Retrofit action planning in Ashfield

Ashfield District Council recognises the importance of supporting the decarbonisation of the whole Ashfield District, in line with the UK Government targets of achieving net-zero by 2050 and the international target of keeping global temperature rise well below 2ºC.

This case study is a part of the LGA's Regional Retrofit Action Planning programme


Globally, climate change has become a cause for concern, with human activities dangerously increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Human actions have already caused global temperatures to rise by 1ºC, by releasing CO2 and other gases. As a result, our climate is changing rapidly risking our wellbeing and survival and placing a huge burden on the next generation. Urgent action is needed by all sectors in the coming decade and beyond to halt this trend. The intergovernmental panel on Climate Change has recognised that if the climate increases beyond 1.5ºC we risk a climate breakdown as we reach a ‘tipping point’ when efforts to cut emissions are overwhelmed. Reaching this point is a great threat to humanity as the impacts of global warming will become even more extreme and frequent. If CO2 emissions continue at their current rate, we can expect to reach 1.5ºC at some point between 2030 and 2050. To prevent this, we must cut CO2emissions drastically by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Everyone must play their part. Ashfield District Council recognises the importance of supporting the decarbonisation of the whole Ashfield District, in line with the UK Government targets of achieving net-zero by 2050 and the international target of keeping global temperature rise well below 2ºC.

We are well placed to have a positive impact on climate change in the area, which can be achieved through:

  • gathering and maintaining high quality emissions and thermal performance data and monitoring improvements over time
  • establishing and understanding current emissions (carbon baseline)
  • setting carbon reduction targets and priorities
  • setting out key actions to reduce carbon emissions
  • supporting decarbonisation of the district.

Data is key to prioritising and targeting areas for improvement. Good data, when it is well presented and easy to interpret, supports better informed decision-making processes, along with better informed policies, projects and strategies for reducing emissions.

The council maintains its own housing stock and although is not in the main directly responsible for the carbon emissions of energy used within such properties, it can have a very substantial impact upon the emissions from such properties by the way it maintains them, and the improvements made to them to assist in the reduction of energy demand and the environmental impact of the energy used. This is intrinsically linked to health and well-being. Improvements to thermal performance not only reduces energy demand and carbon emissions, and will reduce fuel poverty and help mitigate energy price rises and contribute to community sustainability.

The vast majority of existing residential buildings do not benefit from modern thermal and energy efficiency measures and so there is a necessity to adopt a vast retrofit programme nationally in order to reduce the carbon emissions of heating and lighting such buildings.

Fundamentally, retrofit is complex and system change is needed if the UK is to meet its climate, health, and fuel poverty objectives. 

This cannot be carried out effectively in isolation. Regional and national collaborations need to take place to benefit from specialist skills and economies of scale in order to smooth out demand and provide the supply chain, including contractors, consultants and education providers with certainty and longevity of demand in order to align resource and skills provision with demand.

The Local Retrofit Action Planning (LRAP) programme has been instrumental in bringing together housing providers from all over the country to examine the retrofit journey, in all its numerous aspects, to encourage collaboration, and take learning and inspiration from those at the forefront of their respective specialisms, to examine what we can do to add momentum to the national journey and benefit from others’ learning experiences.

Where are we now

For some time, Ashfield District Council has been carrying out works to reduce the energy demand and carbon footprint of its housing stock and in the private sector. More recently this has been accelerated and is gathering pace as more funding has become available to carry out such improvements.

Government funding had targeted reductions in carbon emissions to the housing sector and the council has benefitted from such funding under such schemes including the Green Homes Grant (LAD) phases 1B and 2 and the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund Wave 1 ongoing bids will take place.

As a council, we are realistic in our ability to influence the national position and retrofit market, but consider we can make a difference if we join forces and collaborate within our region, and nationally, to learn from pioneers in their respective retrofit specialisms. To this end, we will work with the regional and national hubs and other collaborations, to tackle bigger issues including regional/national supply of resources including skilled labour, specialists, and materials, along with potential funding models for the region for the private sector to encourage the highest possible take-up of energy efficiency improvement and carbon reduction opportunities.

Ashfield District Council participates in and benefits from a number of collaborations and networks including the LGA, Midlands Net Zero Hub (MNZH), the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Local Authorities' Energy Partnership (LAEP), The Nottinghamshire Lead Energy Officers Group, and APSE Energy. These collaborations are critical in making significant regional change.

Although there are numerous facets to the retrofit delivery process, this plan will concentrate on improving the council’s data on the residential properties (both private and social) within the Ashfield District. The aim is to gain the best possible insight into the physical characteristics of Ashfield’s housing stock, but also other pertinent information relating to the occupiers themselves (subject to GDPR) to best prioritise energy efficiency improvement and carbon reduction measures to their respective homes.

Councils have a duty under the 2004 Housing Act to monitor the condition of housing stock in their areas, however the better the data quality, the greater the chance of correctly targeting works based on robust evidence-based decision making.

