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the way in which people use their homes has changed, with people now using their heating and electricity throughout the day as they continue to work at home. The role of domestic retrofit is crucial to ensuring that residents are able to enjoy a comfortable home, in some cases reduce poor health, and have affordable fuel bills while also achieving net zero carbon emissions.

In addition to retrofitting existing properties, we want to ensure that the council acts as a role model and ensures all new council-led developments or refurbishments meet net zero carbon standards. This includes projects such as new council homes, new schools and retrofitting the existing council estate. In 2019, Sutton opened the UK’s first passivhaus ‘plus’ net carbon positive primary school as well as the first passivhaus secondary school. We want standards like this to become the norm, rather than flagship projects.  

Our vision is for more than half of Sutton’s space to be green space. In addition, we have committed to maintaining and enhancing the biodiversity value of the borough and planting 2,000 trees every year. During 2020, we saw the importance of access to local green spaces to support physical and mental health as well as creating habitats and ecosystems for biodiversity to thrive.

The solution

To achieve net zero carbon emissions, all domestic properties in the borough need retrofitting to net zero carbon standards. There are a number of programmes available to support this, e.g. ECO funding and the Local Authority Delivery element of the Government's Green Homes Grant. However, the funding available isn’t sufficient to deliver the large scale measures provided. To help overcome this, the council has committed funding to trial a domestic retrofit programme which will match fund ECO and other funding sources to install measures such as low carbon heating systems.

We also need to ensure that all council-led new build or refurbishment projects are undertaken in line with our net zero carbon ambitions. That’s why we will be producing a zero carbon standards technical guidance document. This will be used by anyone procuring building works, ensuring that all materials used and measures installed are undertaken in line with our environment strategy commitments. Once published, all staff and contractors will be required to follow the guidelines adopted, ensuring projects such as the passivhaus schools become business as usual, rather than the exemplary.

To help improve and increase access to green spaces, we are undertaking a project to deliver a combination of new spaces (e.g. pocket parks) or improve the quality of existing spaces. Through this project we will identify areas in the borough which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, along with limited access to open space.  Following this we will then undertake resident consultation to identify where in the borough we can implement measures to create cooler temperatures, improve drainage of surface water and create an enjoyable and useable space for residents.

The impact

Through the retrofit of properties we will improve the energy efficiency of domestic properties for some of our most vulnerable residents.  This will help prevent fuel poverty and help to start addressing the biggest source of carbon emissions within the borough.

The zero carbon standards guide will ensure that all new and refurbished council-led developments achieve net zero carbon. This will help reduce our scope 1 and 2 emissions as well as ensuring renewable heat sources are used to improve air quality within the borough. We will also encourage other developers to use the standards, promoting them as guidance for best practice.

Our greenspaces project will help ensure the borough is more resilient to the impacts of climate change and will provide a test case in identifying public support for this work. It will also help to create green corridors in the borough.

Lessons learned

Resident engagement on retrofit: we have identified suitable properties but some of these have not progressed as the residents have declined the measures. The main reason for this has been due to concerns related to COVID-19.

Pocket parks require significant community involvement, particularly in relation to the ongoing maintenance of the sites.

Relevant resources

A copy of our Environment Strategy and Climate Emergency Response Plan is available at