It is acknowledged that within the private sector in any region there will be many homes suffering from cold and damp, in poorly insulated and ventilated properties, exacerbated by the current energy crisis and spiralling energy costs, and which would benefit from assistance to eradicate such issues. The knock on effects in terms of health and well-being is significant, whereby mitigation of cold and damp issues can greatly reduce NHS cases of respiratory illnesses and mental health issues associated with living in such conditions.

Proposed action

To bring together as much information as possible to enable accurate targeting of retrofit works and assistance.

There are numerous data sources which give insight into homes and communities, including:

  • National Register for Social Housing (NROSH)
  • Housing Benefit/Council tax data
  • Land registry data
  • Credit Score Provider data
  • Local data - Social housing data/Disabled Facilities Grants
  • Energy performance data (EPCs)
  • English House Condition Survey data (commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government), collecting physical data related to Decent Homes, HHSRS, energy efficiency and local environments, and household data including income, length of residence, rent and mortgage payments, home improvements and adaptations, satisfaction levels etc
  • Index of Multiple Deprivation.

There are multiple other data sources which could be useful and which could be investigated, including:

  • Utility data
  • Regional carbon emissions
  • Regional poverty statistics
  • Pollution (air quality)
  • Funding eligibility (LAD/HUG)
  • Solar Photovoltaic (SPV) potential
  • Transport and travel/commuting data
  • Broader regional infrastructure strategy

For the council’s social properties, we hold various data sets for the structures, including their age / construction type, and details of the age, type and condition of the main building components; together with those that affect the thermal performance of the properties e.g. windows, external doors, roof insulation, external wall insulation, cavity wall insulation, heating systems, boilers etc. This together with data retrieved from the Energy Performance Certificates undertaken, as well as data that is held relating to the tenancy/household, provides the baseline dataset.

The more layers the more comprehensive the picture which enables greater scope to drill down and target action more specifically and provide greater understanding of housing characteristics and condition in the district.

From this, further targeted surveys can take place, such as retrofit assessments to confirm the need for action to the respective property.

The challenge, and next step, is to provide a resource and platform to align such data and continue to update and fine tune the data as time progresses. This will include updating information post works.

As stated above, collaboration is key. The council has been in discussion with other councils in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire area to consider a collaborative approach to update the respective district’s existing data and enhance it where possible, aligned under a central data repository, and easily interrogable. We have been in discussion with other local authorities who have implemented such a programme across Derbyshire, with a view to the possibility of rolling this out further across the region.

To best understand the potential likelihood of cold and damp (and other potential hazards in the home under Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), one of the next aspirational steps would be to investigate the ability to access, in compliance with GDPR, to overlay health statistics (Environmental Health, NHS) and the like (e.g. anonymised by post code) to add further detail.

With the data, we can better target communication and engagement activities to households, community groups, schools, parish councils and the like. Such engagement will aid winning the hearts and minds of the community, breakdown barriers and providing support for a common goal. Existing data, and in future, enhanced data, can assist the council with providing Cost of Living assistance, including:

  • Promote to residents’ local businesses and voluntary and community organisations which offer warm spaces to residents who cannot afford to heat their homes
  • Promote help with the cost of living to residents who may not be able to access online information
  • Support the voluntary sector to secure any available funding which may be able to help residents with the cost of living
  • Share and promote the food support locations in Ashfield with residents to support them with feeding their families from organisations such as food banks and food share schemes
  • Work with partners such as the Department for Work and Pensions on holding Cost of Living Zones to ensure residents can access all the support and benefits to which they are entitled.

Engagement will educate the community and signpost advice, funding, accredited bodies (and the contractors accredited) and so on.

Investigations will be carried out as to the potential for the provision of funded models, ultimately to the delivery of works end to end although this is currently aspirational, and further work and investigations will be required regarding procurement solutions (such as a coordinated approach, monitored centrally), and funded model options in place/nearing implementation by peers, to learn from such solutions/models.

Nothing will happen without funding. We will use the data to inform funding bids which in turn will hopefully generate further funding to provide better data still. Other sources of funding will be sought too.

Lessons learnt

Data is key when making a business case for an initiative or to back up funding applications, but it is also very useful in engaging key stakeholders and communities in in demonstrating and polarising the need for action, and in turn, gaining momentum towards action. It is vital in setting a firm foundation from which all other activity is built upon i.e. targeting communities, identifying the best opportunities, maximising support to those most in need, and creating the biggest impact which all helps to build buy in for future activities. In simple, using quality data and analysis improves retrofit decisions

The LRAP programme has provided learning and more importantly, seeing what others are doing/can do, who are further along their respective journeys across a wide range of retrofit specialisms, to ultimately inspire and create action. It has reinforced that everyone is largely trying to seek solutions to the same problems and achieve the same goals. Each has their priorities and specialisms, and this networking programme has provided examples of what can be achieved along with providing contacts for seeking help from, and providing assistance to, in order to meet our collective ambitions.

Collaboration is the key to the swiftest learning and the most effective and consistent delivery of retrofit projects, including bringing together the supply chain, education establishments, funders and housing providers and councils, to ensure delivery of a robust, long term plan to reach the challenging targets required to reduce the effects of climate change while we still can.